I was recently asked by a friend for the “go-to” industry resource on the pros and cons of creating a podcast network, as well as a good tutorial on how to go about setting one up. There isn’t such a document that I’m aware of, so I just spoke from my own experience, as well as the research I’ve done on the industry at large. I also steered her towards this episode of Podcasters Group Therapy featuring yours truly and my Always Listening cohost Josh.
Satisfied, and with a plan in mind, my friend suggested perhaps I could save myself some time in the future by writing such a document. I’d hesitate to call anything I write a “Go-To Industry Resource” but, I’ve been doing this a while, I’ve talked to hundreds of podcasters big and small and here’s what I know about podcast networks.
“Real” Podcast networks are largely just about ad sales. - While there are the obvious exceptions like Gimlet media that are about hands on production, regional networks that are geographically convenient and many themed networks that focus on a specific kind of content. But most networks are about creating and taking advantage of economies of scale, primarily in the creation and sale of advertising. They provide those services (as well as some cross promotion and possibly group crowdfunding) and take a cut of all the proceeds.
If you're a member of a major corporation, or already have an advertising apparatus, this is likely not the tutorial for you.
Why "Normal" Podcasters might build a network
1. Ad sales - Turns out, the big guys have a pretty good idea. By pooling the combined audiences of a couple or several shows together you can easily become a more attractive target for ad buyers. You could also isolate the workload and remove redundancies having one member of the network actually "work" as an ad sales office.
2. Vanity - Just like it's a little presumptive to say your ideas are worth other people subscribing and listening to each week, it takes a certain amount of ego to say, "I need to build my own media empire!" Frankly, if you are capable of producing multiple quality shows on an ongoing basis (or, as mentioned below, in rotation) then you HAVE built a media empire. Don't be a jerk about it, but don't be ashamed if you just want one.
3. Cross Promotion - This is going to come up again in my next post about why you might join a network, but it's applicable here too. One of the toughest things for beginning podcasters (or even experienced ones) is promotion. If you had five or a dozen shows mentioning and suggesting one another, surely we'd all explode together!
4. Expand Your Podcasting Circle - I'm based in Ruston, Louisiana. To say Podcasting has only recently arrived here would be an overstatement of its current arrival status. But even here, I'm not all alone. Maybe you've got friends who are into the idea of Podcasting, but wouldn't go through with all the effort. You provide them a "turn-key" solution and you get local Podcasting buddies.
5. Network as Service Industry - In some ways, this is the best way to describe Podcast Websites from JLD and Mark Asquith. They become your "podcast buddy" with the gear and know how to get you started and keep you going, but they charge you for the service instead of just asking you to help them move every few years (I say it's a good trade off). There are likely other great examples of this business model and I think there are opportunities for small business owners to do this all over the world.
On second thought...
Why You Shouldn't Create a Network
1. Ad sales - You never said you wanted to start an ad agency. You want to run your own podcast network. And if it's the ad dollars you're chasing you're still better focusing on traditional radio. Roughly $16.5 billion better.
2. Vanity - Yes, it's swell to put that Network creation on your Linked In page or your About Me section of your site. It's even cooler hearing your Audio ID on someone else's show, I won't even lie. But, without the editorial oversight of a Gimlet, there's always the chance some one else puts something you don't necessarily want your name on out into the world. Pride, goeth before a fall, remember?
3. Cross Promotion - statistics tell us that while many podcast listeners regularly listen to 11 or more podcasts weekly (8% of listeners according to Edison's latest reports), most only listen to a couple and the vast majority of Americans don't listen to any. The real opportunities to grow are among people who don't listen to podcasts today. Network promotion doesn't help that.
4. Expand Your Podcasting Circle - I'm not gonna try to talk you out of this. I'll just say having more podcasts under your purview is like having more babies. They're adorable, but expensive and time consuming. Tread carefully.
5. Network as Service - For the right person or persons, this might be perfect. I'd hesitate to say this is a "proven" moneymaker but I think there are opportunities in the market that you might be perfect for if your passion lay in podcast middle management!
Okay. You've weighed the good, you've weighed the bad and you're jumping anyway.
What Does My Network Need?
1. A logo
2. An Audio ID
3. A Website
4. An agreement for hosts
The first and third are self explanatory, but I want to spend some time on 2 and 4.
In radio, we call this "imaging". Think about the heavy guitar and the big booming voice says "your favorite station for the drive time drive by!" Or whatever local flair they add. This is that unique and recognizable piece of sound that listeners can expect across all your shows. Whether your hosts run it before the show, after or both, it will be one of the best pieces or cross-promotion in my opinion. These little "sticky" bits of audio have helped me fall in love with more than one show.
An Agreement for Hosts
Obviously the size of your fledgeling Network will determine how thorough and how official these agreements should be. But bare minimum you should know the answers to the following questions before you invite any other podcasters along for the ride.
Who owns the feed?
Surely, your podcast network will last for a thousand years and no one will ever leave, but let's say they did? What happens to that show and its audience?
What's in it for them?
Do you (network) provide the media hosting? Website design and maintenance? Ad sales? Cross Promotion? Joint fundraising? Whatever it is, no one is joining on just because you built it. This isn't the field or dreams.
What do expect from them?
Is there a madatory number of episodes the host must produce yearly? Mandatory network promotion? Again, it's a partnership. Make clear what you want from your partner.
If there aren't dollars involved, maybe no one needs a legal document (or even to have it in writing) but if you don't have answers to all of those questions and make them clear to your hosts you are setting yourself up for serious issues.
Have you checked all those boxes? Congratulations! You've just created a podcast network.
Josh and I launched our "network" in August of 2015 with Always Listening and What Makes Me Weird? We've now added the very cool Smash/Cut as a member and are open to helping others launch their show in the future. Personally, I hope to have my new show Summer's Stage launched in 2017 sometime and may have a smaller project to discuss sooner rather than later.
If you've found this helpful, I'd love if you'd share with other podcasters you think might benefit too, and if you're ever in the market for a professional voice over or need an audio editor, please check out my demos page.