The Download on Podcasts is a weekly feature sponsored by PodcastOne.
Podcasts are historically subscription products. The legacy term “subscription” comes from early years when podcasts were attached to the RSS feeds of blogs. When you “subscribed” to the RSS feed, you received a notice of each new podcast episode available for downloading.
Now that podcasts have separated from RSS as the primary distribution vehicle, and are streamed as often as they are downloaded, subscribing has been replaced to a large extent by “following” and “saving” — although you still subscribe to programs in iTunes.
Subscribing to podcasts was never really about money, as it is with magazine subscriptions. When the category was young, independent podcasters earned some money through listener contributions, as small Internet radio stations do today. (Advertising entered the scene early, but without the scaling of networks and audiences that we see today.)
Today, there is another type of podcast subscription that does bring money to the creator. Based on the successful crowdfunding model, podcasters can earn recurring revenue that funds the ongoing expense of creating long strings of programs. Classic crowdfunding in the Kickstarter model is good for a singular creative product like a music album, or a technology venture like a new smartwatch. But that one-off framework doesn’t work well for podcasting, which requires ongoing effort to create a stream of new products.
Enter subscription-based crowdfunding, which is based on the centuries-old tradition of artistic benefactors. Translate that idea to the Internet age, and you get micro-subscriptions for crowds.
The leading platform for grass-roots patronage is Patreon, which fosters contributions of one dollar (or more) per month. Patreon serves many kinds of creators and projects, but the recurring giving is particularly suited to the recurring creative work of podcasts. This week Patreon announced it was acquiring competitor Subbable, and matching contributions to its creators as a persuasion for them to stay with the platform.
A new entrant in this field is Recurrency, which is also based on continued giving (one dollar per week, minimum), and has as different type of reach. Contributors can give to anyone who has a social profile on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook (with more social platforms in the works) — the creator does not need to be on Recurrency. When a contribution is directed to an absent creator, the site tracks down that person and delivers the ongoing revenue. In this way, fostering gifts to an unsuspecting creator, Recurrency acts as a crowdfunding version of the MacArthur Grant. (But with a lot less money in most cases.)
Paid subscriptions to podcasting spread the financial burden through a crowd, and can amount to a real career chance for podcasters whose shows lack the reach or connections to land on a major podcast network, and for podcasters who choose not to be in the advertising business.
One good example of podcast subscription success is We Have Concerns, a chatcast produced by Jeff Cannata and Anthony Carboni. On Patreon, the partners have 1,095 patrons giving $5,512 a month into the enterprise — an average of about $5 each per month. As with the Kickstarter model, contributors are rewarded for different levels of giving.
Most revealing about such success stories is that an audience exists that will give an average of $60 per year to support a single program. That is the cost of a Pandora One subscription, which removes advertising. Only 3.5-million of Pandora’s 81-million monthly users choose that option. It speaks to the power of podcasting — personal, unique, on-demand programming — that it can attract sustaining financial loyalty on a platform that is not yet widely known. The press cites Serial as the catalyst of a podcasting resurgence, but Serial is a corporate product that benefits from nationwide broadcast promotion. Patreon and its ilk, a type of crowdfunding not yet mainstream, point to a hopeful future for independent creators.