Two Podcast Seasons In: Lessons Learned

This week sees the conclusion of The Ones Who Knock, the podcast I host with Joanna Robinson which covers both parts of the fifth season of Breaking Bad. This season of the podcast, and the most recent season of A Cast of Kings, were both made possible as a result of successful Kickstarters (both projects were funded within 48 hours of launch). I've already written my thoughts on how to launch a decent Kickstarter, but as this "season" of the podcast is about to come to an end, I thought I'd reflect on a few thoughts regarding the model of Kickstarting podcasts.

Podcasts are a strange beast. Their very format consigns most of them to niche status at best. The closest mainstream analogue I can find to podcasting is talk radio or shows on NPR. The producers of the latter understand that radio is no longer "appointment listening." People are either leaving the radio on at work all day, or they listen to a 5 or 10-minute chunk in between conversations in the car. Information provided in relatively short bursts is the key. Thus, a 50-minute long conversation about last night's episode of Breaking Bad is impossible to make into a mass-appeal product. This frequently leads to the following:

Result #1: The overwhelmingly vast majority of podcasts don't attract enough listeners to attract any significant advertisement money.

Result #2: The overwhelmingly vast majority of podcasts are labors of love.

Result #3: The podcasts we know and love can easily end at any time, and without warning.

The fact that most podcasts are a result of sheer enthusiasm and will on the part of their producers does give them a special, intangible quality. But by accepting this as the norm, we've consigned ourselves to a world in which there's no functioning business model to make podcasting into a solvent enterprise.

In my opinion, the Kickstarters we've launched show that if the quality of the product is acceptable, the audience exists, and the price is reasonable, people are willing to pay for something that will help them engage with their favorite forms of art on a deeper level.

From a producer's perspective, I can say that getting paid for the podcast unequivocally motivated me to put out a better product. It's one thing to futz around in Skype conversations without any idea of whether or not people are actually listening to you; it's quite another to know that people are paying to listen and expecting a certain level of quality for each episode. I became considerably more motivated towards cranking out bonus content, like our interview with Dave Porter, to reward those that found our conversations and insight worth paying for.

Doing a podcast can introduce a number of stressors into one's life: the burden of a weekly recording/production routine, the pressure to "perform" well, and, of course, the onslaught of commenters, e-mailers, and Twitterers saying nasty things about you. But it also confers a bunch of rewards. Many podcasters out there seek to find a balance that enables them to continue doing great work. I think the Kickstarter model and its attendant revenue help to tip things in favor of more quality content.

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