Brent Simmons got some great advice out of Lex Friedman about how to run a small podcast-ad network that needs to exist, and previously did, but currently doesn’t. They’re both calling for someone to make a network like that again.
Podcast geeks jumping into ad sales is a recent phenomenon, mostly out of necessity because there’s no AdSense for podcasts. And trust me, the world is better off without that.
AdSense (and later, better web ad networks like The Deck) removed much of the reason for most independent bloggers to join blog networks. The lack of accessible ad networks in podcasts, and the sheer amount of work it takes to sell directly, is a huge reason why podcast networks are relevant and common. If you could easily outsource just the ad-sales part separately, and change it at will if things don’t work out with someone, there’s much less reason to join a podcast network. You could host your files on SoundCloud or Libsyn, put the show on Squarespace,1 use your own domain name, teach yourself basic editing in GarageBand (it’s easy), and be completely independent.
I tried selling the sponsorships myself in the early days of ATP, but was quickly demoralized and jaded by the reality of that job. It takes a lot of email, some long phone calls, a lot of paperwork, and a lot of nagging to get past-due invoices paid. It’s common for sponsors to ignore your payment-due dates and pay months after you actually do the sponsorships. Most big sponsors have their own way they “need” to work, blaming “the accounting department” or “policy”, and these arbitrary accounting rules and policies often mean that your ad salesperson has a lot of work to do and you’re not getting paid for a long time. (This dance isn’t new to most contractors.)
Even in the best cases, working with the easiest sponsors, you still need to schedule each sponsorship, bill for each sponsorship, get a script or bullet points (which sometimes needs a phone call), prepare those materials while recording each show, read them during the show, link to them on the website, and follow up with them afterward if necessary. It’s a lot of work.
I say all of this not because I dislike sponsors — they pay far more than we’d be likely to get from direct listener donations, and if we forced a paywall, nobody would listen and our show would be irrelevant. If we didn’t have sponsors, we wouldn’t make enough to be worth the substantial time it takes to produce the show. Sponsorships enable podcasting as we know it today. There are some exceptions, but not many that anyone has heard of.
But the job of a podcast-ad salesperson isn’t trivial. That’s why we outsourced it, and why it’s worth losing a significant percentage of our income to commissions to do so. I wouldn’t recommend getting into this business unless you’re prepared to deal with, and would enjoy, the day-to-day reality and tedium of it.
And if you can handle people like me bugging you every week to get our invoices paid.2
If you don’t care about download stats, you can even host the files on Squarespace. But if you’re selling ads, you’ll need download stats.
Squarespace could take a lot of Libsyn’s customers if they offered podcast download stats, but it doesn’t look like they want to be in that business at a bigger scale than what they’re offering now. ↩︎
Lex is a very patient, tolerant man. ↩︎