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March 15, 2019 Vol. 6


All The Other Podcasts

Never atop the charts, always ahead of the game

 


The Fellowship of the Ping"

 
"Well, I'm back..."

All The Other Interns

A word or two on merch

Get Up To Speed with Ethan Banks of the Packet Pushers Network!
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"He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”
 

These words were written by J.R.R. Tolkien and spoken by Samwise Gamgee, a member of the Fellowship of the Ring. He spoke them at the end of a hellacious journey to Mordor and back again.

And even though I only moved offices, I feel exactly the same way. As it turns out it's really hard to move your podcast production business from one location to another while running your podcast production business. And uh, also write a newsletter. 

However, I was helped tremendously in this effort by three terrific fellows.

First Fellow: Matthew C. Flanagan, husband, comedy writer, lifter of things. Matt did so much of the heavy lifting on this move that he just approached me and asked politely if this weekend there could possibly be a moratorium on lifting. Yes, Matt, yes. 

2018 Infinite Gain Inaugural Fellow: Rich Stroffolino, podcaster. You know Rich from his terrific interviews in this newsletter, including one this week with Ethan Banks of the Packet Pushers Network. Rich was a terrific help in our first year of podcast production, and I was never more grateful than in the two weeks where I moved offices and my laptop died. Rich edits podcasts, helps clients understand Patreon and other crowdfunding options and has recently taken over primary responsibility for managing two of the podcasts in the IG roster. He also helps with the Daily Tech News Headlines. Like so many digital colleagues, we have never met in person. Rich and his delightful family live in lovely Cleveland, OH. 

2019 Infinite Gain Fellow: Anthony Lemos, podcaster. You'll hear more about Anthony is a moment, but he is our second-ever Infinite Gain Fellow, and veteran of the US Air Force. He officially started with us March 5 2019, and ten days in our company has project management software, and we're in the process of upgrading our edit software! Anthony is a co-host of the long-running Ritual Misery podcast and a co-host of short-running Let's Talk About Thrones with myself and Richard Gunther, and he also helps out with production on Daily Tech News Show.  Anthony and his delightful family live in Alaska! So, yeah, we have definitely never met in person.

But you know what? That's just fine. We are the Fellowship of The Ping (in Slack, Skype, Asana, you name it) and when you're working from a home office, or running around doing field recordings, it's really really nice to know that there are people who have your back in multiple time zones. 

These two colleagues are helping me pilot a formal process where I can bring people into the IG community, give them enough work for them to earn at least part of their living, teach them everything I know, introduce them to people who know way more than me, and then send them out in the world. Once our pilot is completed in August, my goal is to open up this process for actual applications for a 2020 IG Online Fellowship. You heard it here first!

LISTEN TO "LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE"
 
Los Angeles has a thriving independent podcast community. Podcast productions companies like Western Sound, Neon Hum and Little Everywhere are doing great work for their clients. I love the Earbuds Podcast Collective. And I recently got to meet with Lucy Copp, who independently produces a terrific and necessary podcast called Life on the Outside. In Season One, Lucy focuses on former prison "lifers" who have been returned to society.  Take a listen, it's good stuff. 
Want to talk with us about podcasts?

All the Other Interns

 

Hullo! I’m Anthony Lemos and I’m the latest addition to Infinite Gain Productions. While I am technically an intern, Jennie prefers ‘Fellow’ and I’m okay with that.

Eds note: Because when it gets to nine I’ll have a Fellowship! -- jj

As part of my intern...I mean fellowship, I’ll be chiming in from time to time on my progress, the lessons I learn along the way, and tips from the professional podcast world.


I know, I just said ‘professional podcast’ in a newsletter that explores the world of the independent podcaster. But it’s really more than that, isn’t it? It’s about making it on your own, not needing a professional budget or staff to have pride in a podcast well produced, and not being afraid of exploring your own voice.

For now, I’ll give you a quick introduction: I’ve been listening to podcasts since I found Buzz Out Loud and Stuff You Should Know in 2008, producing and editing my own podcasts since 2014, and I'm currently producing two of my own. I’m also a community leader in two very different groups of podcasters and Twitch streamers. So when it came time to retire from a 24-year career as an aircraft mechanic and supervisor in the United States Air Force, I decided to follow my passion, learn more about podcasting from a few of my podcasting idols, and turn that passion of independent media into a positive change in the world.

All of that is to say that I know quite a bit about podcasting...but have yet to learn so much more. And that is where you come in.

