So, how much money does it cost to produce your podcast, and why are you leaving?
Something happened over the course of the last 48 hours that had many people on the internet questioning the cost of producing a successful podcast, and ever since, I’ve had quite a few people approach me about it. Not too long ago, I wrote an article titled Obsession or Passion?, about my four years of blogging and podcasting here at Sound On Sight. I felt now would be a great time to release a follow up to that piece, and in doing so, I would adress these questions.
How much does it cost to produce the Sound On Sight podcast?
I can’t claim to be an expert in podcasting but I have been doing it for about five years. Between the 350 episodes of the Sound On Sight podcast and 50 Sordid Cinema shows, we will reach our 400th recording next week. And that doesn’t include the Walking Dead Podcast, which I also host, produce and edit, on a separate feed.
The answer to this first question, is however, a bit complicated.
When we started, we were actually a radio show, broadcasting out of CJLO, 1690 AM, here in Montreal. At the time, we were lucky enough to use the station’s equipment to record the show. However, the biggest cost came when we left the station in 2011, after recording 250 episodes. You see, we were in dire need of purchasing equipment so we could build our own recording studio at home. That was one of only two times that we have asked our listeners to help us out financially. The second, and last time, came when we asked for help to get us to the Toronto International Film Festival.
Every podcast is different, and every podcaster uses different services, and every show drives in a different amount of listeners, which uses up a certain amount of bandwidth. So I can only speak for us, but our biggest expense comes with the actual website, and not the podcasts. Our bandwidth is already included with the cost for popoptiq.com, which is why we can afford to have seven shows on our site, regardless of their popularity.
Anyone with an Internet connection and some inexpensive audio equipment can produce a podcast and make it available online. Hence the reason there are thousands of podcasters, ranging from unemployed teenagers to businessmen to celebrities. In order to put your podcast online you either need a website, or you need a podcasting network such as Libsyn. If you are tech savvy, your best getting your own website, and storing the mp3’s there. It would actually be cheaper than paying a monthly fee to a company like Libsyn, and you will be sole proprietor of your show; not to mention you’ll have a website to accompany it. There are plenty of web hosting companies that offer great deals. Unless you have tens of thousands of listeners, you could easily get the needed storage space for all your episodes, and bandwidth combined, for about $5 – $7 a month. In fact, if you are smart, you can even get unlimited bandwidth. I know, because we had an unlimited plan during our first four years. So for $7 a month, I was able to host The Televerse, The Walking Dead, The Game of Thrones, Sordid Cinema, Doctor Who and the Sound On Sight podcasts, all under one roof, and all billed to me in one invoice.
What if we have too many listeners using too much bandwidth? Wouldn’t that cost a lot?
Again, you just need to shop around and find the right provider. Just check out our stats for our show below. If you think you will reach more downloads in a month’s time, than maybe you should play it safe and try to find unlimited service.
And now, to answer the biggest question posed to me lately: Should I donate to a podcast?
This is a silly question. It is your money and thus your decision. If you feel a podcast is worth your hard earned money, than sure donate. As a podcaster, I wouldn’t say no to a donation. It is hard work. My only gripe comes when a podcaster is dishonest about why he or she claims they need donations to keep a show alive and running. Yes, there are costs, but all too often, it seems podcasters throw in the most ridiculous reasons, like handling their cable bill. Nobody is cancelling their internet or cable because you are not willing to pay for their podcast, and these days, Skype and a fairly affordable microphone would do the trick. In fact, when we recorded our show using professional equipment at the station, we actually had to decrease the quality of the file when uploading each episode to our server. Now that we use a simple mic and Skype, we don’t have to decrease the quality, and the end result is the same. The difference in sound is negligible.
Why did we decrease the quality of our mp3?
We also have to consider our listeners, and the amount of bandwidth they are using, especially, if they are like me, and listen on a mobile device. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve gone over my usage because I listen to far too many podcasts. So the lower the quality, the better it is for a downloader. At the end of the month, those podcasters aren’t helping to pay for my phone bill. Of course, if you are patient and smart, you will wait unti you are at home to download a show from your computer. Most podcasters aren’t charging you to listen to their show, but at the same time, it is their choice to put out a product for free. It is a matter of common courtesy and appreciation, so if you like what you hear, why not donate? But when a very popular website is demanding money for their podcast, threatening to shut it down otherwise, I’d just ask you look at all the variables, before feeling guilty about not donating.
What about advertising?
Popular websites with millions of readers are more than likely to have CPM advertising featured on their site. Sound On Sight is not lucky enough, at least not yet. We are still very young and so we use PPC Advertising Networks at the moment. Google AdSense is the most popular option under this category, but there are also others. These networks serve contextual ads (either text or images) relevant to your website, and you will earn a certain amount of money for every click. But every blogger out there knows, you will not make much money using a click-through rate (CTR) and cost per click (CPC) network. If so, we would all be rich and google would be out of business.
Now I know what you are thinking. Most people who listen to podcasts do so through iTunes and never even access the web site, thus they never make an impression on the ads appearing on the post. This is very true, which is why I always listen to a podcast on the actual site, and I recommend everyone ditch iTunes and to the same if you want to support your favourite show. Just think about how much their ad revenue would increase each month, if the thousands of iTunes listeners were driving traffic to their website instead.
