Skip to contents
Hot Pod Insider

Insider: October 31, 2019

Slow Burn S3, and some business notes on that Connie Walker to Gimlet Media This Week in the Existential Tension between Advertising and Direct Support... and more!

Slow Burn’s third season debuts. Slate’s Big Franchise™ returned yesterday with a new subject area focus — music and cultural history, specifically re-examining the murders of Biggie and Tupac — and a new host, former ESPN senior writer Joel Anderson, leading the way.

Quick note on the business side of things: I’m told that the season has been completely sold through ahead of launch, with Slate already pocketing a seven figure return going into release. That’s a tad bit more detail than the last time I wrote about a major advertising-launch situation, i.e. Serial’s third season roll-out last September. David Raphael of Podcast Media Marketing, who handled that deal, declined to provide specific numbers on that campaign, but submitted that he doesn’t “believe there has even been a larger podcast sponsorship in audience reach exclusivity term or financial commitment.”

Of course, we’re not in a position to know just how the Slow Burn S3 deal relates to the Serial S3 deal, size-wize, but what we can say is that this sell-through situation, at this volume, still isn’t quite the norm. Maybe it will be one day, perhaps to a point where pre-sales can fully mitigate the innate business model challenges of the limited-run podcast series. (Or maybe I’m wrong, and that voluminous pre-sales like these are already all over the place. Let me know. FWIW, in my opinion, celebrity interview shows don’t count in this specific conversation.)

Anyway, as a side note: third seasons = sweet spot to leverage cache? (The third season of Lost, I think, would argue otherwise.)

Meanwhile, Slate has been staging an interesting marketing stunt for the season roll-out:

That’s a damn cool throwback, but if there’s anything I’ve internalized from watching three seasons of Mr. Robot — aside from a deepening resentment of corporations in general, pocked by some ironic awareness that said resentment is being cultivated by what is essentially a corporate product — is that loading up one of these CDs on your computer constitutes a cybersecurity risk! Oh man!!! Keep it to the car radio.

Still cool, though.

Revolving Door. Connie Walker, the key journalist behind the CBC’s very good Missing and Murdered series, is joining Spotify’s Gimlet Media, where she’s attached to a new project scheduled for next year. Yet another development that tugs on a knot I constantly feel putting together these newsletters every week: On the one hand, go get that bread! On the other hand, super bummed for the CBC.

Speaking of Spotify… ICYMI, the also very good Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel, previously circulated as an Audible Original production, is now being distributed by the aspiring all-consuming audio platform. You can spot this development on the podcast’s show tile, now emblazoned with a Gimlet logo on the bottom that rounds out the Audible Original strip on the top. A little awkward, but such are branding concerns, y’know?

Another news peg here: in addition to Spotify serving as distributor, they will also be launching a spin-off Esther Perel podcast next week that will be exclusive to the platform. (Original recipe Esther Perel will remain widely distributed across all podcast apps.) The spin-off is called How’s Work?, and it will focus on… well, work relationships.

Quick bit of context: you may or may not recall this, but Where Should We Begin? was one of the big projects that came out from an earlier iteration of Audible’s emerging original content strategy. Back then, the initiative was headed up by former NPR exec Eric Nuzum, and the idea was to build out a portfolio podcast-like original programming that would feed into the audiobook giant’s imperative to hook in paid subscribers.

But much has happened since then, with the company reshuffling its thinking on original content and ultimately restructuring (see: laying off) the team led by Nuzum. These days, it’s a little unclear what exactly Audible wants to do with its originals initiative — there remains a good deal of podcast-like stuff floating about the audiobook platform — but it does appear to want to retain core, direct relationships with author-types, which is probably why we’re seeing this somewhat awkward custody arrangements around the main Esther Perel podcast.

Some things carry over, though. How’s Work?, the spinoff, is being produced by Magnificent Noise, the studio Nuzum went on to create with fellow Audible co-worker Jesse Baker after leaving the audiobook giant.

