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A lot of confusion about subscription-based podcasting. My view: most great podcasts will be subscription-based and you should be very, very happy about that. It is NOT about taking something "free" and making you pay for it. Ad-support is a specific business model. 1.
94 replies and sub-replies as of Mar 06 2019

In any ad-supported medium the end-user (e.g., listeners to podcasts) are NOT the customer. They are the product. The customer is the advertiser who is buying access to them. This model's central gravitational pull is towards mass audiences and low-cost production. 2.
This fact feeds upstream to the kinds of podcast ideas that are encouraged, given room to grow. Easy to produce, easy to listen shows geared towards lots of people win out. Highly-produced, carefully-executed shows, the kinds of shows you feel passion for, don't thrive. 3.
Ad-support is transactional: you get the money based on how many people download each episode. Subscription-based podcasting monetizes passion, it monetizes a listener's love of a show. It requires a longer-term more intense relationship. 4.
A subscription-based podcast with, say, 50,000 passionate listeners will be as successful as a "free" ad-supported one with 500,000 casual listeners. That transforms how I think about the shows I might do, the effort I put into them, the way I think about listeners. 5.
It also rewards those new comers who create something magical and special for some group of people. 6.
Just think of everything you love most: books, movies, TV shows, music, etc. How many are entirely ad-supported? Now, think of things that are entirely ad-supported: broadcast TV, cheaper magazines, free subway papers. How many do you love? 7.
Now @hearluminary and all of us with shows on its platform have work to do: we have to earn your subscription. That is scary! And hard! And the fact that we feel all that is really good for listeners. So, join up: 8/end
How much is a sub?
First month free, then $7.99/mo
which would good price if you're interested in all 40 podcasts but if you're only interested in one (which will presumably have weekly and not daily episodes) you'll end up paying about $2 per episode, which is not such a great price
Or, thinking another way: what kind of incentives are you creating if I need to produce podcasts so compelling (at least to some) that people would pay $2/episode for them. That being said, most people don't do that kind of calculus with HBO, Netflix, etc.
I mean, I personally make that calculus with HBO & Netflix which is why I don't subscribe to either one. I'm not at all opposed to a subscription model for high quality podcasts, I just want to pay for the podcasts I actually want not the 39 other podcasts I don't want.
I have never once thought about the HBO and Netflix shows I don't watch. The ones I do are good enough that I feel satisfied. But that's the whole point of subscriptions: you can choose not to if you don't want to.
I listen to podcasts a lot, sometimes I spend 6-7 hours in a day driving to see a client and I want to listen to something good so a subscription fee is worth it to me. Even 1-2 hours a week of content that's really compelling to me justifies this monthly fee.
Which is basically the same issue people have with cable television, so bringing that model to the world of podcasts might lead to a greater pushback than the idea of paid subscriptions would alone.
No! Cable bundling is a totally different thing. Cable bundling is a byproduct of local monopolies granted by local government. I don't subscribe to cable. I go a la cart through Hulu and Amazon and get HBO and SHO, 'cause I want to and don't pay for ESPN, cause I don't.
The underlying reasons behind it are, of course, very different, but the results would be similar. Unless there was an option to subscribe to just one or maybe a smaller grouping of similar podcasts I missed?
I'm in! I just signed up. Looking forward to hearing you again.
Now, think of all the people who can’t afford HBO and the shows they don’t get to watch and the culture they don’t get to participate in. This is about you, not any audience.
What would be the conditions under which HBO shows would exist, would have the same cultural influence, and be free to everyone?
I’m just saying be honest with your motives.
Yes. My motives--as my career at NPR, NYT, New Yorker shows--has been devoted to making work I'm proud of for a reasonable, but not excessive, amount of money. I couldn't do that with ad-supported podcasting, even if I could have made more money. I hope I can with @hearluminary
But we could ask the BBC.
If there were a BBC-like option here, I'd consider it. Though BBC has been in an unrelenting crisis for years. What little support NPR got from government caused great damage to the culture and content, imo.
Is your model close to that of Maximum Fun? Or do you subscribe by show?
It's more like Netflix or HBO. You subscribe to the service.
You asked about a model that was free to use and made quality content. Some of the best podcasts going are Max Fun made. Just sayin’.
I love MaxFun. I do think it is a good model. But I know what Jesse has to do to keep that thing going and it's not for me. It's not for most.
