One of the common go-around questions in new media (podcasting, blogging, etc) is how one “monetizes” their podcast. How do I make money for my efforts? I see this as a topic at EVERY PodCamp, including Toronto. It’s a valid question.
Here are some thoughts for you, dear media maker, on the question of making money for your work.
Some Background to the Idea
I recently read an article by Time Magazine’s Justin Fox about getting rich off those who work for free. He talks about some of these issues, and pointed me to the Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler (it’s free from that link). There was one little bit that stuck in my head:
When economists speak of information, they usually say that it is “nonrival.”
We consider a good to be nonrival when its consumption by one person does not make it any less available for consumption by another. Once such a good is produced, no more social resources need be invested in creating more of it to satisfy the next consumer.
Apples are rival.
If I eat this apple, you cannot eat it. If you nonetheless want to eat an apple, more resources (trees, labor) need to be diverted from, say, building chairs, to growing apples, to satisfy you.
The social cost of your consuming the second apple is the cost of not using the resources needed to grow the second apple (the wood from the tree) in their next best use. In other words, it is the cost to society of not having the additional chairs that could have been made from the tree.
Information is nonrival.
Between these sources, I’ve come up with some thoughts you should consider:
Scarcity is One Way to Make Money
Scarcity and uniqueness often mark value. Diamonds are scarce enough that they’re worth more than quartz. An artist’s painting is one of a kind, so it’s worth plenty more than a digital production. Going to a live concert isn’t the same as watching the concert on DVD or hearing mp3s of it, so you can charge more for someone to be there in person.
People make money off books, DVDs, and other media by licensing the rights to produce it, and making it illegal for others to reproduce it. By its very nature, podcasting, videoblogging, etc, are meant to be reproduced, shared, distributed, so there goes one way you can make money. Scarcity is out.
Nonrival means you can reproduce it millions of times without much incremental cost or effort by the producer. An MP3 file is easy to copy and distribute. Thus, podcasting can bring media to thousands of outlets without a lot of heavy lifting. So, you have to use this to your advantage, and find a way to make abundance work.
Making Money off Abundance
The other side of the coin is abundance. Circulation is the most important number to any magazine publication. How many subscribers read your magazine? 1 million. Wow! I’d definitely pay to reach 1 million people with my message (advertising).
In this case, what is unique is your number of contacts with an audience. You’ve got an audience that someone with a message wants to reach. It’s still scarcity/uniqueness at play. But you’re using your abundant audience to derive a value.
Distribution then becomes the most important goal. How can you get your show seen / heard everywhere? Well, quality counts. Making a show that’s interesting and informative helps. Entertaining people clearly helps. Valuing your audience, and their time is very important. These are all part and parcel of the crafting of good media, yes? Don’t waste people’s time. Give them some value for their efforts.
But here’s the trick: you have to then capitalize on your audience while preserving your care, trust, and value of them. You need to know WHO is in the audience, and what they’re coming to you for. You need to know how to reach out to them, how to ask them for support, and also what kinds of products or services might relate to what you’re covering in your show.
You could be untargeted, and just make the most of your crowd, but then I suspect the advertising would be as lackluster as the ads we skip through on TV. I don’t need to know about floor wax. Or, you could work to find synergistic deals between people who need unique advertising channels and your audience.
The other value comes from the same reason radio stations exist for bands, and that’s as promotion of your core product: YOU. If you have a specialized skill, like Heidi Miller as a corporate conversationalist for trade events, or Christopher S. Penn as a leader in financial aid advice, or Becky McCray as an expert on the rural small business, you’ve got a show that drives home the fact that you’re an expert.
This brings people to your door for other opportunities, for consultation, for short term contracted help, and for other opportunities you never knew existed. And here, you’re playing on your uniqueness.
Then, it’s not a matter of numbers and abundance. Instead, it’s a matter of reaching exactly the people you need to have hear your message. Your expertise is showcased through your production, and then people choose to watch or listen to your show for motivation, but may eventually choose to reach you for future work, should they need your particular expertise.
In All Cases, It’s Not Payment to Produce
The people being paid to podcast today are doing so as employees of companies who have larger agendas than the show itself. It might be a one-step-removed advertisement or promotion of the company’s products and services. It might be just a way to add a public facing relationship with an audience. But outside of that, precious few people are being paid just to do what they want to do. And truly, if you look at old media, it’s probably the same. The people you think of as having shows just to have a show have one of the above models at work to make their money, I’m sure of it. New media, old media, it’s still the business of conveying a message.
So, go forth, make great work, and communicate with your audience for whatever reason you’ve chosen to communicate with them. By the way, you don’t HAVE to make media with a commercial goal in mind. My Small Boxes show is mostly for me, my friends and family, and to keep my hands in the process of making media. I’d hate to think of it as my intent at making a business.
How do you view YOUR work? What does this piece say to you? What do you have to say about it?