Media Is Politics

I’ve been saying it for 20 years. If you want political influence in a democracy, you need to control the media. That’s why I started TPN. That’s why Murdoch is king. Don’t blame the voters. They get their opinions from the media. Don’t blame the politicians. They were chosen by the media to do a particular job. It’s the media. If we want change, we need to control the media. We need to invest in independent media. Not the ABC. Truly independent media. That’s why you don’t want advertising to find your podcasts. That’s why you don’t want VC firms to invest in New Media. That’s why you don’t want Facebook to be the new publishing platform. Those things just subvert the opportunity to wrest control of the future from the rich white psychopaths.

What can you do? You can make the media. Make podcasts. Write blog posts. Write books. Make documentaries. Make comics.

TAKE CONTROL.

How To Monetize Podcasts

About seven weeks ago, I launched my latest project – The Life Of Alexander The Great history podcast, with my partner, the ever-polite southern gentleman, Ray Harris.

alexanderthegreat.life history podcast

 

We are trying something different this time – this history podcast is subscriber-only. The first episode is available for free as a taste-test, but the rest of the series is available only to subscribers. This is pretty unusual for podcasts, which are usually either totally free or operate with a freemium model, whereby you have the main series which is free, then you have to pay either for special VIP episode or for archived episodes. There is also advertising as a revenue model – but I already experimented with podcast advertising during my days running The Podcast Network v1, and I know the pitfalls of it. I decided that for podcasting to work as a business, it has to be paid for by the listeners.

We decided to test out the subscriber-only model because we figured it’s about time people started to think differently about podcasts. Ray & I collectively put about 80 – 100 hours of work into the Life Of Caesar (our other history podcast) each month and it’s a hell of a lot of effort. And we do that show for free. So to add another series on top of that, with the same amount of work, we needed to start to earn a buck out of it.

Of course the big question is always “will people pay for content they are used to getting for free?” We are all familiar with the attempts of large media companies to put their content behind paywalls and how poorly they have (apparently) worked out. On the flipside, though, people are used to paying a small amount of money for content services these days – iPhone apps, tracks in iTunes, Spotify, Netflix, etc. Our question is whether or not people would be prepared to pay a small amount each month to listen to more content from us?

We figured that it was worth an experiment – nothing ventured, nothing gained. For a few months we had been asking people to sponsor Life Of Caesar on a volunteer basis. Nearly 200 people had generously volunteered to contribute and the average amount seemed to be about $5 per month, so we wanted to see what percentage of our Caesar audience would be prepared to pay us that amount to produce more content.

My guess was that only a small percentage of our listeners would come on board – my goal was to reach 10% of our regular listeners (which I think is in the region of about 12 – 15,000 people, although podcast stats are hard to get a handle on – in total, the Caesar show gets about 120,000 mp3 downloads a month, but each new episode gets about 12 – 15,000 downloads) – so about 1000 subscribers would be a great result.

For a few years, Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of WIRED Magazine, has been promoting this idea of 1000 True Fans:

“The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply: A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

We like that idea. 1000 people sounds like a reasonable goal. Out of the million people who have enjoyed our previous podcasts for free over the last ten years, we hope we can find 1000 True Fans who are willing and able to support our work.

Fortunately, so far it’s been going very well. In the first six weeks we had over 300 people subscribe to the show and the feedback from them has been extremely positive. The show generated about $7000 USD in the first month. Okay – we’re probably never going to get rich off of this, but isn’t our goal. Still – $7000 is by far the most money I’ve ever received from listeners in one month. In ten years of podcasting, I’ve never even come close to that kind of support.

Our goal is to make a reasonable living from podcasting. If Ray and I can both get to a point where we are producing several series a month and earning a livable wage from it, I know we’ll both be very happy. This is what we love to do and apparently some people like to listen to what we do. Now – some people seem to think that’s ridiculous. I’ve had some email recently from people basically suggesting I’m a total douchebag for wanting to earn a living out of podcasting. My reply is always the same – do you go to work every day for free? Of course you don’t. So why should we?

The other argument I hear often is “people won’t pay for something they expect for free”. And I agree – most people won’t. But there are exceptions – the true fans. If you have some true fans and they really, really enjoy your schtick (and that’s important – for this to work, people really need to want to hear our content over and above all of the free content), then they seem to be willing to throw us the price of a cup of coffee for ~4 hours of entertainment a month. I don’t think that’s too much to ask and apparently a few true fans don’t think so either. When someone emails me and says something like “why would I pay for your content when I can get great podcasts for free?”, I think “hey that’s cool, I get it, you’re just not a true fan, no problem”.

The hardest part of all of this was setting up the infrastructure to be able to handle a paywalled podcast. I needed a solution that would integrate hosting, membership and billing. Unfortunately, that solution doesn’t seem to exist off-the-shelf for podcasting. So I had to cobble something together, working with a couple of developers to integrate disparate systems until I had something that would work. I’m writing a “Guide To Making Money From Podcasting” that I’ll make publicly available in a few weeks that will make the process of pulling all of the components together easy for others.

 

A Decade Of Podcasting

Today is the tenth anniversary of my first podcast – G’Day World #1 in 2004.

It wasn’t only MY first podcast, it was a milestone in a number of ways:

  • It was the first podcast ever produced in Australia (AFAIK)
  • It was the first podcast produced over Skype (AFAIK)
  • It was the first podcast to include live guests (AFAIK – but that didn’t happen until a couple of weeks later when I interviewed my mate Buzz Bruggeman)
  • It was the first podcast on The Podcast Network, the world’s first podcast production business that I co-founded in Feb 2005.

