To Make Real Money, The Podcast Industry Needs to Stop Calling Them Podcasts

Podcasts are big business. At least that’s what the articles keep telling me. And indeed, there are a number of podcasts which makes big money, almost 100% via brand sponsorship dollars. But for podcasts to really develop as a market the industry needs to find a way to integrate “listener pays” models into the business, whether it be at the show/series level and/or the “Hulu for podcasts” subscription model.

What’s blocking this evolution? One barrier is terminology. There are classes of podcasts which need to stop calling themselves “podcasts” and angle towards something like “series & episodes” or “shows.”

Why? We’ve been trained that podcasts are free and highly substitutable. When a term becomes synonymous with “free” it’s very hard to convince people to pay.

Millions of people are happy to pay for a digital “book on tape” – a story you listen to. Is Serial not a “story you listen to?”

Look at author’s James Patterson’s attempt to create ~150 page or shorter “books.”

“BookShots, a new line of short and propulsive novels that cost less than $5 and can be read in a single sitting…. All of the titles will be shorter than 150 pages, the length of a novella.”

“BookShots is like an analog version of digital publishing programs like Amazon’s Kindle Singles.. Publishers and writers have tried to engage fickle readers with bite-size digital fiction in various ways, from unbundling short stories and selling them for 99 cents apiece, to serializing novels as short, plot driven e-books… It is tough to sell a single short story in print.”

Really smart to keep them under the “book” umbrella. People are trained to associate a book with value – $9.99, $24.99, $29.99. A short book (in this case) can be priced at a discount to a long book. If the content is good people will be willing to pay a fair price because it’s in a category – books – that has maintained a value proposition.

Brand sponsorship just won’t scale and leaves lots of money on the table versus a dual revenue stream model of sponsorship + user payments. The best podcasts, err shows, are of equal enjoyment quality to the best books, the best tv shows and they should ask their users to support with their wallets not just their ears.

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