You've likely heard the term "windowing" as it relates to releasing podcast episodes. For the uninitiated, windowing is a tactic usually employed by podcast apps and big podcast networks to give select users—paying users—exclusive access to a podcast for a limited time.
For instance, if you want to listen to the latest episode of SmartLess as soon as it comes out, you have to listen on Amazon Music or Wondery+. If you want to listen via a different listening app, you can. But you're going to have to wait a week to get that brand new episode. (Some shows have windowing times even longer than that. Like, a month!)
Indie podcasters do something similar, but we don't call it "windowing". We call it "early release" and use a listener support service like Patreon, a premium podcast provider like Supercast or Glow, or make use of the new premium offerings powered by Apple Podcasts or Spotify to give exclusive access to a select group of listeners—paying listeners—for a few days. (Or a few hours, in the case of this program via Apple Podcasts and Buy Me A Coffee.) That early release episode is usually ad- or sponsor-free, as an added perk to the paying listener.
Then on the show's regular release day the episode is "officially" released to the larger, un-paywalled audience. This is typically the time when promotional efforts ramp up, as it's when anyone anywhere can listen on any app, not just the one(s) used for the early release. Gotta get those downloads with their ad inventory spiking, right?
But I wonder if we indies, in an ever-growing-more-crowded podcasting world, are looking at this backwards and are missing out on an opportunity.
Windowing For The Rest Of Us
What if we indie podcasters, in an effort to engender more loyalty with and to become more useful to a select group of people, reversed our thinking about that group of people?
What if, instead of viewing that select group as people who get something early before it's released to our main audience, we viewed that select group of people as our main audience?
What if it was for that select group of people—a paying a group of people—our content was created for first and foremost?
What if the release date of our content was the date it went to this select group of people, not the date the episode is available everywhere? And what if it was the first release date that triggered our promotional efforts?
What if we eschewed "early release" in favor of true windowing, where we put all of our efforts into supplying content to and engaging with the select group? Then after a week (or more?) we let the standard distribution kick in, keeping our content everywhere those other people get their podcasts?
What if we cared more about the select group of people who get our windowed content? What if we only cared about those people?
"This'll Never Work, Evo."
I hear you. And if you're making a good living running podcast ads on your show, then this strange strategy may not be your best play. Though I would note that this strategy still lets you run ads as it releases everywhere. But still, you don't want to jeopardize your bread and butter, so be cautious before you do something that could reduce the ad-supported downloads you're already successfully selling.
But for shows that aren't getting fat stacks of cash from BetterHelp, Simplisafe, ExpressVPN, or any of the large-scale advertisers who spend millions of dollars each month advertising on podcasts and are unlikely to ever get fat stacks of cash by getting two pennies per listener... then this might be an interesting approach.
No, not just an interesting approach. This is a totally different approach.
An approach that pushes you closer to serving your best audience.
An approach that drastically embraces being niche. An approach that may get you out of the "Look at me! Look at me!" promotion cycle with everyone else.
An approach that may make for better, stronger, and more meaningful connections between you and your most loyal listeners.
Do you see this as a big risk? Or as an opportunity to do something radically different? As the podcast ranks continue to swell with new shows from top-notch content producers, this could become a strategy—perhaps a survival strategy—that more and more everyday podcasters like you and me embrace.
Or maybe I'm just a crazy person. Either way, I shall be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.