Luminary and the future of indie podcasting


Doc Searls ran a BloggerCon 2004 talk on Making Money:

How would you like it if, every time you got a phone call, you had to listen to an advertisement as well? Have you ever asked, How do I make money with my telephone? Or, What’s the business model of my telephone? Or, What’s the business model of my water cooler? My front porch? My patio?

The same conversation is now replaying a decade and a half later with podcasts, with the same confusion and mistakes Doc identified.

Ceding control to a centralised delivery mechanism

I was listening to the Accidental Tech Podcast gents discuss podcasting, this time in the context of Luminary. For those with lives outside the minutia of online broadcasting, Luminary is the latest attempt to create a closed podcast platform with exclusive content and a paid subscription model. They’re not the first; Spotify have made a similar play, and plenty before them.

Similar play… podcasts… aw man, that was good.

I share their concerns. Podcasts have been resilient thus far in attempts to host them away on the one platform. The Western world turns to YouTube for video; Facebook and Twitter have social networks stitched up. It would be a shame and a waste to let arguably one of the last bastions of independent production online fall into the hands of one distributor. The web was supposed to be better than this.

(And before the comparison is drawn, I don’t consider iTunes to be the same. At best it’s an aggregator with an index, but you can still produce, host, and distribute it wherever you want).

Veiled elitism

But then the discussing shifted, perhaps inevitably, to funding. I’d like to call attention to these points the ATP guys raised:

  • The threat that subscription-only platforms with exclusive content have to the definition of podcasting.

  • John Siracusa mentioned that all independent podcasters need are “studios and microphones”.

  • Marco Arment discussed that small podcasters have difficulty monetising, and thus far the best efforts of developers like himself to make them viable haven’t worked thus far.

While I agree with the first point, it’s worth remembering this isn’t the first time podcasting changed. It was originally envisaged by Dave Winer as a simple, RSS-powered delivery mechanism; no more, no less. You could include small audio snippets, videos, images, anything.

It was awesome. I started my own silly recordings back in 2003, then my own sporatic show in 2005 which I still do. I still have copies of all those early recordings I downloaded from other people’s feeds. Some were shows in the sense of radio, others were snippets recorded on the way to a train. They’re all valuable.

Whether intentional or not, there’s a whiff of elitism in the above prognostications which harm the community. You most definitely do not need a studio or a fancy microphone; heck recordings from your phone are sufficient if you have great ideas. I cannot overstate my belief in this; everyone has something interesting to say, and podcasting affords people a way to do so.

An ad-sponsored, network podcast show personality said a few years ago that all independent podcasters must meet minimum production quality standards, or people will tar the entire podcast medium with their amateur brush. This self-defeating attitude plays right into the hands of the larger companies trying to take this ecosystem for themselves, and needs to die in the dumpster fire it crawled out of.

It’s not all about the money

And finally, the bulk of any discussion about this medium inevitably gets given to thoughts about money-making potential. Not whether we can make production more accessible to more people, or how we can organise ourselves for better discoverability, or how independent hosting can work, but profit. This speaks volumes.

I wish it were easier to monetise for people who want to go down that route, but the measure of a podcast’s success isn’t whether it can make money. By tacitly or overtly claiming it is, we’ve already conceded defeat.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person in bios. Hi!

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