I’m no expert in advertising, and if I was, I might just be able to make a profit from our site, but here is what I know.
Popular websites usually do business with an online media agency who sets them up with CPM advertising. These campaigns pay according to the number of impressions that the ads displayed on their site generate. CPM stands for Cost per Mille, and it refers to the cost for 1,000 impressions. So if a blog generates 1,000,000 page views monthly displaying an advertising banner with a $1 CPM, the publisher could earn $1000 monthly minus rev share. If a website is extremely popular, they might be lucky enough to land some Premium ads. Those ads can earn a publisher anywhere from $6 – 12 for every 1000 impressions, minus rev share. CPM rates vary with the network, the position of the ad, the format, the network, and so on. So if a website has millions of readers, they most likely have a higher CPM rate. So do the math.
Blogger, critics and podcasters are not rich and often criminally under-payed by large corporations. But if you are a podcaster, and you are going to ask for money, just be honest about why. If you believe you produce a quality show, and it is worth charging for, than state that as a reason. No one has ever has a problem in paying for entertainment.
Have you ever donated to a show or would you?
I’ve only donated to one show, once in my life time, and that show was Filmspotting. Adam puts in so much time in reaching out to his audience, and so I feel he deserves it. I am pretty sure he spends more time with feedback, than actually reviewing films. Filmspotting also delivers a quality product every week, and they are one of the few reasons we started. They are a big inspiration to us all.
If I had the money, I would donate to several podcasts, but unfortunately I am not financially in a position to do so. However, I would never donate to any podcaster that threatens to shutdown their show or demands it for insincere reasons.
I’ve asked Bill Thompson to write an article listing his favorite film podcasts. I recommend looking out for it, since I’m sure you’ll discover quality shows, all worth donating to.
So why is Sound On Sight struggling?
The answer is simple. Times have changed. In our first four years, we were lucky enough, or maybe smart enough, to lock us down into a plan that offered unlimited bandwidth. However our site has grown tremendously in such a short span of time, and so we’ve had to move away from a shared server to a dedicated server. Dedicated servers are very expensive.
Why don’t you get a sponsor?
The topic has arisen several times in the past few years with my colleague Simon Howell, and the answer is always the same. The podcast is our escape. It is the fun part. If I had to beg for money, I’d prefer to use the actual website as an excuse. You know what’s hard work? Hard work is writing a film review or a 2000 word article. Hard work is editing content and keeping the site running. Recording a podcast is a blast. The last thing I want to do is worry about recording some 60 second spot to promote a product I don’t care much about. As far as donations go: We just don’t feel right about asking our listeners to pay us, to sit around and discuss movies with friends. When we ask, it is because we really need it. With that said, if you want to support our show, simply give us a rating on iTunes or like us on Facebook.
I’m not saying that I am apposed to podcasts asking for donations. I actually encourage it. I just mentioned above, that I myself donated to Filmspotting, and we’ve asked when needed. All I am saying is, don’t always believe the hype. There are many talented podcasters out there, who are not fortunate enough to host their podcast on an extremely popular website. I like Hollywood films and I like independent cinema. The same applies to podcasts. I support both, but for the right reasons. If a podcaster tells you he or she spends x amount of dollars to pay for their hosting service, than consider donating. A critic doesn’t charge a reader to his laptop, internet or cable bill, so why should a podcaster?
So why are you leaving the podcast?
As mentioned above, I love recording the podcast. The problem is, I wear too many hats here at Sound On Sight: Tech support, web design, reviewer, blogger, editor, not to mention recording, editing and producing several podcasts every week. I actually made a huge sacrifice and went unemployed for six months. Why, you ask? In the first four years of running Sound On Sight, I worked a part time and full time job, while in and out of school. The only reason I was able to barely keep up, was because I was lucky enough to work two jobs that allowed me access to the internet at all times. So needless to say, multi-tasking was essential. I took six months off so I could concentrate on improving certain aspects of the website, that I just had no time for in the past. Some of you may have noticed the drastic visual change, but that is just the start of it all. There is plenty you don’t see, and more to come.
I guess after five years, I need a break. I’ve wanted to walk away many times in the past, but I was always searching for someone to take over. Simon is amazing, but he also has too much on his plate. He needs an equal, and so I’ve decided to ask Josh Spiegel, the host of the Mousterpiece Cinema podcast to replace me. Josh has quickly become one of Sound On Sight’s most valuable players, and I know that he will make ten times the host I was. I am confident the show will be safe in his hands.
There are still many unanswered questions. For starters, we are still not yet sure what is happening with our Sordid Cinema series. There is a chance that I will stay onboard to host the show. Either way, I am not leaving the podcast world entirely, as I still have The Walking Dead podcast to record. I guess you can say, I am simply cutting back, in order to concentrate on other things, and hopefully bigger projects, and perhaps, find a way to take Sound On Sight to the next level.
With that said, I’d like to thank each and every listener, co-host and hater. The past five years have been absolutely incredible. We should be posting our 400th recording sometime around Valentine’s Day. It will be heartbreaking for me, but leaving the show is something that I need to do.
Nothing but love,