Making IT Conversations Self-Sustaining

Doug Kaye emailed me to point out an interesting conversation occurring on his wiki. He primed the pump by asking about models to get his operation fiscally self-sustaining. It appears that I’m in the minority on there, because I think the way to go is via an underwriting model. Perhaps this might be because I’ve had experience with it and seen it work very well.

Most people seem to think that a subscription model is the way to go. I see that being problematic in a few ways. One is that no matter how you slice it, it will need supporting infrastructure. You need to clear payments, keep up with who has subscribed, who is expiring, etc. What about people who listen to a subset of the programs and wouldn’t be willing to do a blanket subscription? Do you need subscriptions to individual programs or ala carte pricing? That puts more complexity into the system that would also need to be managed. Another issue is that any way of locking the content behind a subscriber wall will put pressure on that point and reduce listenership. Right now, I think IT Conversations is on track to becoming the “channel of record” for certain types of audio content. Anything you do to lock it up, even with a standard/premium split like Marc Canter advocates, will serve to reduce that. I could be wrong and maybe the brand is so strong that loads of people would be willing to subscribe no matter what, but my guess is that isn’t how it would go down. By taking underwriting, all the shows can continue to be totally free for the listeners and encouraged for linking in and blogged, etc.

Doug mentions in his intro on that wiki page that he doesn’t have lots of time to make sales calls and work on that end. In my one shot at working with underwriting for Reality Break, I got a quarter’s worth of it at $100 a pop with a single phone call. Counting the call, followup emails, the paperwork, sending the invoice and all that, I maybe spent two man-hours total on landing that deal. It might take a little more energy with fishing for possible underwriters, but I don’t think it would take as much resource as Doug thinks it would. Anything subscriber related is going to take resources as well, in an ongoing fashion and proportional to the number of subscribers. Some of the transactions will be screwed up, some people will pay their money and not get in, etc. I can understand Doug not wanting to get into the sales business, but on the other hand going the subscriber route he’ll de facto get into the customer support business. My contention is that making the same amount of money via underwriting will be less of an overall drag than subscriptions, but we shall see.

Update: Eric Rice sees an issue I didn’t with subscriptions.

Besides, having dozens of different sites requiring subscriptions or various methods of collecting micro-payment for various forms of content would be a hassle. Think about it. We use RSS news readers to get blog content in one place, as opposed to hunting and pecking across the Web. Why should we pay for content any differently?

If we make the assumption that whatever Doug does, others will do – do you want to have subscriptions to each channel of podcast that you listen to? Even if they aren’t expensive, do you feel like managing that? Imagine if each one had an entirely different way of paying and authenticating.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

2 thoughts on “Making IT Conversations Self-Sustaining”

  1. Andy Skinn says:

    I can see the Podcasting model moving in this direction. However, as much as I wouldn’t want it to go there, if that’s the direction it’s moving, I’d at least like to see it get done properly. Just like RSS and Podcast feeds are based on standards, it would be nice if there was a standard to pay for feeds – maybe something called “Podpay” that is built right into iPodder and other podcasting clients. As I say, I don’t support this idea, but at least it would keep it all in one place.

    I do like the idea that Adam mentioned in his latest Podcast about making really short interesting ads in Podcasts that people would want to listen to or maybe not even really notice. Either way, I think that the days of 30-second ads will not exist in the Podcasting world.

  2. James says:

    I think the corporate sponsorship model is the best way to go about it. Give them a little blurb at the beginning and end of the cast and let them reap the rewards of being good sponsors. You, of course, need to know how much it costs to produce each show in order to price it at break even or better. The model that PBS puts out there is a good one, I think. Get corporate sponsors, ask for donations, and sell some T-shirts and coffee mugs. That makes more sense than doing things that you know will cut your listenership by an order of magnitude.

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