Audience Affinity

I think for those of us in new media, discussing your download stats has joined politics and money as the thing that makes you rude for bringing it up over the dinner table. The Ze Frank thing brought this to mind, but this is a lingering thought from PME. I find a high correlation between people who like to bring up their stats and people I find very tiresome very quickly. Not that I’ve ever met him personally but Rickey Gervais springs to mind in this regard with his interactions with our little world.

I only really see two reasons for this fascination – ego and money. Having lots of downloads is the way to prove your worth to others (easier to just tell someone a number than get them to download and like your show) and to increase your valuation when you try to cash in. Like Scoble said earlier and I’ve been saying for years the affinity that the users have for the show is far more important than the total downloads. Ze Frank accused Drew Baron of fudging his download numbers. None of this would matter so much if we could break the link between downloads and money. When those are tied together, you encourage fraud and jealousy.

Let’s be honest here. If I could prove I had 100,000 downloads per episode and that would get me $X because of it, there is a certain rationality to seeing how much it would cost you to synthesize that many downloads. The same guys who run the spammer bot networks I’m sure could generate you actual downloads from different IP addresses that would pass any audit. If what they charge you is significantly less than what you make off it, those of a certain unethical bent could then jerk off with the invisible hand of the marketplace. Whatever the difference between those two dollar figures is, that’s your margin. You could make money off a show without having a single legitimate fan yet still have verifiable and auditable stats and logs.

Over and over, you’ll hear how we “really need a good way to determine actual audience metrics.” Hell, that was half of the sessions at PME. I disagree completely — we need the opposite. What we need is a way to all do our business realistically without needing them. Perhaps the pain of collecting these statistics is a clue that it is not what we should be doing. “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” “OK, don’t do that.”

My contention is that rather than “pay per impression” type advertising, only “pay per results” style is reasonable. Spammers and fraudsters can do a lot of things, but what they can’t do reasonably is mint new money to dump into the system. If they could, they wouldn’t need us. Thus, when GoDaddy has all their advertisers give out coupon codes, they use that to measure how much money flows through the system associated with the individualized codes. This is much better than relying on download stats, but has its own problems. For example, when GoDaddy sponsors a lot of different shows that you are a fan of and then you go to register a domain, which code do you use? Do you register multiple domains seperately so you can spread the love out? There is a chokepoint, and by nature the biggest shows will choke out the smaller ones in general. It’s better than download metrics, but still not perfect.

When I’ve had sponsors, some of my fans wrote in and/or left comments on the product forums thanking them for the sponsorship of my show. I don’t know how much that mattered in the cold hard economics of business decision making, but it left me with warm and fuzzy feelings. These are all tentative baby steps (not even, really) towards reaching that “affinity rating” that would be a far superior metric for deciding where to put sponsorship dollars into new media. I don’t know how we’ll get there, if we’ll get there but I know that this is where I’d like to see the efforts going. When people say “We need to know who is listening and how to count them better” I tune them out and instead think how much better it would be if we could just measure how much people care. Both are difficult or perhaps impossible problems, but if you are going the tackle the impossible isn’t it preferable to shoot for a much better impossible?

7 Replies to “Audience Affinity”

  1. It reminds me a lot of the old hack: “Do what you love and the money will come…”. Whether the second part is true, the first part is. It begins there.
    I’m already sick of being “marketed”, and am finding the NPR podcasts and deeply underground indie feeds preferable in terms of not having my “walls up”. The buzz of monetization coming from heavy hitters is just old media swallowing up the new while the Clue Train derails on the bridge to the future.

    Fast talkers and the visionless VCs will kill this medium unless those who love the doing pull together, support each other, and find appropriate ways to give value to the listeners/viewers. The YouTube buyout may be the event horizon for viral media…

    …your Michelle Malone show—a perfect example of quality content done with love for all the right reasons….now I gotta go buy the damn album!

  2. Now if your show was proven to be the single most downloaded podcast out there and was listed in the Guiness Book Of Records, would you not mention that in your shows? It isn’t as If Ricky Gervais talks of it constantly, as maybe say Howard Stern possibly would. Gervais didn’t go for any advertising so I doubt money is a factor for him, and I think the series that they charged 99¢ a show for was a way for Karl to make something out of it. Ricky Gervais is a wealthy man as it is. He is quite a self-effacing bloke really too, and has done a fair amount of charity work in England. Certainly not a big ego type of guy at all. Unsure what the line “with his interactions with our little world” means exactly. It sounds as if you are saying podcasting is an exclusive club or something.

  3. Whenever anyone asks me about my download stats, I tell them, not because I want to brag, but because I don’t care. Once you free yourself from caring about such a trivial thing, then you can concentrate more on doing a show you like. If you do a show you like, then other people are more apt to like it as well.

    Also regarding the Gervais show, wasn’t it underwritten by a newspaper or something? I always assumed that they started charging to offset the costs of bandwidth, not because they wanted to share the wealth with “the talent” but I could be wrong.

  4. That’s correct about the Guardian newspaper actually. But in one episode prior to the 99¢ series either Gervais or Merchant mentioned that Karl would be getting money from it.

  5. Dave, please forgive my ignorance here, but it sounds like you are, at least in part, expressing Steve Gillmor’s theory of “Gestures”. An evolution beyond page impressions and sponsored links, that tries to move away from old media and toward the user as the ultimate measure of success.

  6. Danny, I wish I could confirm or deny that, but since I’ve never understood what the fuck Steve is talking about on that subject I can’t.

    Derek, I’m not so much saying “don’t talk about it” but that bringing it up is kind of like telling people without being asked how much you paid for your new car. I do agree with your statement though, that worrying about the work is ultimately all that matters.

    Tom, now you have hit it. That Guinness thing means absolutely frigging nothing. I don’t believe that Guiness audited their stats and all the stats of any other show that plausibly was within an order of magnitude. I don’t grant Guiness any expertise in this subject, and talking about it as if that is valid is exactly the problem. It’s not that I think this is an exclusive club, but it took him no time to proclaim himself king of this medium.

    Every single time I’ve seen him on any talk show since his podcast began, he has brought it up. Full disclosure, I hated his podcast and could never finish and episode. I don’t like his work at all, not the Office or Extras or anything. I think his success is completely inexplicable. I know one zillion people love him, but I have never enjoyed anything he has touched ever. That’s great that he does lots of charity work, may he do lots of good works for many.

    I don’t know what his subscribership was like for the pay version, but almost certainly they could have done better financially taking advertising. I have heard and read him interviews saying that if he knew it was going to be so popular, they wouldn’t have given it away for free.

    Just to be clear, that was a throwaway line in a much larger post, and I might just take it out if it distracts people this much. Having spent a lot of time dealing with Zenaticists, the last thing I want to do is spend more on Gervaisicists.

    Randy, thanks for your kind words on the Michelle show. The fact that I have not gotten lots of feedback on it directly kind of wigged me out. I kind of agree with your points but I don’t think it will be possible for the VCs to squash anything. There will always be two things happening overlaid on each other, and the VCs will never touch the DIY layer. They might eventually suck the mojo out of the Big Media wannabees, but the DIYs will continue on. It’s kind of like the collapse of the hair metal big label bands in the 80s did not affect DIY punk.

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