With the release of iTunes 4.9 rumored to be days away, I thought I’d issue a small word of warning to those folks who hope that the upcoming iteration of iTunes will rocket their podcast to the top of the charts:
Be careful what you wish for.
Those new to the story should understand that iTunes 4.9 adds a Podcast feature to the iTunes Music Store. It works something like this:
You go on about your business creating the best darned podcast on earth, submit it to Apple for consideration, and, if the podcast is approved, you rejigger your RSS links in such a way that your podcast is listed by iTunes. Apple does not host the podcast, it simply acts as a directory for those podcasts it approves.
Let’s say your podcast is currently being downloaded 1,000 times a month. Cool. Now let’s suppose that because of its exposure on iTunes, it’s downloaded 80,000 a month.
Very cool, right?
Well, yes. That is until you open your next broadband bill and collapse when you realize you’re in the hole for a grand’s-worth of overage charges. Bandwidth ain’t free and if you plan to support a lot of downloads you should be prepared to find a way to pay for it. Although Apple benefits from having your material, it’s not going to pay your bills. One alternative, of course, is to simply cut off downloads once you’ve exhausted the month’s bandwidth allotment—a solution, which, if you have dreams of being a successful podcaster, is no solution at all.
And that leaves what?
Big time podcasters have looked to the commercial radio model and have adopted advertising to help offset the cost of their work. This advertising can come in the form of audio ads within the podcast as well as ads on the websites associated with the podcast. The difficulty of getting advertisers is that very few of them will be interested in a podcast with a small audience. You must first build that audience so that advertisers will feel like they’re reaching enough listeners to justify their investment. And that means eating a few big bandwidth bills as that audience grows.
Of course, if you’ve got a very loyal audience you can simply ask them to pitch in—solicit a buck or two a month to help defray the cost of your podcast (and maybe pay for some groceries as well).
But when the storm hits—when a lot of podcasters see their fees jump—it will be time to turn to more creative solutions.
One might be the formation of a podcast guild—a cooperative of small podcasters who gang together and share bandwidth costs and advertising revenues. The idea here is that while an individual podcaster may not have much draw, a cooperative can more easily attract advertising, which helps pay the bills for everyone in the guild. The danger in such cooperative schemes—as embodied in the late great Soviet experiment and today’s Major League Baseball television contracts—is that those in the guild who are more successful than others may feel that they should receive special rewards.
Should the guild be so successful that it makes a profit, those who carry much of the load could be rewarded with a
by the lake. But as most guilds will be lucky to break even, a pat on the back and a box of
Harry and David Pears
during the holidays may have to suffice.
And surely it won’t be long until one of the Big Boys comes along, gathers together a group of podcasters who produce shows worth listening to, and markets that group under a single umbrella. Podcast pioneer Adam Curry is reported to be working on just such a Podcast Network.
And finally, should the podcasting element of iTunes become outrageously popular, Apple is likely to start charging for some of that content. When it does, it would surely pass along a portion of its profit to those who generate those successful podcasts.
“But wait,” I imagine a few of you saying, “Isn’t podcasting supposed to be a bold new means of expression?” Perhaps. But let’s face it, podcasting is no longer the purview of audio bloggers. It’s now a mainstream phenom, and one that’s ripe for monetization. Idealism is all well and good, but boil away the utopian goals of any popular movement and you’re left with dollars and common sense.