Podcasting has come a long way since 2004. Back then I was predicting that it would become mainstream within a decade. Has it? I’m not sure how you measure “mainstream” – or even it that’s a worthy metric at all. It certainly hasn’t taken over the world. And I still meet people who have never listened to one and don’t really know what a podcast is.

But here are my thoughts on the matter.

  1. The most recent stats I’ve seen suggest there are about 225,000 active podcasts being produced (but I’ve no idea how they arrived at that number or how credible it is). That probably means there are millions of listeners at least.
  2. The advertising industry still isn’t on board. I produce one of the top podcasts in the world and I don’t have potential advertisers beating down my door. We did sell quite a bit of advertising in the early years, 2006 – 2008, but the GFC hit and that all disappeared – and hasn’t returned.
  3. The technology has improved a great deal. Back then it was pretty hard to FIND and SUBSCRIBE to podcasts. Even after Steve Jobs announced in May 2005 that the next version of iTunes would have a podcast directory (and sent me an email about it), it was still a clunky process to find a podcast, subscribe to it and get it onto your iPod. These days of course there are a bunch of iPhone and Android apps that make it simple and quick.
  4. The business model for podcasting is emerging as listener donations. On my Life Of Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte podcasts, we get regular listener donations. Nowhere near enough yet to make a living out of it, but we hope to change that with our new series that starts in a couple of weeks. I prefer the donation or subscriber model to advertising as it gives us greater independence. We aren’t relying on sponsors to continue their support. If we get them, they will be cream. I know a couple of guys who make a living out of their podcasts, so I know it can be done. This wouldn’t have been possible 10 or even 5 years ago.
  5. While the models for listening and monetizing podcasts has evolved, the technical side of setting up and running a premium podcast hasn’t. There are certain services like LibSyn and Blubrry that provide some options, but their premium services are out of the price range for the average podcaster. If the small podcaster has a chance to get up and running and making money out of their show, we need better tools and guides. I’m currently writing such a guide that is based on my experience over the last year building the Caesar show. I hope to get it finished in the next month or so and think it will help a lot of podcaster take their shows to the next level. Disappointingly, ten years later, iTunes still doesn’t allow podcasters to charge for their shows, meaning we have to jump through way too many hoops to do that ourselves.
  6. In terms of marketing and delivering a podcast, iTunes is still the kingmaker. It accounts of about 90% of our downloads and I’m sure that pretty true for most podcasts. Why haven’t Google, Microsoft or Yahoo done more to promote podcasts? I don’t know.
  7. Has my decade of podcasting been a good thing? Yes. Not financially – but certainly it has in other ways. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have met my beautiful wife Chrissy if it wasn’t for podcasting (we met at Napoleon conference in Corsica in 2008) and we wouldn’t have our baby Fox. I’ve made many wonderful friends around the world who came from listening to my podcasts. I’ve made friends with other podcasters who did a show on TPN back in the day, including David Markham and my current co-host Ray Harris. I’ve interviewed guests from Noam Chomsky to Ray Kurzweil, from Leo Sayer to Jeffrey Katzenberg. It’s been a wonderful adventure.

I maintain today, as I did in this SMH article in 2008, that radio is boring. Every now and again I turn it on in the car and it bores me to tears. It’s still the homogenous shit it was ten years ago and that inspired me to create intelligent content. Yes, there are exceptions – the ABC in Australia, NPR in the United States, etc – but commercial radio is a wasteland of nonsense. Radio listenership in metro Australian cities are in decline but not by much (about 1% per year over the last five years). Will that change when podcasts are available built-in to cars, as Stitcher is promising?  Perhaps. We’ll have to wait and see what the second decade of podcasting delivers.

Five Years and A New Beginning

As G’Day World is five years old this month (it started life on November 29, 2004), I’ve decided to sort of retire it. A show that started as a tech news podcast has, over the years, become my personal exploration of what’s really going on in the world. Hence the new name: No Illusions. I don’t think the G’Day World name really tells people who have never listened to the show before what to expect. Hopefully the new name is more descriptive. The format for the show is going to stay the same and the old URL will point to the new site, so there shouldn’t be any drop in continuity.

Also you’ll have noticed the new site design. Xminds have been working on this for me for the last few weeks. The No Illusions logo is something I threw together quickly last night and I’ll get a better one designed soon. But I’d love to get any other feedback from you on what you like and don’t like about the design so we can get the template right and roll it out across TPN.

neo.org – a social network with a purpose

I want to give a huge shout-out to TPN’s new network sponsor – neo.org.

Neo is a team of global volunteers and partners who have powerful Declarations and a wish to have a world that works for everyone. It is a social network with a purpose – to transform the world by enabling people to transform themselves.

One of the people behind neo is Australian entrepreneur Bill Liao. I interviewed Bill early last year and you can hear him talk about neo (which was then called Declare!) and the vision for bringing together people around the world who want to make a positive difference.

Neo proves that social networking can be about more than just talking about the weather. As I’m fond of saying – the Internet is just a tool, like a hammer. And we can use a hammer to hit someone on the head – or to discover the statue of David inside a discarded block of Carrara marble. It’s just a tool. Neo is one way we can use this particular tool for good.

And so – I would like each of you to support TPN’s new sponsor – and figure out how YOU are going to make the world a better place – by visiting neo’s site and signing The Declaration.