As I learn, I want to share that knowledge with you. I know you have questions and if I know what those questions are, I will do my best to address them here in future articles. Reach out to me, @ethancaine on Twitter, and let me know what you don’t know so we can learn together.

Next time: What’s a “dry assembly”?
Use your own custom HTML

MERCH IT UP


This tweet from Shannon Morse popped up in my feed a while back, and I thought it would be a good time to talk about these hackers and their merch.

Hak5 is a self-described group of IT ninjas, security professionals and hardcore gamers. Darren Kitchen founded the Hak5 podcast back in 2005. These days it's an award-winning Internet television show, which just hit 500k subscribers on YouTube.  Darren and fellow hosts Shannon Morse, Mubix and other contributors, they are a case study in how to build audience and generate significant revenue from merch. And uh, I'm not just talkin' about mugs, totes and stickers. Hak5 makes products available that their community wants and they have gone up against fierce bureaucratic blockers to make them available.

Merch is such a key part of podcast revenue, especially for podcasts that don't want to take ads to retain full editorial control. This is a really important part of The Daily Tech New Show, since so many of the ads they would otherwise get would be tech-centric and potential conflicts of interest. 

The team at Under The Hood also made a conscious decision not to seek ads, and Executive Producer Chelsea Levy and designer Lauren Singer designed an incredible logo and some fantastic merchandise derived from that logo. And they carefully thought through ways that the logo and the merchandise would be inclusive to as many women as possible. Here are a few of our original logo art designs. We picked a different image each week for our site, and I changed the logo randomly throughout the course of Season 1 in Libsyn. 







Last night, we taped a live episode of Under The Hood Season 2 at Hatch, a classy clothing store across the street from the Brentwood Country Mart. The space was elegant and packed with adorable babies! Chelsea and Lauren debuted the new Season 2 totebags, and you'll notice two new sets of breasts, to make the art associated with the podcast even more inclusive. 

There will be a ton of pictures on the podcast insta, hopefully none of my terrified flop sweat when none of my gear "worked" ten minutes before the event began.

Spoiler alert: It worked. I was just having a moment. With an audience. Of pregnant moms. You get the idea.

Anyway, the event was a huge success, and I'm super proud to be a part of this podcast team!

Subscribe now so you're all ready for
 Season Two of Under The Hood, coming very soon. And if you want to get the breast mug ever, and the very breast tote, I know an online shop is in the works, but I bet if you emailed us, someone could make that happen....

Totebags, mugs and yes, there were stickers too. When done right, they can be an incredibly impactful to raise revenue and awareness for independent podcasts.

The current champions of this process are over at Frogpants Studios. Clearly it helps to have an artist-in-residence generating daily art for t-shirts, stickers, playing cards and more.  But I've seen firsthand the hard work that goes into building an online store, designing the merchandise, and most importantly fulfilling orders in a timely fashion. It really helps to have someone dedicated to all aspects of merch. The digital version of the person behind the merch table at a rock concert. So three cheers to all the merch workers. Long may you sell!






 

Get up to speed with Ethan Banks


Rich Stroffolino is back with another independent podcaster!
 
Rich Stroffolino: Was Packet Pushers your first foray into podcasting? How did you get started? 

Ethan Banks: Packet Pushers was my first foray into podcasting, yes. The show was an evolution of the technical blogging that I had been doing, and I didn’t start it alone. Greg Ferro and Dan Hughes were also known tech bloggers. The three of us joined together as co-hosts to start recording about networking, since there wasn’t a podcast we knew of discussing what we did in our day jobs as network architects.

After several episodes, Dan had a fantastic job opportunity that meant he needed to step away from the mic. Greg and I remained as co-hosts, with many other folks becoming regular guests or guest hosts in those early days when Greg or I couldn’t always keep up.

RS: Was monetization something you planned for when you launched Packet Pushers? When did it become your full time job?

EB: We did not have a monetization plan in the beginning. Our first episode was published back in 2010, and there wasn’t a set path for how to make money podcasting. In addition, money wasn’t our primary goal. We had a sense that there was some money to be made, as we’d done some compensated writing before launching the podcast. But money wasn’t why we were speaking into a mic. We ended up feeling it out as opportunities came up.

To figure out a monetization strategy, we had to determine what sponsors were willing to pay. In other words, considering our audience size and demographic as well as what service we were offering, what monetary value could we assign? Was the result upgrade-the-laptop sort of money? Or was it feed-the-family sort of money?

