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Can you make money from podcasting?

That seems to be the big question, these days, and it's certainly been on my mind, as I build and promote Podtopia.net. Advertisers are emerging in this infant industry, who are interested in sponsoring podcast shows that have a regular listenership, and services are also emerging which match advertising with podcasters, so the people creating their shows can (hopefully) make some shekels from the deal. Surely, if this industry is booming (hot, hot, hot!), there must be some money to be made from it!

I agree -- there is money to be made from podcasting. But while everyone seems to be thinking about podcasting as being a medium that can be financially viable on its own, I tend to think about podcasting's economic potential in terms of what it can offer *in connection with* other money-making activities -- not what it can offer on its own. That is to say, I think podcasting has the greatest economic potential, when it's combined with other money-making products and services, not relied on exclusively to generate funds. Podcasting, at this point, seems to me to be one of the least understood and most "misunderestimated" media to emerge in quite some time.

Let me explain: Podcasting is a very easy way to create and publish audio and send it out to a specific audience. That audience may be regular podcast subscribers, or it may be a stream of visitors who find a podcast (or a website that includes a podcast). Podcasting is easy to create (if you've got the right tools and approach), and it's easy to consume (i.e., play on your computer or mp3 player). But that ease has a price -- perceived value. All by itself, a little 10-15 minute show that piques someone's interest probably doesn't have enough "stickiness" (to use the viral marketing term) to draw people back, time and again. And it probably doesn't deliver enough "value" in the space of a few minutes to justify the expense of those 10-15 minutes in the mind of a busy listener whose only gain from that time has been a little distraction. On its own, a little podcast that someone stumbles across may be entertaining for a little while, or it may provide some valuable insight or information. But if that podcast is completely self-contained and doesn't segue into another kind of information or service, any time you spend on it, is essentially lost.

Think about it, say you're poking around the web, feeling low and looking for someone to give you some words of encouragement... You may stumble across a motivational podcast, listen in, and find it interesting. Maybe you'll subscribe and download more shows. Maybe you won't. If you're just checking out audio files, out of sheer curiosity (not to mention, chance), chances are, you'll just listen once (or twice) and move on. Once you feel better, you'd have no reason to return.

But say you're serious about self-improvement, and you know about this guy, Bob Prentiss, who does professional development seminars, and you've attended some of his "Creative Encouters" with good results... You'll probably be pleased to hear he produces a regular podcast called Prairie Beacon Radio (www.prairiebeaconradio.com), featuring motivational messages and quotes to keep you going in the right direction. His podcast is an extension of his Prairie Beacon e-newsletter, as well as his professional development services. In this case, you know (of) the podcaster, and you're familiar with his message, and you have an established desire for his "knowledge product." For you, his podcast becomes an extension of a service you already want, and it can point you in the direction of other ideas and services which you may find useful, even essential. In Bob's case, there's a whole lot more sense in subscribing to his podcast and downloading/listening to it on a regular basis, than there would be in subscribing to "happy thoughts" which offer nothing more than a few minutes of "buck up!" messages.

One podcast does not an industry make

With all the heady enthusiasm about podcasting abounding, these days, it's difficult to not get caught up in the euphoria. Only time will tell, whether or not the medium "has legs". But lest we succumb to a 1997-esque fervor, let's put the brakes on proclaiming that podcasters are creating their own media companies, as has been suggested on many occasions by podcasters of all ilk.

It's nice to think that you're at the helm of a mini-Hearst enterprise, but let's face it -- podcasting is nothing more than creating compelling audio, putting it out on the web, and hoping/praying/paying for people to come and listen to it. Maybe they will come, maybe they won't. This is not necessarily a field of dreams, where people come and check you out and pay money, just 'cause. In today's competitive business market, and the challenging economic times, it would be foolhardy to expect that a podcast will make you rich, just on its merits alone. Maybe you are brilliant. Maybe you are entertaining. But are you more important than the host of other things that your audience can choose to do, besides listen to your podcast?

I'm guessing, not. At least, not that often.

A podcast needs to not be the only thing you offer to the world. Granted, there may be some entertainment value, but these days, entertainment is cheap and easy, and if someone is going to fill their hard drive and iPod with audio, they need to receive something in return... be that increased knowledge, a more developed self, or an actual relationship with the podcaster. There is some effort involved in subscribing to a podcast. Granted, it's not that big of a deal to click a link, but subscribing and regularly downloading a show is actually the makings of a relationship between the listener and podcaster. There needs to be a compelling reason to develop that relationship. Something needs to feed that growing bond. And there needs to be some sort of payoff that goes deeper than a few minutes of audio, to sustain the relationship. Time is at a premium, these days, and anyone who freely gives their time to someone or something is usually looking for something in return. If they respect themself and their own time, that is.

Here's where podcasting makes you money -- or, rather, helps you make more money from your existing resources. It lets you showcase your offerings and your talents in ways that you just can't do with the written word. Audio conveys much information with nuance and under/overtones. And when your product is information that you present yourself (via workshops or lectures or one-on-one sessions), it lets you present a much truer example of what you offer to others, than a written brochure or website can. And it can do it in the background, while people are doing other things, like washing dishes or opening mail.

BUT a podcast can (and should) be a valuable addition to your promotional and service strategy

Podcasting is the next natural extension of business cultivation online. It's the heir apparent to all the websites and e-mail campaigns that have so enriched and vexed us over the years. And it can accomplish more, with the use of audio, than those static means of communication could ever dream of. Plus, it offers its "end-users" something that e-mail and websites don't -- unparallelled control and the ability to access the content and take it with them, be it with a wireless device, in an iPod, or on a CD they've burned. What's more, it offers itself to end-users completely at their command. No one will force them to download a podcast they don't want. And if they don't care to receive any more notifications of updates, they simply unsubscribe from the RSS feed. It's that easy, and it's much more "user-friendly" than all those pump-you-up hard-sell websites and sneakily-worded e-mails that sneak through. Podcasting lets people say "no" and mean it -- which is something that the spammers and pop-up mavens of the world will probably never entirely understand, let alone honor. And because you can track the number of people subscribing to or unsubscribing from your podcasts, you can see when you need to change direction and offer more than you have been, to keep your listeners.

It gives your prospects and existing clients/customers direct access to you and what you offer them. It gives them living proof of whether you do (or do not) know what you're doing, whether you do (or do not) have something of value they need. A podcast alone may not provide a compelling reason for people to patronize you. But a podcast that's done well and points your audience to other products and services that are pertinent to them, can enrich your business and round out your promotional efforts in ways you never knew were possible... till you started podcasting.

The mouse that roars

Podcasting is not to be ignored. It might be maligned as a "fad" by some, and it might be over-exploited by the gold-diggers of the world, but it has a reach and a popularity and an ease-of-use like few other media. It's easy to create, easy to consume, and you can use it to direct prospects and customers in ways you just can't do with static text.

And while a podcast on its own may be entertaining at best (or annoying at worst), it's most powerful when coupled with other aspects of your business. A thoughtful range of information and services that people can take advantage of beyond the episode... instructions they can act on... information they can use in their daily lives... insight into what makes you and/or your business tick... these are all ways you can make money with a podcast.

But you have to have a podcast, to begin with.

To get started, signup with Podtopia.net today.


Copyright © 2005 by Kay Stoner - All Rights Reserved
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