Three years and a pivot towards audio

Pankaj Mishra April 16, 2019 6 min

First, the news: we are stopping our longform text stories on FactorDaily from next week. We will, instead, concentrate on podcasts, becoming an ‘audio first’ storytelling platform. Servicing our intent in this direction, last week we kickstarted The Playbook podcast and in the week before, launched the third season of The Outliers, our popular podcast.

There are more new podcasts planned in the weeks ahead.

Why are we doing this?

We started FactorDaily in May 2016 and since then we’ve been doing several experiments on the stories’ side. Podcasting has been among those experiments that has grown into its own. The Outliers podcast is now close to 100 episodes and over 100,000 full listens.

These are modest numbers, for sure. But they hold promise as we see early signs of demand for podcasting in India. The Indian market for podcast listeners is growing rapidly, evident from the fact that all the audio platforms, including Audible, Gaana and Jio Saavn, are making bets in this direction. Nearly 100 million Indians stream music every month. The bet we are making: a large portion of this audience will also consume audio narratives.

We believe we are in a unique position in this podcasting journey given that our approach – with The Outliers and, as you will see, with The Playbook – has always been to put the conversation and the story first, the audio format second. For us, podcasting is another way of telling stories that matter — and that ‘story first, form second’ approach has won us a deeply engaged audience even if it is small.

That’s why we’ve decided to pivot to a podcast-only media platform.

Why now?

Over the past three years, FactorDaily has established itself as among the best longform journalism platforms making sense of technology’s intersections with everything in India. The way we do our journalism has been deliberate, deep and slow. It has been reportage-heavy, evidence-based and well-balanced. Even when it needed to be heavy on domain expertise – for example, in our deep tech coverage – our editors ensured our stories remained accessible to the mainstream audience we aimed at.

But, such journalism by seasoned reporters, editors, coders, photo-journalists, and visual designers also means high costs.

As much as our journalism has built a product with a strong consumer fit, our efforts to build a revenue engine that helps sustain costs is taking longer to kick in than expected earlier. While we’ve been making money from our first year itself, the growth hasn’t been enough to cover costs.

The broader disruption in the news media industry apart, there are a few reasons for our revenue shortfall. First, the conditions we set before ourselves in doing this business. We told ourselves early on that we wouldn’t put up banner ads even if it brought in some money because they would mess up badly with customer experience.

Then what? We decided we would work only with a select few brands that wanted marketing solutions custom made by our FactorBranded team that were as unique and as premium as FactorDaily’s journalism. After three years of conversations with most brands that matter, we can confidently tell you that such a market does not exist. This is not to be judgemental but most brands value distribution infinitely more than quality. This is true even when it comes to branded content that can run on platforms that offer distribution of scale or events that are unique and touch audiences that matter in the brand’s scheme of things.

Our strict adherence to our business code of conduct doesn’t help make the case for FactorBranded either in a market where it is not uncommon to see advertising disguised as editorial.

At the same time, the pressure from legacy media brands scrambling to stay afloat in a market in the throes of disruption is leading to a massive commoditization of the market. The best example of this was our Future of Jobs in India Summit in November 2016. For a media brand just six months old, the event was a success by measures of content, format, reach, amplification, and revenues. Within a few months, mainstream brands had jumped on the topic – Future of Jobs, Future of Work, The New Workplace, etc. This was expected. But what was difficult to match were the rates at which the events were being offered to sponsors, who were happy to lap them up even with the pedestrian quality such events came with.

In short, advertising-funded model for journalism is broken, even when the media property is premium. And, even when the team is of just 11 people. (Another learning for me: marketing is broken. But, that’s a different story.)

We kept to the promise that FactorDaily’s journalism rates high on the public interest scale and that we wouldn’t keep it behind a paywall even if it came to mean we bled. The thinking – right from May 2016 to now – has been that public interest journalism should reach as large an audience as possible than can benefit from it.

And, yes, there was an effort we made at crowdsourcing contributions from readers. But, honestly, that has not moved the needle. In fact, while we are at it, I would like to offer all contributors that Sourcecode Media Pvt. Ltd, the company that owns FactorDaily, will be happy to return your contributed amount should you want us to. Just drop us an email at with your name.

Finally, we truly value FactorDaily’s investors — Accel Partners, Blume Ventures, Girish Mathrubootham, Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Jay Vijayan — for continuing to believe in our journey. Not only have they helped us stay true to the journalistic code of conduct over the past three years, each one of them has contributed immensely with insights from the outside. We really value their faith in FactorDaily.

What next?

We will be shrinking our team while we focus on podcasts. The revenue conversations in that direction give us some confidence at this stage of FactorDaily’s life.

To record and run podcasts, Anand Murali, Shadma Shaikh and I will be staying on at FactorDaily, focussing on what we do best — bring conversations and stories to you that matter. My co-founder and product head Jayadevan PK will stay on as a consultant to manage the transition before moving on, and our Editor-in-Chief Josey Puliyenthuruthel will move into a non-executive role as a mentor to the team. He will continue on the board of directors of Sourcecode Media. Sanjay Gupta, the editor of FactorBranded, will continue to work on our customer projects and will spearhead our efforts of finding a sustainable business model. New Worlds Weekly, our weekly sci-fi column by Gautham Shenoy, will continue to run on weekends.

All our other colleagues are among the most talented in the business and I am confident will be able to choose opportunities they want in the market. I wish them all the best.

Also, to celebrate FactorDaily’s unique longform stories over three years, we will be publishing a one-time, handcrafted print magazine later this summer. Please mail us on with “FD print magazine” in the subject line to be updated about it.

Thank you, dear FactorDaily reader, for being part of the journey until now. I hope to have your companionship as our journey continues.

Keep listening and find out more about our podcasts here. If you are a marketer, a founder or anybody looking to reach a highly engaged audience through our podcasts, yes, we are looking for sponsorship and other support — drop us a line at



Updated at 05:40 pm on April 16, 2019  to delete a paragraph that was repeating.

Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Jay Vijayan and Girish Mathrubootham among its investors. Accel Partners and Blume Ventures are venture capital firms with investments in several companies. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. Jay Vijayan and Girish Mathrubootham are entrepreneurs and angel investors. None of FactorDaily’s investors has any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.