Turns out, the internet can be used for good too

The other day, I re-blogged an article in The New Yorker about “how clickbait is killing criticism.” I was pretty skeptical of that piece, pointing out that in place of the old definition of “criticism” there’s now a whole new world of content out there that things like “clickbait” have enabled.

In a recent piece for The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo makes a similar point:

In the last few years, and with greater intensity in the last 12 months, people started paying for online content. They are doing so at an accelerating pace, and on a dependable, recurring schedule, often through subscriptions. And they’re paying for everything.

You’ve already heard about the rise of subscription-based media platforms — things like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Spotify and Apple Music. But people are also paying for smaller-audience and less-mainstream-friendly content. They are subscribing to podcasters, comedians, zany YouTube stars, novelists and comic book artists. They are even paying for news.

It’s difficult to overstate how big a deal this is. More than 20 years after it first caught mainstream attention and began to destroy everything about how we finance culture, the digital economy is finally beginning to coalesce around a sustainable way of supporting content. If subscriptions keep taking off, it won’t just mean that some of your favorite creators will survive the internet. It could also make for a profound shift in the way we find and support new cultural talent. It could lead to a wider variety of artists and art, and forge closer connections between the people who make art and those who enjoy it.

Some interesting stats on Patreon are also disclosed: $100 million has been paid towards artists thus far, and in 2016, there were 35 artists making more than $150K each.

The upsetting implications of the “Missing Richard Simmons” podcast

Amanda Hess, writing for The New York Times, has written a thorough takedown of the new (and apparently very popular) “Missing Richard Simmons” podcast:

The relationship between journalists and subjects shouldn’t be confused with friendship. Journalists have power over their subjects and a responsibility to try to minimize harm. But Mr. Taberski leverages his claim to friendship to reverse the equation, arguing instead that it’s Mr. Simmons who has the responsibility to speak to him, and to explain himself to his former acquaintances and fans. He compares Mr. Simmons’s relationship to them to the responsibilities of a licensed therapist. Mr. Taberski says he took care to ask Mr. Simmons’s manager “if there was something serious going on, like illness, so I could just let it be.” But is depression not an illness? Is a person’s gender identity not sufficiently serious to leave alone? Having decided that Mr. Simmons’s reasons for withdrawal are not “serious,” Mr. Taberski feels freer to pursue the guy.

“Missing Richard Simmons” speaks to both the possibilities and the limits of the emerging prestige podcast form. Many of the podcast’s tropes — the mystery framing, the crowdsourcing of clues from the audience and a format that focuses on the narrator as much as his subject — are borrowed directly from “Serial.” By turning a journalist into a friend and casting a man’s personal life as a mystery, “Missing Richard Simmons” has retooled the stale Hollywood documentary as an addictive media sensation. But it’s also turned it into a morally suspect exercise: An invasion of privacy masquerading as a love letter. Mr. Simmons is a public figure, and that gives journalists a lot of latitude to pry. But a friend who claims to want to help Mr. Simmons should probably just leave him alone.

Many recent true crime and mystery podcasts/shows have exhumed details from the lives of private citizens for public entertainment. While shows like Serial and Making a Murderer are ostensibly about correcting some systemic or institutional injustice, they still wreak havoc on the lives of those who are its subjects.

If we take “Missing Richard Simmons” at face value, then it appears to have all the devastating impact of other similar shows, only without the journalistic value — just the veneer of it. Truly upsetting.

Why audio rarely goes viral

This piece by Stan Alcorn for Digg is a few years old, but I think about it a lot. I don’t think I ever blogged about it here, so I’m sharing it now.

According to producer Nate DiMeo, “People will watch a bad video more than [they will listen to] good audio.” Why is this? Why does audio almost never go viral? A few possibilities:

“The greatest reason is structural,” says Jesse Thorn, who hosts a public radio show called “Bullseye” and runs a podcast network called Maximum Fun. “Audio usage takes place while you’re doing something else.” You can listen while you drive or do the dishes, an insuperable competitive advantage over text or video, which transforms into a disadvantage when it comes to sharing the listening experience with anyone out of earshot. “When you’re driving a car, you’re not going to share anything,” says Thorn.

The second explanation is that you can’t skim sound. An instant of video is a still, a window into the action that you can drag through time at will. An instant of audio, on the other hand, is nothing. “If I send someone an article, if they see the headline and read a few things, they know what I want them to know,” a sound artist and radio producer told me. “If I send someone audio, they have to, like… listen to it.” It’s a lot to ask of an Internet audience.