Over time, we sorted out the finances with the advice of industry friends, pricing experimentation, and traditional economics. Once we determined what I call ceiling pricing—the price that we would ask where some people would turn us down—we did the math. Did ceiling price times inventory equal a sustainable business model? Yes, it did.

We worked on Packet Pushers as a second job for many years, keeping our full-time jobs or contracts. During 2015, Greg and I each came to places in our day jobs where it was time to move on from those engagements. We decided at that point not to go after new engagements, but rather to focus on Packet Pushers full-time. So, about five years elapsed between launching the podcast and working on it as a full-time business.

RS: How do you handle sponsored content vs advertising?

EB: When sponsors work with us to create content, we mark the content in the title as “sponsored.” We also mention in the intro of sponsored podcasts that the content is sponsored and who the sponsor is. Almost always, the fully sponsored episode is about the sponsor’s technology.

We want our audience to know before choosing to listen to an episode that it was fully sponsored by the company the guests came from. From there, it’s up to us as hosts to make the content worth listening to—educational, insightful, conversational, and honest. We do our best to run an interview asking the questions any engineer would ask when evaluating a product or service. If we’ve done our job well, an engineer listening to a sponsored show should know from a technical viewpoint whether or not the sponsor’s product might be a good fit for their organization.

Some episodes are not fully sponsored. We talk about whatever we want to on those episodes, featuring guests of our choosing. On those episodes, we might run commercials—we call these ad spots, often delivered with a tight pre-roll before the show and longer mid-roll during the show. We still follow the same “sponsor” verbiage when reading pre- and mid-rolls, so that listeners understand that they are hearing an advertisement. We never deliver an ad spot as a subliminal endorsement or sneaky product mention along the way because we were paid to do so.

In short, we’re never subtle (we hope!) about what content is sponsored as what is not. If you’re listening to any of the shows on the Packet Pushers podcast network, you should be able to easily discern sponsored content vs. unsponsored. 

RS: You have a lot of large technology companies sponsoring content on your show. How receptive were these companies to podcasts when you started? Has that changed substantially?

EB: In the early days of our podcast, there was skepticism about whether or not spending money on podcast advertising would be a smart marketing return on investment. We don’t give up names or email addresses of our listeners. We don’t guarantee leads. We don’t have a metrics platform that tracks listeners and shows a marketer where in the sales funnel a lead was inserted because a prospect listened to a podcast. Besides being expensive to build such metrics tracking platforms, the approach is anathema to our privacy ethic. All of that makes some old-school marketers nervous.

However, large tech media has, on the whole, shrunk in recent years, both in content output and staff. Some once-massive IT conferences have shrunk in size, dramatically in a few cases. How are tech marketers going to get their messages out with the traditional outlets becoming less effective than they once were?

Increasingly, the answer is influencer marketing. Packet Pushers is a new sort of media company with roots in influencer marketing ideas. As marketers become more comfortable with social media and how influencer marketing works, the conversations with marketers are easier for us to have. There’s less skepticism now, and more discussions around how to best utilize the marketing opportunity we represent.

The good news from the Packet Pushers perspective is that marketing with us has worked well for many companies. Several companies have told us that we are a major contributor to leads, because our audience tells them they heard about them on Packet Pushers. I had lunch today with someone who told me that 85% of their new business was a direct result of a sponsored podcast they did with us. This is not a new story for us. We’ve heard variants of that testimonial many times over the years.

The reason is simple enough. Most technologists do their product research on the Internet. They don’t want to hear from sales people. They don’t want to be in a funnel. They don’t want to be prospected. They often don’t have travel budgets to go to conferences. Technologists want to qualify a product ahead of time, and reach out once they believe the product might be a good fit. When a podcast listener calls up a sponsor, they are a hot lead. That is, they know what they want, and know a sponsor’s product might give it to them. No one is wasting anyone else’s time.

This approach is the opposite of the drive-by badge scanning that happens at conferences. Conference badge scans tend to be poor quality leads, perhaps better than cold calling, but not by much. By contrast, podcast listeners that reach out to a company to learn more are excellent leads because they are self-selected and pre-qualified.

RS: What’s been the biggest change in podcasting for you personally and in the industry since you started?

EB: The biggest change has not been in technology or delivery platforms, although those things have changed somewhat over the last decade. The biggest change is simply consumption. According to annual surveys I’ve read, more folks are listening to podcasts. I don’t think we can yet say that podcasting has gone mainstream, but the word podcast is meaningful to an ever-increasing percentage of the population.

