How SoundCloud lost its way

Dani Deahl and Casey Newton, writing for The Verge:

SoundCloud experimented with a variety of business models, including content-related ads and charging the creators for premium accounts that host more audio. But much of the audio uploaded to its servers contained derivative copyrighted material: DJ sets, mashups, and unofficial remixes using songs the SoundCloud artists didn’t have rights to. As those tracks racked up millions of views, record labels pressured the company to crack down. While the company worked to develop its paid platform, the service began to fray around the edges. SoundCloud’s increasingly confusing system of paid tiers caused contention for creators and their teams: unwarranted song takedowns ruined PR for new releases, labels pulled music off SoundCloud against artists’ will, and those who had helped make SoundCloud a force from the beginning now found it had simply stopped paying attention to their needs.

What’s happening to SoundCloud is sad. What was once a great platform for discovery and creativity is a confusing mess to use and is in danger of shutting down. For my part, I am freaked and will be attempting to move my SoundCloud podcasts off the platform as soon as possible.

The Ghosts of Westeros Panel at Con of Thrones

I recently experienced one of the greatest joys of my life as a pop culture commentator: moderating the “Ghosts of Westeros” panel at Con of Thrones with my Cast of Kings co-host Joanna Robinson. It was a blast to spend time with these amazing actors, who been invaluable to building a show that has become such a huge success over the past 7 years.

As the event was about to begin and we walking onto the stage, looking upon thousands of fans in the audience, I acutely felt what an immense honor it has been to be part of people’s lives during the course of this show.

You can listen to the panel below. Subscribe to A Cast of Kings on Apple Podcasts here.

Here are a few write-ups of the Con worth checking out:

Meeting Joanna

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I’ve been podcasting with Joanna Robinson for about six years. This past weekend, we met in person for the very first time.

It was about six years ago that Joanna first pitched me the idea of doing a recap podcast about Game of Thrones. I was unsure whether this would be a good idea — I didn’t know that much about the world of the show and I’d never done a TV podcast before. But I trusted in Joanna to guide the way.

So we decided to give it a shot, and we launched A Cast Of Kings. We entered a crowded field that already had DOZENS of other Game of Thrones podcasts.

Fast forward to present day. A Cast of Kings is the most successful podcast I’ve ever had a part in, generating over 5 million downloads, with hundreds of thousands of fans from all around the world. Moreover, Joanna’s star has risen dramatically in the intervening years, as she’s become one of the most respected and widely read Game of Thrones writers on the internet. It’s been an honor to work with her during
this ascension.

Despite this, Joanna and I had never met in person before. But yesterday, at a Podcaster Meet And Greet at #ConOfThrones, surrounded by many fans of the show we created together, we finally had the chance. This photo commemorates the occasion (thanks to Jim from Bald Move for taking it).

The internet can be magic, if you will it to be. All it takes is the willingness to take chances with people and a passion for what you do.

And persistence. A lot of persistence.

Season finale

After a multi-year absence, Stephen Tobolowsky and I re-united to put out another 12-episode season of The Tobolowsky Files over the course of the past few months. While we will have more projects together, they will be somewhat infrequent until the next season of the show, likely not coming until 2018.

After publishing the last episode this year, Stephen emailed me and said, “We did it, David. Congrats. It was tough with the book tour and the travel and no internet and no time…but we did something good.”

As I’ve started refocusing on what is important in my life, I’ve realized that this has been my only goal with The Tobolowsky Files: to make something good. It is of paramount importance, beyond ad dollars or listenership numbers. It’s rare to be able to be involved with something whose quality you can believe in. This season of stories, which in my opinion represents some of Stephen’s best work, fits that bill for me.

Here’s a link to the season finale. If you like that episode, you can also subscribe to the show in Apple Podcasts or via RSS.

Analytics are coming to Apple Podcasts

iTunes Podcasts recently rebranded as Apple Podcasts, a small indication that Apple is starting to take the podcast game more seriously. Then this week, during a podcast session at WWDC, Apple announced they are going to be allowing access to information about listening behavior that occurs through the Podcasts app.

Peter Kafka, writing for recode:

A new version of Apple’s podcast app will provide basic analytics to podcast creators, giving them the ability to see when podcast listeners play individual episodes, and — crucially — what part of individual episodes they listen to, which parts they skip over, and when they bail out of an episode.

The reason all of that is important is that up until now, Apple has provided almost no data at all about podcast listening behavior — just the fact that someone has downloaded an individual episode.

And since Apple’s Podcast app accounts for the majority of podcast consumption, that means podcast creators — and podcast advertisers — have almost no idea how people are interacting with podcasts. They’ve been creating — and paying for — this stuff in the dark with almost no feedback.

Lots of people are saying this is going to be a huge deal. I agree that Apple offering basic analytics is give people a level of information and detail they’ve never had before.