The end of the piece has some suggestions for how one might make one’s own audio more viral: Think about the sharing mechanisms, think about how to appeal to an audience beyond your existing one, think more carefully about things like metadata, titles, and presentation.

It’s challenging work but the rewards can be enormous.

Asgar Farhadi and the Oscars

This week on Gen Pop, we talk with Siddhant Adlakha from Birth Movies Death about Trump’s Muslim ban and how it may impact art in the U.S.

We received this email about the show last night, and it really meant a lot to me (I’m sharing it anonymously, with permission):

Hi Joanna and Dave,

I just needed to tell you how much I love this podcast. I listen to A LOT of podcasts and this is quickly becoming my favourite. Every episode has been fascinating with brilliant discussions and interviews.

Your conversation with Sid Adlakha actually brought me to tears. I’m an interracial woman (my dad is half Somalian and half German and my Mum is a mix of Norwegian and Italian) but both my parents were born here in the UK. So I of course feel British through and through. With the horrors of Brexit and the rise of the Rightwing (everywhere it seems) I have had things said to me that I haven’t heard since the 90s. I felt we had moved past me being told to “Get back to the Paki Market” or being asked “What actually are you though?” But here I am crying at a podcast because it is so beautiful in its diverse voices and open discussion.

You should be so proud of yourselves for the outstanding work you are putting out.

I hope you enjoy the episode.

Thoughts on 400 Episodes of the /Filmcast

The /Filmcast just recorded its 400th episode, a review of Martin Scorsese’s newest film Silence. Eight years I’ve been doing this podcast, most recently with my intrepid co-hosts Devindra Hardawar and Jeff Cannata.

Last night, we received the following email about the podcast from a listener I’ll refer to as Brett. I’ve posted an excerpt from the email below, with his permission.

I share this excerpt not as an act of self-aggrandizement, but rather as encouragement to anyone reading it: You too can create something meaningful for other people. In fact, you probably already are, just by being who you are, interacting how you do, sharing what you do.

When we started the podcast, we didn’t think we’d be creating something that would allow people to feel less alone in the world. Maybe we just wanted to create something that made US feel less alone in our passion for movies, and by doing so, it made others feel the same as well.

And so when I read an email like this, I don’t think “I’m amazing!” I think: if some nincompoop with a microphone and an internet connection like me can create this kind of feeling in people, then pretty much anyone can. And you should all keep putting yourself out there and doing so.

***
Dear David, Devindra and Jeff,

My name is Brett. I’m 36 and I live northeast Philadelphia, PA. I have been listening to your podcast now for quite some time. I’m a huge fan. I’m also a musician, audio engineer and a lover of film. My love for film eventually led me to find your podcast. Since then, I’ve been with you guys every step of the way. To me, it’s the best podcast, in my opinion, for movie lovers.

I am writing this as I lay in a hospital bed. In 2012, I was diagnosed with leukemia. And ever since then, my life has been one disaster after another. I went through a divorce with a girl I had been with for 15 years. We have a beautiful son together. His name is David.

So I’m currently laying in a hospital bed and I’m in extreme pain. All I want to do is listen to you guys. So I started playing episode 400 and this feeling of peace just came over me. I just close my eyes and listen to the three of you talk film, make Boom goes the dynamite jokes, or the really well-handled ad reads with David and Jeff.

I just wanted you to know that your podcast is truly a light in a dark place. Since 2012, I’ve been in and out of hospitals. More times than I can even remember at this point. Tonight, I had a mental breakdown and started feeling very sorry for myself. The nurse came in to give me my meds. I took them, turned the TV, went to my podcast app and there was the new episode. I’m 30 minutes in and I’ve already forgotten where I was.

I just wanted to thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You’re really helping people in ways you might not know. I am sure you receive emails like this all the time but I really felt the need to express my gratitude to the three of you tonight.

I write this not in the hopes that you will read it on the podcast but that you will read this and feel a sense of pride. You would be really surprised to learn that three friends talking about movies can make someone who is very sick actually smile. So I thank you as much as I can. Your podcast means so much to me. When I listen to an episode, it just reminds me of conversations and arguments I’ve had with my friends in regards to film. Please continue to do what you do…

Thank you for hearing me out,
Brett

“The Alchemist” from The Tobolowsky Files selected for NPR’s Earbud.fm

Today, NPR published earbud.fm, which is their attempt at building a database of the best podcasts on the internet. I was honored to see that Stephen Tobolowsky’s “The Alchemist” (ep. 4 of The Tobolowsky Files) has been selected for inclusion.

