This is a topic that many people in the new media world are wrestling with- How can you make money, or make a living, doing what you love? Or does making money at something you love turn it into a job? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I regularly wrestle with this issue, and I’ll take you through my evolving opinions.
Shortly after I began podcasting in earnest, I thought I would measure my success and would have “made it” if I ever managed to get a contract with a podcasting network like Podshow. I do have the LD Podcast posted there, but I have no formal contractual affiliation with Podshow, and never have. For me, it is simply a Myspace for podcasts. Frankly, I have a small, niche podcast, that is more public service oriented than commercially oriented. As a result, it’s not ever going to be a “playa” in the commercial podcasting world, and that’s really OK with me- in fact it’s preferred.
Some of the ways people make money off their podcasts is through things like Google Ad sense. If you place a link on your blog, ads will show up to readers, based on a word search of the text, hoping that readers will go view those sources. The problem with this for a blog or podcast like mine, is that many of the people advertising services and merchandise with the keywords “dyslexia” “learning disabilities” or “ADHD” are hawking “quick fix” cures- the very thing I try to caution parents against in my podcast and on my website and blog. Clearly, adsense makes no sense for me, although for others, there is no conflict of interest at all.
I do have links on my website and blog to an Amazon Online storefront, where I place the books written by Authors and Experts who appear on the podcast, books I recommend, and books my children love. To me, this is done to help promote the authors who gave me their time and expertise to share with my listeners, and it can make purchasing a book easier for the listener- a direct link to what you want. This has netted me a whopping $2.24 to date, so I am not exactly Borders or Barnes and Noble.
Many of the roads to monetization lead through things like Blubrry, Podshow, or other networks where ads are placed into your show automatically, or you are asked to do a testimonial about the product. For many podcasters, this is terrific. But to most I have talked to, there aren’t many who are making a living solely off their podcast- or not the living the aspire to. Will podcasting and podcasting ad networks be the answer to monetizing the space? I’m not sure anyone can say for sure, but here is something else to consider.
A few podcasters have been “discovered” through their shows, and now have agents who are hooking them up with other media deals, whether it’s planning book, film or TV projects (Ze Frank is moving towards feature films, for example). Almost everyone has an opinion about this, ranging from people decrying the process and crying “sell-out”, to those who are simply jealous that they haven’t gotten a similar deal, to those who are just happy that podcasting and its talent are finally receiving the attention they deserve for killer content. I am almost always in the “I am happy to see anyone doing well” category, because I realize that I do not have the type of podcast show that lends itself to “stardom” . And I am still a bit uncomfortable with the whole public/private persona debate anyway, so this is a good thing for me.
The money I have made through podcasting, so far, has come by way of consulting gigs to businesses, and project work for friends. And this is great for me. I can keep my podcast as my passion project, totally within my creative control, while looking to other sources for income producing opportunities. I don’t mind being called a hobbyist, either. Just like the passion and love I put into every item I hand knit, I do the same with my podcast. And I think if I did either one of the them as a job, the content would inevitably change.
You’ll hear people talk all the time about how much fun it would be to run a restaurant or coffee shop, or open a small store. Sounds like fun, right? But you”ll find a lot of people who start businesses based on their hobby find that the fun goes straight out when it is now work. When fun becomes serious business, with deadlines and responsibilities to employees, you can often find that the cooking you did with love for your family doesn’t translate nearly as well when you are doing it night after night for hundreds of cranky and demanding customers.
So besides the pressure that gets added once money becomes an issue, content can also change. I’ve noticed a few of my favorite podcasts have started to sound a little more like infomercials now that they have become more business oriented. There’s still great content, but you can start to hear a difference, and the additional mentions of brands start to stick out in obvious ways.
This makes me believe that monetization is not a cut and dried issue. There is a slippery slope to consider. There are factors beyond the pocketbook to take into account. And I think we all have to remember that many of us went into podcasting to be masters of our own creativity. We are making our own future opportunities. Are you willing to sell that creativity, and at what price? Does it change your obligations, and do you have “to dance with them that brung you” to quote Molly Ivins?
When we consider commercials and monetization, it’s not a black and white choice. But we do have to remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, either.