It seems like just yesterday that podcasts were free and plentiful, and the conventional wisdom was that there was no way to make money from audio blogging. The problem with conventional wisdom is that it frequently misses the obvious. Like the fact that audio broadcasts have been monetized with commercials for at least the past three centuries. Or the fact that Audible.com has been allowing users to buy downloadable audio programs for a quarter of a century. Is it really such a stretch to imagine someone might figure out how to make a profit from a podcast?
Conventional wisdom received a wake-up call yesterday when it was announced that the second season (do podcasts really have seasons?) of the Ricky Gervais show would be available on a subscription basis from Audible. My first reaction was one of complete and total outrage. I’ve come to expect my monkey news for free.
I’d hardly gotten over my outrage when I read about a second podcast going on sale. Earthcore, the serialized audio novel by Scott Sigler that was podcast throughout last summer at no cost is going on sale at iTunes. When I initially read about Earthcore last year I was intrigued by the concept, but I didn’t really have the time to invest in following a serialized story. Now, apparently, I’ll have to pay if I suddenly get the urge to listen to Earthcore.
Podcast pricing is a work in progress. The Gervais show seems a bit steep at $7 for a month of weekly half hour episodes. If the second season runs 12 episodes, that’s $21. About the same as what you’d pay for the DVD set of the first season of the Office UK. I’m guessing that even Gervais thinks the price might be high. The Audible website says you’ll get “at least four episodes (and possibly more, unless Karl’s innate denseness leaves Ricky and Steve permanently speechless)”. Oh, in that case I’ll take the free episode now and wait a month to see what I get for my 7 bucks.
Meanwhile, Earthcore seems to be a bargain at $9.99 — about half the price of a comparable unabridged audiobook on Audible.
I’m not suggesting that Gervais and co are greedy (although I do have my doubts about that mercenary Karl Pilkington), I think the initial pricing is really more a symptom of a very young medium where pricing standards have not yet sorted themselves out.
The ultimate question is whether charging for podcasts will become a trend.
I seriously doubt that it will. There are just too many podcasts, and the quality of most is too uneven to justify paying for a subscription. The Ricky Gervais show is an exception because he’s well known, and his team created an incredibly funny first run of shows. Earthcore is another exception because the market for audiobooks is already well established.
In other words, I think it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be asked to pay for Dawn and Drew or Soccergirl anytime soon.