I'm hot and cold on the value of podcast networks. I know how powerful they can be for podcasts, and I know what benefits they can bring to member podcasters on the network. But I’m also unfortunately familiar with how networks can be mismanaged, screwing over member podcasters when things go south for the network overall.
During my 17-year stint in podcasting, I've started and managed two moderately successful podcast networks. Both were launched extremely early in podcasting’s lifetime, and one of those was an extremely weird model. But those experiences taught me a few lessons, mostly about what not to do. Beyond those two forays with me at the helm, I've provided consulting services to a few podcast networks covering a wide range of topics, from managing network operations to go-to-market strategies.
But thanks to the lack of specificity anyone means when they say “podcat network”, I still don’t consider myself an expert on podcast networks. Not because I haven’t done it. Clearly, I have. But because the “it” in question is nearly undefined. That’s how vastly different podcast networks have become.
That disclaimer aside, my time spent working with networks has led me to develop some core “beliefs,” if you will, on what podcasters should get out of joining a network. Here are five that apply to most situations when you’re asked to make your podcast a part of an existing podcast network:
1. You, The Podcaster, Should Be Able To Walk Away From The Network
Keeping a podcast network viable takes a team effort. Not just your effort. Not just the effort of the other podcasters in the network. And not just the people who manage the network. All of you have to work in concert.
Joining a podcast network is not unlike taking a position in an organization. You have to trust others in that organization—your co-workers and the leadership team—to know what they are doing to keep the business a going concern.
Podcast networks need those same things. They need care and feeding so they can grow. They need people looking out not just for the current business, but also looking for new opportunities, assessing risks, and generally planning for the future.
That’s a lot to manage and it’s why you absolutely need to be able to walk away from the network if it’s not working out.
Of course, you’ll need to fulfill any obligations before you split, whether that’s for a multi-episode ad campaign, shared services across the network you signed up to be responsible for, or some other “job” you have with the network. You must do the things you signed up to do, and you need to exit according to the terms of your contract.
If you do that as you leave, you should be able to part with the network on good terms and remain friendly with the other shows. No one likes disgruntled employees who take a scorched-earth approach to their departure. We like podcasters who behave that way even less.
2. You, The Podcaster, Should Own Your Own Content
When you walk away on friendly terms, you should be able to take your content with you. That means the content you made prior to being on the network as well as content made while you were a part of the network.
There’s a good chance there will be complications with that last part, so plan for them at the start. If you’re using shard services—hosting, editorial, marketing, etc.—the network may have some claim on what appears to be your content. And it is your content. You just need to work it out with the network owners so they get what they are contractually obligated to get. A task that’s made much less contentious if you deal with it before you sign.
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3. There Should Be Continuity For The Show’s Audience
I’m sure someone has a personal anecdote to counter this statement: but I think the network you’re leaving and you have a common goal: don’t screw over the existing audience. At least I want that to be true, so I’m going to assume that, even if it’s not, refocusing both parties on this goal can break through a lot of impasses.
At a minimum, that means the migration away from the network’s servers and onto your own servers (or I guess a new network’s servers) should be drama-free. You and I know how simple it is to move from one podcast hosting company to another. And while there may be some additional complications with the network, it should be a relatively straightforward process to make a move and not impact the show’s current listening audience.
That means a 301 redirect needs to be set up from the old RSS feed to the new one. But it also means that any other assets loaded to the network’s servers, like images or articles, also need to be mapped out and redirected. And those redirects should stay in place… forever, essentially. Because once the mapping is set, it’s set. Barring a complete overhaul of the podcast network’s site architecture, it costs them nothing to keep redirects in place in perpetuity.
4. Your Podcast Should Get A Guaranteed Minimum Payment Each Month
One of the things networks promise prospective podcasters is income, likely from advertising or sponsorships. You should get that promise in writing, with a guaranteed minimum income your show will receive while you’re a part of the network.
Why? Because it’s not your fault if the ad sales team for the network is bad at their job. If the network is promising income, you should get income. It can be a token amount, but it needs to be something to act as an incentive. Incentive for you to keep your show on the network through the lean times. And incentive for the network owners to continually work on their business model.
Running a podcast network as a business comes with risks. Just like running any business. You do your part to make great content. They must do their part to keep the revenue pipeline filled. And to keep you getting paid so you don’t take your podcast-shaped ball and go home. Or to a different network that is paying.
5. Your Podcast Should Get A Share Of Network Profits
Running a podcast network as a business costs money. To cover those costs, network owners take a piece of the action on every revenue stream they enable for their member podcasts. Some networks take as much as 50% of revenues. Some take as little as 5%.
Regardless of the percentage, the real income flowing back to the network grows as the size of the network increases by adding more shows. That’s the main purpose of owning a network—growing it bigger, be that a lot bigger or a little bigger. More is more.
And yes, costs do increase as a network gets larger. It costs money to onboard new shows. It costs additional money to implement new ad tech or other services to keep advertisers and sponsors happy. It costs additional money to promote the content and keep a steady stream of new listeners coming to the slate of shows offered by the network.
But the network is only willing to incur those costs because of the higher profits those efforts will bring to the network. Whether those are from new shows or from maximizing profits from existing shows, the network is banking on higher profits.
And you should get a piece of the action. Heck, all the podcasters in the network should get a piece of that action.
Structuring that will obviously be a little complicated, as having all shows take an equal cut may not be fair to those bringing in the lion’s share of the revenue. So I’ll leave that to the specifics of your own deal. Just be sure to ask about it, understand how it works, and be completely on board with this “bonus” structure, if you will. Because as the network prospers, the member shows should prosper. Insert kumbaya.gif here.
If you’re on (or own) a network that hits all of these marks (and then some), let me know about it. I’d love to sing their praises, as I get asked about joining podcast networks several times a week. I’m happy to refer good podcasters to good podcast networks.
I didn’t see any boostagrams, reviews, or new coffee supporters since yesterday’s episode, so I have no mentions for you to end the week. You can, of course, change that for next week by sending me a boost if you’re listening on one of the new podcast apps that allows for value-for-value boosting. Or you can say nice things about me in a review on whatever platform you like to leave reviews on. I’m working on setting up PodcastPontifications.com/support to make it easier to do those things and more for those who love the show. Check it out.
Tomorrow is Friday, and I don’t release episodes on Friday (keep the Friday sacred, yo). But I shall be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.