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Revenue Diversification, for Big and Small

Multitude Productions, a Brooklyn-based independent podcast collective, isn’t small by any means, but it isn’t terribly big either. Formed in 2017 by Amanda McLoughlin (who I interviewed for a Career Spotlight back in March), Multitude is now at a size where, in the month of July, the collective brought in over 2 million downloads across its five shows: Spirits, Join the Party, Potterless, Waystation, and Horse.

The collective was originally assembled to do all the things collectives were made to do: share resources, collaboratively develop audiences, foster a sense of community, and, of course, realize revenue opportunities that could be more effectively achieved as a group than as a set of separate solo operations. Since their formation, the group has monetized their downloads through standard means like advertising (which Multitude sells and derives commission from as an entity) and Patreon (hosts and Multitude collaboratively own the podcasts, and splits the direct support flows accordingly).

But the collective has also proactively worked to diversify their revenue lines. In recent months, Multitude expanded their concerns to offer consulting and full-service production services, which runs through an office and studio they opened up in the Greenpoint neighborhood a few weeks ago. When we spoke over the phone recently, McLoughlin tells me that their client list ranges from independent producers to college students to Fortune 500 companies. That work has grown steadily enough, McLoughlin notes, that Multitude now considers itself to be an independent podcast collective and production company. (The group declined to provide specific revenue numbers when asked.)

And the march for further diversification goes on. Last month, the collective announced yet another addition to its widening range of revenue sources: a membership program called MultiCrew. Built off the three tiers — priced at $10/mo, $20/mo, and $50/mo — the program offers listeners and fans the opportunity to support the operation, and it’s built to give a bunch of benefits that typically comes from membership programs like these, including behind-the-scenes material, bonus content, and some say over future programming decisions. There is also a members-only podcast on offer, a weekly “friendly debate show” called Head Heart Gut that features all of the hosts in the Multitude universe. (For those curious about the technical end, the collective is using Memberful — which I also use for Hot Pod, by the way — to manage the program, which they route through a WordPress site.)

I asked McLoughlin: why launch the membership program at this point in time, adding to what feels like increasingly sprawling revenue frontier? Membership programs, as a variation on and an extension of the broader media industry’s current affinity for subscription models, come with their own complexities and can be hard to execute well.

The way she explains it, the rollout of a membership program seems specifically geared towards forward-looking projects, while the rest of the revenue lines were forged to maintain the collective’s current operations at a sustainable rate. ”The arrangement we had worked for us at our size,” said McLoughlin, referring to the current advertising-Patreon-consulting-production nexus that powers the collective. “But we needed a way to finance new work. We have tons of ideas for shows we want to make, and in lieu of a platform deciding to partner with us to make a show, we didn’t want to have to wait until somebody says yes to us to do something we’re passionate about.”

Eric Silver, the group’s Head of Creative, added: “It’s not like we don’t want to do the usual things like looking for partnerships, but we’re independent — we don’t have any sort of VC money, any financial backing from a bigger media entity, we’re not The Ringer, we’re not Gimlet — and so we’re doing the best we can, which means trying to group together a bunch of different revenue streams in a bunch of different ways. We could try chasing after a hundred thousand downloads or something like that, but instead we’re going to do what we’re best at and be sustainable in our own way.”

I asked McLoughlin and Silver if they had a specific target in mind for their program. “I don’t know — I’d be excited to have a hundred people,” McLoughlin replied. “It feels like a large enough party to be nervous to speak in front of. That’s the goal for the first few weeks.”

She added: “But ultimately, we’d love to grow it to a place where we can pay our people to make exciting shows that might not be able to pay for themselves for the first few months on their own. We love to the production stuff, we love to do the consulting stuff, but I always feel better adding a different revenue model.”