Well, the podcast bubble is going to pop sometime, I can’t blame people looking for safe harbor.
Does this thing want me to sign up before telling me the cost?
That’s all well and good but what is the show about?
Exactly! @StarleeKine would do great with a subscription-based model.
I wish you well on your new endeavor, but this argument doesn’t really work. Podcasts have been around long enough now that I don’t have to compare them to magazines, I can compare them to other podcasts, and ALL of my favorite podcasts are “free.”
But isn't the real plan to normalize pay for podcasts and THEN you throw the same advertising on top of it?
I don't think so. HBO or Netflix can't add ads without losing most subscribers. Same here. @nytimes and @NewYorker show that subs are way better than ads for great content.
Except what's on initial offer from Luminary, or at least what they're top-lining, is exactly the type of celebrity-driven, mass-appeal stuff you're saying is fixed by this model.
And "most great podcasts" are currently free, but many have membership/subscription models designed to support the work and provide ancillary benefits while keeping the actual shows free. So far, nothing at Luminary sounds remotely interesting or unusual let alone worth buying.
Yes. When there is only one biz model, most things follow that one model. When there are more than one biz model, some people choose one of the new ones. This is the start of subscription podcasting, so we will see some great podcasts that are subscription based.
TV used to be "free" and then came cable and premium channels. Not everything is great behind a paywall, but a lot is. A lot of stuff that could never exist in a "free" (i.e., ad-supported) business.
Absolutely. And I hope that’s eventually the case. The difference here is, people are already making things that might not survive in a network, and they don’t need a network to approve it. Will this be another gatekeeper or will it allow real creativity? We’ll see.
This, of course, is the promise of podcasting. The ability for creators to be compensated for providing content to people who love it.
Subscriptions are the way to go. For print media as well.
And listeners/journalists will still be able to share reasonable-length clips for sharing news or commenting on them as a fair use.
What about the pay-for-adfree model (eg Slate)? Worst of both worlds? Or a way to make partially ad-based higher quality?
These are not mutually exclusive. See Patreon. It’s an even better model because I can choose exactly which shows I’m enthusiastic enough to pay for without subscribing, à la cable TV, to a bunch of noise I’ll never “consume.” Those w/o discretionary $ can still listen for free.
Content for a subscription network is still transactional. Both Netflix shows and CBS shows have to meet performance targets and ultimately make money to stay in production.
Pretty much done w/ podcasts for now myself, but doesn’t Gimlet’s model serve as a counterexample to your argument?
I don't know what "done w/podcasts" means. Audio storytelling takes many forms and "podcast" is a crude term. Spotify is a blended sub- ad- model. Their purchase of Gimlet supports my argument.
I meant I got tired of the format & went back to print, so I’m admitting my limitations as a judge of your argument. I’m not up to date on the medium. But I did listen to a lot of Gimlet (& Planet Money) for a long time. They seemed like quality ad driven content.
Well, @planetmoney had "sponsorships" but there was no direct link between them and our budget or metrics of success (when I was there). Public radio, in general, has similar incentives to subscription-based models.
...which is why I focused on Gimlet. (But let me never miss a shout out to @planetmoney, trailblazer & paragon!) As to revenue models, the @NPR hybrid strikes me—as an outsider—as a potential third way of funding content. Is that wrong?
I did a show for Gimlet, Surprisingly Awesome with @GhostPanther . It was a good show for a while. It reached around 300,000 people who seemed to like it. But because it was ad supported, that wasn't enough and we were forced into lousy compromises that killed the show.
So, in my personal experience, ad-support creates miserable, awful incentives that have kept me out of podcasting for several years.
I loved Surprisingly Asesome. Loved every episode. Figured you & @GhostPanther had just gotten too busy w/ other projects. I wondered even then, though, about target market potential & economics of it.
*awesome. What a place for a Typo.
If it were subscription based, Surprisingly Awesome would be enjoying its fourth year right now.
Dan Carlin seems to have one of the most heavily produced podcasts out there, but has his own revenue model, and is consistently one of the top podcasts.
I hope that’s not true. The advantage of podcasts is that it is an open medium with low bar for entry. The issue venture funded platforms that base on ad tech, not content. We shouldn’t look at Midroll/EarWolf or Gimlet as the future, but maximumfun.