Stephen has often described “The Alchemist” as the turning point in the history of the podcast, when it transformed from being a fun podcast about the film industry, into something that had the potential to be of lasting, cultural worth. If you who still haven’t listened to the podcast yet, I hope you’ll consider checking it out.

Thanks to listener Andy Koopmans for being one of the people that recommended this podcast to NPR. Listen to this episode, and more, at earbud.fm.

What ‘Serial’ Was Really About

As most-popular-podcast-of-all-time “Serial” finally comes to a conclusion, there’ve been a lot of pieces written to try and figure out what did this all mean? Many were disappointed with the show for a variety of reasons – this is natural, as any show that is so insanely popular is going to experience intense scrutiny.

One of my favorite writers, Jay Caspain Kang, wrote what was, to me, a fairly unconvincing piece about the show’s “White reporter privilege.” Justine Elias chided the show for being “slack and meandering.

But what I really appreciated was Sarah Larson’s piece for The New Yorker on this topic:

Episode twelve conclusively proved that what we’ve been listening to is not a murder mystery: it’s a deep exploration of the concept of reasonable doubt, and therefore an exposé, if unwittingly so, of the terrible flaws in our justice system. Those among us who deign to be jurors, and don’t try to wriggle out of jury duty, too often don’t understand reasonable doubt, or can’t convince fellow-jurors about what it truly means. We convict people who haven’t been proved guilty because we feel that they are guilty. We feel that they’re guilty in part because they’re sitting in a courtroom having been accused of a terrible crime. In cases like this, the burden often ends up on proving the accused’s innocence—not innocent until proven guilty. And Adnan Syed is just the tip of the iceberg.

Even if the show doesn’t accomplish anything in the legal case of Adnan Syed, and even despite its other potential flaws, “Serial” has highlighted some of the systemic flaws in our justice system to an audience of millions of people. For that reason alone, it deserves our praise.

Making a Podcast with Superb Audio Quality

The Accidental Tech Podcast is a podcast that’s entered my regular rotation. Beyond its intelligent personalities, I’m always impressed by how clean the audio is, which is a rare thing to find in podcasts these days.

Co-host Casey Liss has recently published a detailed description of what they use for their setup, and it’s impressive. While not super expensive, it clearly shows a lot of thought. Anyone who wants to make a high-quality sounding podcast should bookmark it as a valuable reference guide.

For the record, the podcasts I produce use a far cruder setup than the one described. In fact, my situation is not too far removed from what ATP co-host Marco Arment derogatorily refers to as “recording people over Skype with mediocre USB microphones and exporting it with nearly zero editing.”

That being said, as Liss points out in his write-up, my setup also confers a big advantage: Timeliness. It’s what allows people to get their Game of Thrones recaps in their podcast feed within 24 hours of the episode airing.

But beyond that, over time, I’ve personally found that you rapidly experience diminishing returns when it comes to podcast audio. There is a baseline level that I (and most people) will deem to be acceptable: everyone on a podcast should have a dedicated microphone that is placed somewhat close to their mouths. Edit out Skype glitches, which are a dead giveaway that your podcast is not being recorded in a professional studio. Beyond that, incremental improvements in audio quality do not bring incremental improvements in listenership.

But those who value audio quality will always be able to tell the difference. And while it’s something I do value, my personal podcast projects are not the medium that I’ll choose to chase it through.

Maximizing Your Utility


I love microeconomics. While its usefulness as a model for describing the complexity of our real world is pretty limited, it can be quite accurate in certain situations. One of my favorite concepts is that of diminishing returns. It states that up to a certain point, every “unit” of labor you put into an activity will produce a correspondingly significant “unit” of output. But at a certain point, the returns for every “unit” of labor begin to diminish, and the output slows down.

My whole life has been about finding this balance – to put the appropriate amount of effort into something, such that I will receive the maximum return possible. To avoid reaching the point of diminishing returns. It’s been a challenge.

