Should You Join Or Form A Podcast Network?
Podcasters are feeling disconnected after months of isolation. Virtual collaboration is booming, even beyond the podcasting set. We know we’re often better together. So maybe it’s time to take another look at podcast networks.
Starting a podcast network is usually the third idea a podcaster has. First, they get the idea to start a podcast. Then they start looking for the best and cheapest (sigh) microphone. Right after that, they think about starting a podcast network.
Obviously I'm exaggerating. Or am I? That’s not too far from the truth of what I went through 16 years ago. Right after we started podcasting, we started a podcast network. And about a year later, I did it a second time.
So yeah, this is a pretty common thought process for podcasters.
But things have changed over the 16 years podcasting has been in existence. What we mean by “podcast network” is -- or at least can be -- different than what we did way back in the olden times.
Podcast Networks & The Coronavirus Connection
I’m diving into this topic at the suggestion of a Podcast Pontifications listener, Arnie Chapman. He's the host of The Football History Dude podcast. He responded to my call for lockdown stories (Yes, I want your story too. More info at the end of this article.) from podcasters thusly:
Oddly enough, the lockdown and stay-at-home orders have been a positive experience for me and my podcast. Because am I one of the many people who are working from home, I'm able to be much more flexible when it comes to scheduling guests.
Thanks to my flexibility, I was able to land big-time guests like coach Dick Vermeil, the president of the NFL Hall of Fame David Baker, and Vince Papale, whose life story was adapted into the movie Invincible.
Rather than asking guests of this caliber to adapt to a limited window of available interview times, I’m able to record whenever they have time. It’s much easier for me to plan my work around their schedule since I’m working from home.
I’m also using the additional time working from home gives me to pursue a dream of creating a sports history podcast network. I'm going to collect all sorts of different sports history podcasts under the same domain. We’ll start with a focus on football, but will expand to all areas of sports history. So get in touch if you want to join the network!
In the email that accompanied the media file, Arnie asked me to pontificate on podcast networks. So that’s what I'm going to do.
Podcast Networks: A Great Concept
I think podcast networks can be great. I've covered the benefits of “the network effect” previously. Some very large podcast networks, like Wondery and Vox Media, are masters at using their networks as promotional vehicles. Shows with large followings can give massive exposure to a brand new show in the network, building their following so that they can, in turn, help the next show that’s part of the network. That’s the network effect in a nutshell.
In general, I’m a fan of podcast networks and I love the concept. Anytime creators with similar ideas, opinions, content, and target audiences can collaborate, something good always tends to come out of the other end. In fact, one of my clients is considering joining a podcast network. We're going through the options and doing our due diligence, but we’re probably going to make the switch.
Podcast networks fall in and out of fashion a lot. Many podcast networks are nothing more than a loose association of shows. That describes the first now-defunct podcast network I started way back when. It was a network in name only. When we found a show that seemed like a good fit, we’d email the hosts and ask “So do you want to be part of the network?” They’d almost always say yes. And boom! They were part of the network.
But other than some cross-promotion of other shows, that network didn’t offer much in the way of shared services. Today, podcast networks tend to provide some shared services to their members. That should be your first question if you’re approached to join a network: What’s in it for me?
Shared Services, FTW
On rare occasions, just being associated with the network is enough. But for the vast majority of situations, you need to get something out of this deal. And almost always, you’ll be asked to give a little too.
Ask the tough questions early. What sort of promotional boost will your podcast get when you join the network? What are your obligations to promote other shows in the network on your program? Yes, they should promote your show. And yes, you should promote other shows. What you need to understand is the mechanics of that relationship. No surprises, right?
What about media file hosting? Most networks will want to have your program in the same dashboard as all the others, so they can monitor trends, look for crossover, and a lot more. This means you’ll need to move from your existing podcast hosting company over to their hosting company. Will they pick up the tab for that? Or do you have to pay a portion of their costs?
What about the migration process? Will making the move cause your listeners to have a thousand new downloads of episodes they’ve already listened to? Not all hosting platforms are easy to migrate to or from, so consider the impact to your listeners if the tech isn’t pulled off properly.
Will the network help with some of the pesky parts of podcasting you’re less excited about? Will they help you write episode details or articles? Do they have an audio engineer that can do the final polish? Will you be assigned a producer or maybe a production assistant to help with concepts or bookings?
How will your current monetization efforts be impacted? Can you keep your paid supporters? Can you keep your current advertisers without sharing a portion of that income? Or do they have a slate of advertisers at the ready that will require you to sever ties with your existing sponsors? And how much of the action will the network take for all of this?
Make It Better Together Than Alone
There's a lot to think about before joining a network or starting one. At the end of it all, you need to decide if your show is better as a part of a network or as a solo effort. A well-crafted network, whether you're joining one or forming one -- should provide obvious benefits. Life for members should be better as a part of the network. Shows in the network should have a bigger audience than when they were solo. Podcast networks should provide a better support system than members have on their own. At every point, it should be clear that life for member shows will be better in the network rather than doing it alone.
If you can't say that's the case with the network you want to join or form, then you don't have a good reason to join or form that network.
Most of the time, I think it's better to go in with a well-crafted network. But if you've got all your podcasting ducks lined up perfectly as a solo show, do your due diligence before jumping onto a network. Because things will be different. Hopefully better. But definitely different.
Are You Looking Forward To Podcasting Post Pandemic?
Want your voice shared on Podcast Pontifications like Arnie? I’m interested in hearing what plans you have for your show after the lockdown restrictions are eased. Record a minute or two of audio and send the .wav file to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One thing I’m looking forward to: visiting my local hipster coffee bar. If you go to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra, you can ensure I have enough in my wallet to pick up one as soon as they re-open.
That will do it for me for this Thursday. Enjoy your Friday and your weekend. I'll be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.