That is one advantage, yes. But if you look at what people actually listen to, they listen to the shows created by experienced professionals who spend a lot of time and effort and for whom there is an extremely high bar of entry.
That is just wrong - the majority of content listened to is actually from indies. You need to get your facts straight. This is the type of stuff that comes out of the NYC Pro podcasting elite. 99% of podcasts are indie podcasts and that represent the lions share of listening.
Are they really Podcasts? Can they be played in any Podcast player? Does each show have a public accessible RSS feed (password protected, of course)
This gets to another issue: the word "podcast" needs to go away. We don't talk about "video" to refer to movies, TV shows, youtube. We don't say "text" to refer to books, magazines, blogs. Podcasts contain multitudes. We should have different words.
And he didn’t answer the question. I wonder why...
[reporter voice] You didn’t answer my question Mr. Davidson. I am honestly not trying to be confrontational but I’d say Audio is the generic term. We have radio, audiobooks, podcasts, etc. Podcast refers to a specific mechanism of delivering audio content.
I would very happily not call @hearluminary shows podcasts. I would happily reserve the term for RSS-fed or whatever. I would happily not do anything called a "podcast." We do call thing on amazon and netflix "TV shows" (at least in my house).
calls them “webcasts”. Seems like a good term to describe them. @TWiT
Excited about the new content & the ability to support creators. Not excited to install another app, miss out on cool features developed by independent devs, & allow who knows what metrics on my listening habits. I’d prefer all my serialized audio content in a central place.
I will say: the @hearluminary app is truly awesome. And you can play ALL podcasts through it, not just the exclusives.
Curious what your Podcast player was before? What features are important to you as a listener? What are the important TOS of @hearluminary and privacy policy? Any chance to try an iOS beta of the app? BTW, I already signed up for premium bc I’m excited about the creators!
I have used them all: Apple, PocketCasts, Overcast, etc, etc. They all seem immature at this point, requiring too much fiddling and multiple steps for basic actions.
If I have to have 40 subscriptions and 7 different apps to listen to all of these, on top of all of the various subscriptions I will end up needing for video consumption, then I will really upset. The best part of podcasts is I have one app and I can download all I want for free
Ease of use is going out the window and it’s going to end up being both the shows AND the audience that will suffer. I don’t want to have to have Spotify listen to Gimlet shows and Audible listen to other shows and Stitcher to listen to others. How is that useful?
I'm just excited to learn that you have a new podcast! You are on of the most important voices out there.
You have elitist attitude
You'll have to explain. I think I have the opposite. Ad-supported media involves large corporations choosing content for the masses and a small percentage going to creators. Subscription-based media involves creators getting paid by directly engaging their audience.
I am low income and don’t want to pay for pods. I suscribe to papers. Good luck.
If it's got Adam Davidson's name attached, I'm signing up.
IP developed in podcasting medium, and converted to traditional formats - Night Vale, Dirty John, Lore - is one of the better biz models for the medium right now. Subscription will become viable as distribution and usage rises.
I agree. Podcasting is a ridiculously immature medium just waking up and growing. It will have a rich array of biz models eventually. I happen to be very excited about the IP poteential of the medium.
I don’t mind paying subscriptions for podcasts. I do mind having to manage a separate dedicated app for each one. And yes, I find that annoying in streaming TV as well. The Luminary app may be great, but it won’t have, say, Stitcher or Audible podcasts in it.
It will have every open RSS-feed based podcast. Audible and Stitcher don't let any podcatcher grab their exclusive content.
Right, but if I use Overcast, I won’t have access to any of them, correct? You see where that starts to be burdensome to a user. Again, I have no problem paying for podcasts, or even podcasts being restricted to subscribers.
True. It would be great to have an app that allows gating for subscriptions. Though then you're giving a lot of power to that app. As with Amazon Kindle. It's a bigger issue than just podcasting. Read about Texture. User convenience doesn't come without trade-offs.
Adam, I think you're too hopeful about the connection between subscription-models and high-production, passion-inducing shows. Sirius-XM is not flooded with high-quality documentary audio. Their model was to skim the cream of mass-radio. Luminary may be different.
But also, the missing model is public broadcasting. A lot of the highest quality documentary or quirky shows that inspire passion need to be subsidized by govt or nonprofit sector. Ken Burns isn't on Netflix. I think audio is the same.
Great insight!! Hope to see you at RAIN’s Podcast Business Summit tomorrow?