Take the /Filmcast. For years and years, we used to record an extra segment of the podcast called The /Filmcast: After Dark. I loved a lot of these segments, which essentially were just me and my co-hosts talking about random topics after we’d recorded the official show. Many of our fans loved these too, with some writing in that they actually enjoyed these segments more than the official show itself.

In fall of 2012, we decided to eliminate these segments as a regular part of our feed, although they still do pop up from time to time. There were some logistical reasons for this decision, one of them being that it was already difficult enough to schedule guests for the regular show, let alone asking for a 3-hour commitment to do the after-show as well. But for me, it was really all about the fact that I was stretched too thin already doing the show while moving to a new city and starting a new job, and I wasn’t getting that much out of the After Dark episodes. They took up hours of extra time and they frequently didn’t result in a product that I was particularly proud of (although sometimes they did – it was a crapshoot, and I guess that was part of the fun).

Over time, all of my other endeavors (podcasts, video work, photography) have presented dilemmas for how I should spend my time. Whether it’s an interview with a director, a fan commentary on a film, a review of a specific movie, a discussion on a specific topic, or whether or not to do a podcast at all: for each of these activities, I’ve started asking myself the following questions:

1) How much enjoyment/benefit do I derive from this activity? – Is the benefit I get (psychically, monetarily, physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc.) significant enough to be worth the opportunity cost of not doing something else? Is spending X hours doing this activity the most benefit I could get from that X hours? Is there something that doing this activity specifically provides me that doing another activity for the same amount of time cannot?

2) How much will fans enjoy this activity? How much will it contribute to the public discourse about a particular topic? – Is this something that a significant amount of people will enjoy? Will it significantly enhance people’s enjoyment/appreciation of a specific topic or product? Will it add value in a way that other people or other works cannot?

3) Is this activity something that will attract new listeners/fans? – Will doing this activity attract more fans in a way that corresponds to the amount of effort/time/money it requires?

***

It was a difficult truth to accept, but listenership for most of my podcasts has basically plateaued. While the /Filmcast still gets dozens, perhaps even hundreds of new listeners every month, the days of exponential growth are long past. Movie podcasts that are strictly movie podcasts just don’t have that large of a potential audience (that statement excludes movie podcasts with “crossover” potential, such as The Flop House, which is theoretically also a comedy podcast, and can be categorized as such). From a growth perspective, you’re much better off in other podcast categories like comedy, culture, or even TV.

As a result, it’s been challenging to answer some of these questions on occasion. For instance, a /Filmcast interview with a director may take many hours to set up, and may be a very enjoyable and fulfilling experience for me, but is likely to bring us less than a dozen new listeners. This is also true of my interviews with film score composers, which consistently receive positive feedback but also get fewer downloads than some of our more popular episodes. Could I use this time to do something equally fulfilling but that would be far more likely to reach a mass audience (like say, creating a Youtube video)? Sometimes!

Ultimately, I keep on doing the things I do because I love them and because I get a lot out of them. But finding a balance for each of the above factors is something that will continue to challenge me and continue to evolve as time goes on. For anyone that creates content, I think these are all factors that are worth evaluating.

Lessons on Podcast Ownership

From Dave Gonzales comes a distressing post about the fate of his movie podcast, Operation Kino:

I proposed a counter-offer: “Give us control over the RSS feed and we’ll keep posting the podcast episodes on CinemaBlend, nothing will change.” Even though I’d just been slapped in the face by another man’s penis, I thought this was the best-case scenario. Josh doesn’t lose whatever audience we did or did not have and we could quietly migrate to our own server space, owning all the files and connections. No one would be losing anything. This offer was rejected, with the added “fuck you” of “You guys had a good run.” Basically, we didn’t get to record a last episode of Operation Kino because we had dared to suggest we owned the thing we made for almost three years.

I completely sympathize with Dave. As someone who’s spent a significant part of the last five years creating podcast content, it would horrify me to see someone make a power grab and claim credit for something I’d been integral in building. That being said, I don’t think Josh Tyler (a person who I’ve never interacted with) is completely unreasonable in some of his expectations, although, based solely on this post, he may have gone about some things the wrong way.

Here’s the thing, though: a popular website is a viable platform from which to launch a podcast. It is reasonable to expect something in return for providing such a platform. It is incredibly difficult to get podcast listeners. Incredibly difficult. Listening to a lengthy audio program requires a lot of commitment, and the more specific your field, the smaller your potential pool of fans gets. For movie podcasts, that pool is very small. Allowing someone to launch a podcast on your website takes an act of faith and it is unwise to discount the value of this.

