Everybody wants to be the next “Netflix of…”, but the reason you’re saying Netflix is because it filled a niche that the world wanted filled. The Internet was slowly making cable obsolete, and Netflix swooped in to capitalize on it. Since then every company has been trying to create subscriptions for things people are already getting for free, and it just isn’t working.
It’s really hard to get people to pay for things they can get without paying, just to avoid ads: YouTube, Spotify, Google Play Music, and now podcasts, everyone has tried it, and most have failed. Take YouTube Premium: it was launched as a way to provide users with original shows, music without ads, and exclusive videos. They achieved limited success and recently announced their Originals would be available for free, with ads. Ever heard of ad-block? Honestly though, I don’t use ad-block because I just don’t care enough about ads; they’ve become so much a part of life’s background noise that I’m unfazed and usually not even annoyed by their presence. Unless a YouTuber puts 3 mid-rolls on a 10-minute video. Then I get annoyed.
There are many companies emerging right now who want to create podcast subscription services, but this concept is flawed from the get-go. The service to which “History on Fire” will be moving, which was discussed by my worthy opponent, is called Luminary. In a recent video, author and vlogger Hank Green commented on just what he thinks of putting up podcast pay walls (and were they available he wouldn’t be buying Luminary stocks any time soon). His opinion is that with podcasts, ads work, and people don’t mind them… or the fast forward button which is just as easy to use and totally free of charge.
I understand that if you have a dedication to a certain podcast or podcaster you might move to the subscription service just for them. But equally, if you cared that much, you’d probably become a Patron because at the end of the day every podcaster supporting themselves off creating podcasts has a Patreon account. I have several podcasts that I enjoy listening to, some have lengthy ad reads, some have mid-rolls, and the independent ones have Patreon accounts whom they thank profusely every episode. The ones that don’t are all part of larger podcast networks. Free ones. Yes, podcast networks that are free are already out there. Networks like Stuff Media, Radiotopia and Earwolf have made full-time podcasting possible for tons of people without charging listeners anything but a few minutes of skippable ads.
Not to mention there are legitimately 1000s of podcasts floating in the ether. There is more free audio available than you could listen to in five lifetimes, and I highly caution against trying; your time is much too valuable for that. With volume like that, it’s likely that whatever your interests are there are five podcasts all doing variations on the same theme. There are outliers like “Hardcore History” which have been around since the infancy of the genre and have dedicated fans who would follow them anywhere. However, for smaller podcasts with less fan-base, being put behind a paywall won’t help grow their listener-ship although it does provide them with guaranteed income, which is nothing to shake a stick at in the world of podcasting where sponsorships can be hard to come by.
“I listen to podcasts in moments when my time is being wasted already”, so says Hank Green and so say I. I don’t care about the ads because I just want to hear people talking while I sit on the bus home to Toronto or do the dishes or clean the washroom. I want to feel like I’m in an enjoyable one-way conversation while I fritter my time away doing the mundane tasks required of me in life. Sometimes I want to listen to music and sometimes I want to listen to talking, and ads on music are a heck of a lot more disruptive than ads on podcasts because the former happens every time the song changes, while the latter occurs every 15 minutes or so.
I agree that the concept is there because you never know what people might be willing to pay for so you should try everything. In the same vein, you also never know what people might be willing to eat, but you don’t see advertisements for Jell-O casseroles anymore because that stuff was disgusting and we as a society said “No, that’s gross”. I think that paid podcast services are headed in the same direction, but only time will tell.