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Turning Point

The recent death of the IFC News podcast has gotten me thinking a lot about my own endgame and what it will look like. I currently host and produce two major podcasts (plus one side project). On top of this, I work a full-time job and am getting my Masters degree part-time. I am fortunate to have had bosses/professors that are pleased with my work, yet understand that my other pursuits consume a great deal of my time. But my current arrangement cannot last forever.

The fact of the matter is, it is very difficult for me to justify these podcast pursuits as anything more than a hobby. They will never make me a full-time income. I am grateful for countless of people that have donated money to the /Filmcast to keep us alive, in addition to the sponsorship offers we have gotten. They have provided significant help during a time of need and have helped to justify the amount of time that goes into the podcasts.

But the money that we get does not come anywhere close to equalling the amount necessary to sustain a person for a living (nor should it, really). And that goes double or triple when you’re splitting the money with other people. I surmise that the only people on the internet who ARE able to make a substantial amount of money from podcasting are people who a) have a large enough audience to attract major sponsorship dollars (e.g. Adam Carolla), b) broadcast daily, so as to multiply the number of impressions generated (e.g. Adam Carolla again), or c) make a sustained fundraising effort each year (e.g. The Sound of Young America, which wouldn’t be successful if (a) were not also true for them). I would not be opposed to broadcasting daily, but don’t currently have the numbers to justify it. Carolla (and people like him) built his empire on the back of his broadcasting career. I don’t have such a history or reputation yet.

For most people, including me, podcasts are something that people do for fun and/or because they’re passionate about it. And as a result, like the IFC News podcast or the Scene Unseen podcast or countless other fun, lovable podcasts before them, they can end at any time.

Having podcasted for a couple of years now and spoken with several of the best podcasters/broadcasters in the country, I’ve learned that often times what ends up happening is podcasts get too big to quit, but too small to derive any significant financial benefit from. They suck up massive quantities of time and cause untold amounts of stress, but do offer some rewards in return: the pleasure of interacting with an engaged fanbase; the pride of producing quality work; the various other perks that come with being a known quantity in your particular field.

In my own experience, I’ve been blessed to receive thousands of e-mails from people writing passionately about my podcasts and about the subjects that they cover. I’ve been able to see a lot of movies for free and to meet some of my heroes in the filmmaking industry. All of this has been incredibly gratifying. But it’s also exceedingly evident that the overwhelmingly vast majority of fans have no conception of what my life is like. And there are far more people that complain when one of the 4-5 hours of free content I put out onto the internet each week isn’t precisely on schedule, than people who say “thank you” when it comes on time.

The world of broadcast media has instilled an attitude of entitlement in all of us. We expect our media to be free and for there to be an excess supply at all times. These entertainers should do what we want! Dance for us! Play us the music that we love! Discuss interesting topics! In the world of podcasting, the expectations are the same as for radio and TV, but the financial rewards for the people involved are infinitesimal by comparison.

I hope that my podcasting projects will survive the transitions my life will go through over the course of the next few years. But the purpose of this post is to say that for me and for many other podcasters out there, the podcasts we produce exist and continue to exist because we love doing them. The things that keep podcasts going are frequently subject to the whims of fate. If you have podcasts you do love, be grateful while you have them.

  • I've been a big fan of the /filmcast for some time, and I really appreciate all the work you put into it. The Tobolowsky Files also quickly became one of my "must listen" podcasts. (When do we get a new one again?:))

    It's unfortunate that so much hard work can come with so few monetary rewards. Podcasts are basically unsustainable at this point unless you either have a big name or some really dedicated people working on it. It is sad that you can only really see it as a hobby at this point. Are there still ways out there to make a real "living" as a film reviewer or commenter? It seems to dry up more and more each year, and perhaps part of the issue is the dedicated sub-set of folks like yourself who provide content gratis.

    Basically, I feel your pain and wish I had a good answer. Maybe podcasters need to unionize. 🙂

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  • Firstly, let me just say that the /Filmcast is the highlight of my week. In previous years I had kind of forgotten my love of film, but you guys discuss movies (and other topics) in a really insightful, entertaining and funny way.

    Thank you for pointing out to us the realities of podcasting, while juggling a career and studying. Sometimes we need to be reminded.

    With such a surplus of inferior, fast, disposable and free media, people sometimes forget to support the really great content out there. Once accustomed to a free model, getting people to pay is a hard, but not impossible, sell.

    The paid ads model doesn't always work and there must be new solutions in the making. There are a lot of people in the same boat who simply cannot sustain dedicating their time simply for the 'greater good'.

    I've just signed up as recurring donor. Been meaning to do it for a while. I guess every bit helps.

    Thanks for all your fantastic work!
    Amelia (Cape Town, South Africa)

  • The /Filmcast has been a great gateway podcast for myself, and following the recommendations of yourself and the other hosts has exposed me to a wealth of great programming. The Tobolowsky Files has been wonderful as well, and I've always enjoyed your Audioboos and your new Chencast.

    I've given a number of other film podcasts tries, and the /Filmcast is the only one that has a great balance of educated discussion of movies combined with the casual banter of a group of friends around a table. When you guys release a new episode, I treat it as a pleasant surprise. I can't stand it how so many people feel entitled to entertainment, especially something that's produced voluntarily without aims for profit.

    Maybe a /Filmcast fireside talk is in order?

  • An interesting post Dave. As a relatively new podcaster myself I have found the experience to be an immensely enjoyable one yet at times something of a minor burden.

    Over the past few years since I have been listening to podcasts I have seen a couple fade anyway like Cinemslave because of the hosts moving on in their life and perhaps thinking their podcasts should be reaping greater benefits in terms of both financial and professional rewards.

    My attitude to podcasting has been from day one that shows would come out when they come out and I can only imagine the amount of undue stress putting out content every week would cause. In my own case, I have a part time job for the local council and a full time job which is my own business, everyday I wake up at 5:30am work till 8am go to my part time job at 8:30am – 12:30pm come home and do my own work until at least 7pm sometimes later. Many people have asked why I bother doing a podcast on top of this and the simple answer is that it helps me unwind and talk about subjects I love, yet in of itself is a kind of ‘job’ involving time and effort that requires the same application as a real ‘job’.

    No better has the sense of entitlement of listeners manifested itself in such an ugly way when The Hollywood Saloon podcast (my favourite one) released a pack of shows for $15. I sent my money faster than I could hit paypal yet the level of hostility directed by some listeners was disgraceful claiming that podcast’s ‘should be free’. Contrary to popular belief there are no rules to podcasting including how much they should or should not cost. Perhaps this could be a possible model for / Film, a series of unique shows that allow for a change in format and discussion of other film and tv topics that don’t normally get discussed that can be released for a fee?

    Pursuing the dream on getting paid loads to be a podcaster is one that in my mind will simply lead to disappointment and frustration. Moreover, I’ve resigned to just enjoying myself which really is the whole point of life anyway.