Ideally, the relationship will be symbiotic: both the site and the podcast will benefit from each other’s presence. More importantly, parties on both sides of the relationship need to perceive each side’s contributions similarly. An imbalance can result in an unfortunate situation.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work under Peter Sciretta from /Film. Peter not only was savvy enough to create the sizable /Film empire from pretty much nothing, he’s also one of the nicest, most supportive people I know. He has given me a huge amount of creative freedom and a significant amount of ownership in all my online activities for his website. But here’s a lesson I’ve learned during my travels: Most people are not as nice as Peter Sciretta. You’re best off assuming this is the case and taking precautions accordingly.

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.

How Ain’t It Cool’s Kickstarter Reveals a Major Flaw in Kickstarter’s System

Harry Knowles’s Ain’t It Cool News helped inaugurate the modern era of film fan sites. With its enthusiastic reviews, its incredible scoops, and its roster of talented film writers, Knowles helped create the template for a lot of what fans read on the internet today (including the film site I currently work for). While AICN has fallen on hard times as of late, it’s still going strong with boatloads of readers.

Recently, Knowles has taken to Kickstarter to try to raise money for his web series, “Ain’t It Cool with Harry Knowles.” That show aired on the Nerdist network for 30 episodes but was turned down for a follow-up season, so Knowles is now hoping his fan base will kick in some cash to keep the dream alive. I have a lot of thoughts on the show itself and its viability as an ongoing concern, but that’s not the focus of my post today. Instead, I wanted to highlight how Knowles’ Kickstarter project reveals one of Kickstarter’s major flaws.

When Knowles posted on his website about the Kickstarter, he was inundated with comments, the vast majority of which were nasty and vitriolic. That Talkback thread has now spawned over 16,000 comments, a massive number even by the site’s standards. The top-voted comment reads partially as follows: “WHY SHOULD ANY ONE FUND THIS? The ‘first season’ was just a vanity project for you – all about you, starring you, about you and your fabulous toys which you have and no one else does and we’re supposed to envy you. Any guest who came on who had accomplished more than you from humble roots you shit on.”

On a fundamental level, it’s fascinating that so many people who are regulars on Ain’t It Cool seem to vehemently hate the person who created it all. The Kickstarter talkback is a murderer’s row of users who have built up a lot of bitterness and resentment for what appears to be decades. The high asking price on the Kickstarter project is just their latest excuse for unleashing a verbal beatdown on Knowles. Reading through the comments, it’s difficult not to feel bad for Knowles, despite the potential veracity of the accusations hurled at him.

I was also struck by another realization. To my knowledge, Kickstarter has no (public) answer to the following question:

How do you stop people from manipulating Kickstarter in order to actively destroy your project?

If you visit the comments section of the AICN Kickstarter, you’ll find even more hatred from some of the project’s “backers.” In fact, at least one of the backers is clearly pledging massive amounts of money (i.e. in the thousands) with the clear intention of retracting that pledge later. 

Why is this a problem? Here’s a graph of Pledge Distribution over of the life of a project, which Kickstarter itself generated:

According to Kickstarter, “As the graph illustrates, funding tends to cluster around the very beginning and very end of a campaign. There’s a logic to this. When a project launches the creator’s most fervent fans rush to show their support. And as time runs out, people who have been sitting on the sidelines are motivated to finally take action.”

Users who pledge massive amounts of money may seem totally legitimate at first. But Kickstarter gives them the option to retract those pledges or lower those amounts at any time. By pledging with the intention of retracting, users can effectively sabotage the Kickstarter by significantly lowering the urgency for people to pledge.

With less than 48 hours to go (and a project length of 30 days), Knowles’ Kickstarter hasn’t even reached its 2/3rds funding point, meaning he likely will not come close to his goal. Thus, the prospect that some of Knowles haters could significantly influence the outcome is pretty unlikely. Nonetheless, if the project had come closer, then a pack of his detractors could have easily led this project to a different outcome.

There aren’t really any easy fixes on Kickstarter for this, but one that jumps to mind is the ability to “lock in” pledges a certain amount of time before the project has expired. This way, if people are going to play the retraction game, at least the project owners still has a significant amount of time to get the money they need. But no solutions are optimal. As Kickstarter starts to experience more diverse “user scenarios,” I hope they’ll move quickly to solve problems like this.

