Being the sole proprietor of a web site means you’re not insulated. By accepting weekly sponsors for this site, I put myself in a position I’ve really never been in before, of having to decide if a sponsor is appropriate for my audience—and turn away business if I feel that it’s not a good fit with what I’m trying to do.
It’s a funny problem to have. My primary job at Standard Broadcast is that of curator — I don’t sell ads so much as I make sure they don’t ruin the shows on which they air. I take that role very seriously, and I have no problem turning away sponsors that don’t fit the spirit of the shows.
I also try to consider context. For Better Elevation — a video show focused on design and interaction — I only work with companies that make physical products. Partially because it makes for better visual content, but mostly because it better fits the spirit of the show: exploration and experimentation. As viewers and listeners we see lots of ads for software and services. Things we can touch and feel are different, and require different levels of thoughtfulness. For Standard’s shows, I consider the audience, what they like, and how sponsors pair up in a given episode.
Ultimately I’d argue that the sort of strong taste and editorial voice required to regularly make content of substance will also serve well in the curation of sponsorship. Whenever you’re letting someone else put their logo on your work, trust your gut. After all, whether you like it or not, ads are still part of your content.
My friend (and Unprofessional co-host) Jaimee Newberry and I have been planning a new show about life’s challenges, big and small, and what it’s like to approach them as someone whose job it is to think through and craft experiences. The trouble is that we’ve had a hell of a time getting our schedules to line up.
So we decided to make it asynchronous and put it all on video. Inspired by John and Hank Green, we’re sending each other weekly video postcards via our new YouTube channel, called Hovercraft to Paris1. This is an experiment, and all we have right now is the starting point: a conversation between friends. Like the best conversations between friends, it could go anywhere.
My first video to Jaimee:
Allen Pike and Steamclock were going to make an app for making podcasts. They decided against it:
Sponsored podcasters are the folks who could justify dropping serious money on podcast software, say on the order of $200, so I worked to determine how many pros and semi-pros are out there. The best estimates I could get said there were 500 to 1,000 active sponsored podcasters out there. If you follow the typical startup math of “Imagine! If we only got 1% of the market!” then that would be… 5 customers. I’m confident we could do a lot better than that, but realistically there’s maybe $20-50k to be made in the pro market. Even with the most optimistic market penetration and continued linear growth in podcasting, you wouldn’t make enough to actively improve and maintain a great pro app.
Unfortunately, the math works similarly for the enthusiast market. There are perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 semi-serious amateur podcasters who might consider paying $20 for such an app, perhaps enough to break even building the app initially, but again not enough to sustain such a complex app. Only making $20-50k on some iPhone app is no tragedy if it doesn’t need maintenance, but for a mission-critical pro app with a backend service, it’s just not enough.
Why are professionals and enthusiasts the only options? Why should podcasting software be for professionals, anyway? Why not make something anyone could use, and price it accordingly?
Maybe pricing will always be a problem. Maybe there just aren’t enough different people making podcasts to make it financially sustainable, and the only way we’ll get better tools is if Apple bakes them into Garageband or something.
But I wonder how much money you’d make if you just built and marketed an app that empowered people to record and publish conversations.
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