Anyway, this is neither here nor there, but I’m a relatively late convert to the Esther Perel Podcast Experience. Maybe it’s… my age [*turns thirty, suddenly feels like a thrice-married Gen X-er*], but for one reason or another, the early episodes didn’t really get to me in the way these newer episodes have. (Where Should We Begin? started rolling out its third season — Again! Third seasons! — earlier this month.)

At this point, I’ll happily take any and all Perel. Esther Perel: run me over with a tractor, ruin my marriage, shatter my fragile sense of self. What a show.

The HBO Max will, inexplicably, also feature podcasts. But why? Here’s the Variety write-up.

This Week in the Existential Tension between Advertising and Direct Support, among other things.

(1) Glow, one of the growing number of efforts to provide podcasters with direct support tools, is implementing a policy where it won’t take a cut from processing payments. As it stands, creators using Glow only have to pay credit card processing fees when it comes to the management of their direct support base. They have a whole explanation for the move on their blog, but you can pretty much break it down on a strategic level: the policy reduces friction for potential users to use Glow’s platform over that of its competitors.

The move does raise the question of Glow’s business model — after all, a company needs to keep the lights on — and you can find the answer in another part of the value chain. In its current iteration, Glow charges $0.55 per listener per month if the creator uses the platform to distribute exclusive content as part of the value exchange to their direct supporters.

At face value, this could be taken to mean that Glow is placing a bet on a very specific version of the future: one where podcasting, or at least a meaningful portion of it, will swing towards paywall dynamics. But the way CEO Amira Valliani talks about it, it’s just the first piece of what will probably be an ever broadening iterative process.

She tells me: We want to align ourselves with the success of content creators from day one. For most shows, that starts with listener support. As they start experimenting with different models, we want to invest in them early, and be in a position to help them to experiment with different models, offering listeners value in exchange for membership — whether that’s exclusive content or something else. Every podcaster is on a different place in the journey of finding content-market fit. We want to work with them as they figure out what does and doesn’t work, grow with them, eventually offering a suite of products that help them build their media businesses. I imagine it’ll balance out at some point. We’re in the midst of a broader conversation over whether the evolutionary arc of the podcast business should be strictly tied to its advances in advertising, and some of the emphasis involves drifting deeper into the idea that more podcasts should be directly monetized by listener dollars. Which is a fair zig to the zag, but the problem on that front, in my mind, is pretty much the same problem I’m sweating over in the face of the impending Streaming Wars: I only have so much money to spend. And I reckon that’s the same apprehension with most other podcast audiences, particularly the casual ones.

(2) On a related note, here’s a fairly interesting conversation on the Rework podcast, featuring Art19’s Lex Friedman and’s Justin Jackson, in separate interviews laid out one after the other, assuming what are notionally polar opposite positions in the broader discourse over where podcasting, as a business that’s growing, is supposed to go.

For the unfamiliar, the Rework podcast is sort of a brand marketing show for Basecamp, the Chicago-based project management software whose founders have carved out a minor celebrity by taking stances that are generally antithetical to much of what big tech companies have been up to.

It’s a pretty interesting discussion… with an equally interesting setup: the Rework team had decided to move their podcast off Art19 when they found out the hosting platform was investing in listener-targeted ad technology — which, by the way, has been the general direction taken by many of the “next-generation” hosting companies these days. One of Basecamp’s co-founders, David Heinemeier Hansson, took to Twitter to express his disapproval of Art19, and Friedman jumped into the mentions. Hence the opportunity for conversation.

Anyway, as you might guess, there’s a specific framing to the episode, given the politics of the lead-up. But the conversation is nonetheless intriguing, as it functions as a condensed point of a broader anxiety that’s been looming over the community for quite a bit. I can only describe it as a series of tensions: between efforts to unlock advertiser dollars and concerns of user privacy; between a delineation of a “right kind” of targeting and no targeting at all; between a want to push podcasting forward and a fear that such efforts may render podcasting as crappy as everything else on digital media; between the belief that podcasts should be powered by people not advertisers and the reality that most podcasts probably won’t be able to extract direct support dollars; between a desire to be big and a hope that small sustainable things can continue to exist; and so on.

All of which is to say: I recommend the listen. Or, if you rather use your eyeballs, there’s a transcript too.