Update: Scott in the comments points out that protection like this is already in place, but it is only for the final 24 hours and only if the pledge reduction doesn’t drop the project below its goal. I don’t feel this is adequate given the gaming that we are seeing here, but at least it is something.

Update 2: In a fairly stunning turn of events, the Kickstarter project is now fully funded. The project received over $60,000 worth of funding in under 48 hours. That is staggering. Worth noting: Average donation was $166/pledge (average across Kickstarter = $75/pledge). Plus, based on the rewards that were claimed, we can calculate that around $42,500 was donated by 10 people.

An Interview with Dave Porter


I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview composer Dave Porter this evening. Dave Porter has crafted all the original music for Breaking Bad, including the now-iconic theme, and his work has been essential to making Breaking Bad the legendary show that it’s become. You can head over to /Film to download the interview, or listen to it below.

This is one of my favorite pieces of content that I’ve had pleasure to produce. Ever.

Thoughts on Ryan Davis

I was absolutely stunned to hear today that Ryan Davis has passed away at the age of 34. The cause of death was not released.

I followed Davis’ work — in writing, audio, and video — since his time at Gamespot, through the departure of Greg Kasavin, Rich Gallup, and ultimately Jeff Gerstmann and Davis himself, as the latter two went to set up shop at Giant Bomb. It is not an exaggeration to say that the /Filmcast and any of the shows that have come afterwards would likely not exist without the inspiration of people like Davis and all the fine folks over at Giant Bomb (as well as the now-defunct 1up network). Their shows didn’t just serve as templates for the work that I would end up doing; they also provided endless hours of free entertainment and detailed analysis that have enthralled me for years.

Davis and crew blazed a trail for a style of podcasting that was loaded with hilarious tangents, entertaining riffs, and non-stop pop culture references. His demeanor was utterly relatable, yet harsh when a game/film called for it. Through it all, you could always sense his desire to entertain and deliver high quality content at the same time.

The online world has lost a great this week. R.I.P., Ryan Davis.

Thanks for Helping Us Raise $13,500 for Charity

It’s been a few weeks since the FilmAid broadcast and I’m still taken aback by the magnitude of what occurred: /Filmcast listeners donated over $13,500, and directors like Bryan Singer and Jason Reitman decided to join us to help raise awareness for a worthy cause as part of a 10-hour long broadcast. We’ve already released three parts to this broadcast — featuring Jon Chu, Rian Johnson, and David Wain — but there are many more interesting parts to come.

In the meantime,  thanks to all those who participated in some way. Your tweets, donations, and kind words were a constant encouragement that a bunch of film geeks can do good for the world.

Doing Good for the World Through Film

Over at /Film, we’ve just launched a fundraising drive to raise $10,000 for FilmAid. The request? Donate as much as possible at FilmAid’s website, even if it’s just $1. The reward? A 10-hour long broadcast of the /Filmcast, featuring lots of fun guests from our show’s past. 
I will admit that I was a bit skeptical of FilmAid at first, as I know many will be. Why provide film and media training to a people that desperately also need basic necessities such as food and water? To be clear, those things are still important, and if you are a person who only donates to those types of causes, I still think that is great. But when you read about the work that FilmAid does, I hope you’ll realize that it’s also essential.
I know that crowdfunding at the scale I dreamed it is probably not possible. But I still have a vision that thousands of people will each donate a little bit. Whether we meet our goal that way or not, I hope we succeed and show that a few film fans can still change the world. Won’t you join us and donate today?

Observations on Launching a “Successful” Podcast Kickstarter

A few days ago, Joanna Robinson and I launched a Kickstarter for 10 episodes of our Game of Thrones podcast, “A Cast of Kings,” set to coincide nicely with season 3 of the show. We were both totally floored by the response, as we saw our $3200 funding goal reached within 48 hours. Before I go any further, let me just make sure to say: Thank you. To anyone who donated, to anyone who supported us spiritually in this, and to anyone who has just listened to the show. We are so grateful that you believe our endeavors are worth paying for.

This being my first successful Kickstarter, I thought it might be useful for me to share a couple of thoughts on the process.