I don’t quite believe it’s going to make an enormous difference for the vast majority of podcasts, such as those that I host. Here’s why:

Increasing fragmentation – With Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher now carrying podcasts (not to mention other iOS apps like Overcast and Downcast), the way people consume podcasts often doesn’t even involve Apple’s Podcasts app. While I’m sure the majority of listening still happens on the Podcasts app, anecdotally I feel like the listening on other platforms is also substantial, based on all the requests I get to add my shows to them.

We already kind of know how effective ads are  Advertisers have are using promo codes for quite some time, so they can track when you buy something using a specific show’s code. This isn’t the same as knowing whether users are skipping over their ads but in some ways it’s even better since this information, coupled with aggregate listening data, already allows companies to measure advertising effectiveness.


All that being said, I’m really interested to delve into the stats when they become available.

What’s going on with The Ones Who Knock podcast

For several years, Joanna Robinson and I hosted a podcast about Breaking Bad called “The Ones Who Knock.” This was one of our first popular recap podcasts together and led to many memorable moments like future-Star Wars director Rian Johnson doing a commentary with us on “Ozymandias“, one of the best episodes of TV ever produced.

Awhile after the Breaking Bad series finale, we converted this podcast into a Better Call Saul recap podcast. However, listenership fell off a cliff and pretty much never recovered.

Simultaneously, we’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into Gen Pop, a new podcast that is funded by listeners through Patreon and which features interesting conversations with awesome people about pop culture.

We’ve been getting a lot of requests to re-start The Ones Who Knock but ultimately the numbers are not there to justify us to bring it back as a full-fledged show. Instead, we are going to be doing a sort of “The Ones Who Knock” lite by posting podcast recaps every two weeks as bonus audio episodes on the Gen Pop Patreon feed. We’ll also likely do a full season recap that’s released publicly on the Gen Pop feed. So, to recap:

  • All Patrons at the rate of $2/month will have access to the bonus episodes. 
  • All subscribers to the Gen Pop podcast [iTunes link] will have access to the season recap we will do after season 3 has aired.

I know this is not what a lot of “The Ones Who Knock” fans wanted, but it lets us put time and resources into a show that is a longer term investment for us, while making sure our hardcore fans are served. Thanks for your understanding and listenership.

S-Town could be the most popular podcast of all time

The New York Times has some statistics on downloads for “S-Town,” the new podcast by the creators of “This American Life” and “Serial”:

In its first week of release, listeners downloaded episodes of “S-Town” 16 million times. It took eight weeks for the first season of “Serial” to reach that number, and four weeks for the second season to hit it, according to numbers provided by Serial Productions. “S-Town” is the first series released under the Serial Productions banner — the outfit is helmed by the makers of “Serial” and “This American Life” — and by podcast standards, it’s a blockbuster […]

In just over a week, “S-Town” has attracted 1.8 million subscribers to its podcast feed. “No one’s done that,” Mr. Quah said.

Other stats revealed: “Serial” now has a combined 267 million download count(!), while APM’s “In The Dark” true crime podcast has 6.6 million total.

Some thoughts on these stats:

  • I remember when “Serial” was first released, there was much excitement about how massive its download counts were. It was, at the time, the fastest growing podcast (in terms of subscribers) ever. These “S-Town” numbers seem to indicate that it will outgrow “Serial.” That being said, “S-Town” was released all at once while “Serial” grew its audience (and buzz) by releasing episodes week to week. We’ll see whether “S-Town” can continue this trajectory.
  • I’d love to know the downloads per episode over time, which I think gives a far better sense of how quickly a podcast is growing (or not).
  • I’ve listened to the first few episodes of “S-Town” and it is excellent. One of the best shows I’ve ever listened to, and certainly that rare show that is worth the hype.

You can download/subscribe/listen to the “S-Town” podcast here.

The Tobolowsky Files has returned

After an 18 month hiatus, The Tobolowsky Files has finally returned. The first two episodes of the new “season” have arrived, and you can download them here and here.

The problem with creating a podcast that requires 7,000 words of writing each week is that it’s difficult to publish it on a weekly basis. Stephen and I discussed how best to handle this and we agreed that we wanted to build up a backlog of episodes and come back weekly for a significant amount of time. Plus, Stephen’s new book will be out soon and we wanted to get some promotional attention on that thing. 

So, new episodes are here for at least 12 weeks. Possibly more later on. As Stephen has always said, the benefit of telling true stories is that they get to continue.

The Tobolowsky Files is not the most-downloaded show I’ve ever helped create but it’s the one that has the most passionate fanbase. So many people have found Stephen’s stories artistically insightful or emotionally meaningful to them. If you haven’t listened yet, I hope you’ll check it out on iTunes and see what people are so excited about.

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,

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

Today, NPR published, 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

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.