I did not think we did a great job at creating an exemplar Kickstarter project – I am aware of the elements that go into a stereotypically successful Kickstarter project, and I am equally aware our project did not possess them. I actually got a lengthy e-mail from a concerned listener named Adam, offering ways to help improve the Kickstarter and set it up for success (I share some of his advice below). The reason the Kickstarter deployed as it did was because I was kind of interested to see how challenging it would be to mobilize our fanbase to donate for us. While some of my thoughts were proven true, others weren’t — again, more on this below. More than anything, this Kickstarter was an experiment.

Kickstarters should have videos – Kickstarter strongly recommends each project have a video, and statistically, projects with videos are more likely to be backed. Concerned listener Adam recommended “a short 3 minute video with you on camera talking about how much this means to you. People donate to people, not to projects. If you go on there and really let people know how much it means to you, then they will be far more inclined to donate.” I think the biggest reason for no video is because I would have felt weird making one without Joanna — we live many miles apart and I’ve never met her in person. But time was also a major consideration.

Rewards should be more incrementally spaced – It’s a pretty big jump from $10 to $150. I get that. But ultimately, I didn’t really feel like I could commit enough time to promise additional rewards. I realize that some projects have “stretch goals,” but I already think doing the podcast as currently planned will be a significant commitment. Beyond additional episodes, I wasn’t really sure what else I could offer. One suggestion that did strike me as a good one, which I now wish I’d included, was the promise of reading a listener e-mail on the air.

Explain more about you and your talents  – In an ideal Kickstarter we would have done more of this. But really, I was counting on a) the proof of concept of the past 10 episodes we did, and b) the fact that people would trust us to deliver a quality product, based on those episodes. Explaining more about yourself is necessary in a situation where you are marketing the Kickstarter to complete strangers. I did not think we fell into that category, although in the end, a lot of non-Cast-of-Kings listeners did end up donating.

Outline what the costs are – My single biggest regret is not doing a better job of articulating where the money is going. In this instance, there are a few fixed costs in terms of equipment (a replacement mic for Joanna), HBO subscriptions (which I don’t currently have), the domain name for the podcast, etc. Kickstarter and Amazon payments take a significant percentage of the total amount (about 8-10% between the two of them), plus Kickstarter funds are also taxable — how much is a little complicated and still unresolved, but it’s safe to say Uncle Sam will take a huge chunk. The biggest cost, though, is time and effort. Thus, the remainder of the funds will be divided up between Joanna and myself.

There seems to be a significant misconception online that podcasts take no time or effort whatsoever. They do take time. They do take effort. They don’t just appear on the interwebs like babies in a cabbage patch. Occasionally, some people who do certain podcasts may ask for money for the time and effort that goes into making a podcast. Why anyone would object to this is something that is beyond my ability to fathom.

My personal goal was not to extract as much money as possible from a single Kickstarter – This Kickstarter was really an experiment on my part, to see if people would be willing to pay for a single, limited run podcast. Many people asked things like, “Why not promise stretch goals? Why not offer more rewards? Why not offer more episodes for more money?” etc. But the goal was not to make as much money as possible. I’m far more interested in how sustainable this model is. How many podcast Kickstarters per year can be launched this way and successfully funded? How many times can you annoy people on Twitter to donate before they stop following you? What is the right balance? These are questions I’m really interested in because they go towards answering the ultimate question: can someone make a decent living off of doing podcasts?

In the days to come, I’ll be doing some more experimentation with Kickstarter and seeing if we can get to the bottom of this question.

The true dream of TRUE crowdfunding still eludes us, or at least, me – In my original podcast episode announcing the Kickstarter, I said that if everyone listening to the podcast donated $1, we’d have more than enough  to fund the show. In my dream, everyone donating a tiny amount could create a huge impact. Things didn’t really work out that way. As you can see in the header image, the average donation was closer to $15. The vast majority of people donated $10, and there were a couple extravagant donations (including some backers that chose the $150 reward option).

I’ve heard many theories for why so few people made small donations. Peter Sciretta from /Film opined that the pain of filling out all the Kickstarter info is not worth a $1-2 donation. Matt Singer explained he thought that people didn’t think a $1-2 would truly help. The caveat here is that by reaching the goal in 2 days, we didn’t have a long enough timeline to extract too many statistically sound data about user behavior.

But if it is accurate, this does force me to to recalibrate my expectations for future Kickstarters. If the average donation is going to be $10-15, then the value that we are delivering needs to be in line with that, as does the expectation for how many people we can expect will donate.