Growth in the podcast industry is good, but it’s also meant that there’s a lot of podcast churn—that is, new shows coming and going. Since the technical barrier to creating and publishing a podcast is fairly low, many folks give it a try. In that sense, it’s getting harder to hold onto listener’s ears. With so many interesting podcasts to listen to and yet still a limited number of hours in the day, the value a podcast brings to a listener has got to be poignant, else folks will tune into something else.

RS: Who would be your dream podcast guest for any Packet Pushers show?

EB: At the risk of being accused of avoiding the question, I crave new voices above all others. I love talking with IT practitioners I’ve never talked to before and hearing their stories. The project that failed. The move to the cloud that succeeded against the odds. The day the data center went down. The new automation tool that saved them hours. And so on.

I’ve never been overly impressed by larger-than-life personalities, as I find they don’t move the needle for most folks. Fascinating conversation? Perhaps, but I tend not to seek those people out. I mostly want to participate meaningfully in a community of IT professionals, facilitate knowledge sharing between folks, and help people find their tribe.

RS: What are your favorite independent podcasts?

EB: I think the best way to answer this question is to tell you what I’m subscribed to in Overcast right now. I won’t qualify these as favorite or not. I probably don’t listen to every episode because of that finite time problem. But these are independent (not owned by a major media company as far as I know) audio podcasts that I’m subscribed to, for whatever indicator of value that might be.

Bad Voltage

Broken Record with Malcolm Gladwell and Rick Rubin

Buffer Overflow - Anexinet

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Addendum

Darknet Diaries

DIY Musician Podcast

Drinking Socially - The Official Untappd Podcast

Escape Pod

Gestalt IT On-Premise IT Roundtable

GreyBeards on Storage

Here Be Monsters

Information Superhighway To The Danger Zone

Lost Notes

Software Gone Wild by ipSpace.net

Song Exploder

SONIC TALK Podcasts

The Tim Ferriss Show

Making Sense Podcast (soon to be renamed to something else, I forget what)


…and then, of course, the 8 shows in the Packet Pushers podcast network. I’ll spare you the self-advertisement. :-)

On my Amazon Echo devices, I am subscribed to several podcasts I bundled into my Flash Briefing. The most interesting ones are…

Daily Tech Headlines

Stormcast - Internet Storm Center


RS: If you have any other thoughts or insights into monetization that these questions don’t really bring out, let me know and I can reverse engineer some responses :)

EB: Unique content is differentiated. Differentiated content is valuable, and cultivates an audience as a result. An audience isn’t numbers. Monetizing against audience size is foolish unless your consumption numbers are in the 6 or 7 figure range. You need to monetize against a quality audience demographic, and not quantity.

Think about it this way. Podcast monetization isn’t about selling mattresses. It’s about finding matches among your unique content, the audience you’ve cultivated, and the potential advertisers that would align to those common interests. Podcasts serve micro-niches—not the masses, in the majority of cases.

EB: I know Packet Pushers has Premium Membership options. When did the idea for that come about? It seems similar to what a lot of podcasters do with Patreon, except with the benefit of giving you full control. Do you think this kind of participatory crowdfunding is a viable for more podcasters?

RS: The idea for a membership platform was something we’d kicked around as a company for years. The main idea was diversity of income. Any business thinks about this. In our case, the business runs on sponsorships. That’s fine…until it isn’t. What happens if we needed a different way to feed our families, because market forces caused a significant change to the sponsorship model?

Therefore, we invested in the membership platform as a way the audience could support our podcast network with no reliance on traditional sponsors. It was also important for us to own the platform, which is why we built our own. When you don’t own the platform, you run the risk that the platform owner changes the rules in such a way that your business model is invalidated.

The secondary idea behind the membership platform was to share information that is hard to share in a podcast format. Reports. E-books. Long form technology reference pieces. Training. Webinars. We know there is an appetite for this sort of information, and want to determine how much.

The viability of the membership platform is yet to be determined. In the early days of the podcast network before sponsors, we accepted donations to help pay the bills. Probably less than 1% of the audience donated. When we began working with sponsors, we chose not to accept audience donations anymore, because sponsors were more than covering our expenses.

In effect, we’d trained our audience over the years to expect everything from Packet Pushers to be free. Therefore, when we launched Ignition, our membership site, we didn’t see a flood of subscriptions. Roughly 1.5% of our global audience have premium subscriptions at this time, and that’s with the incentive of access to unsponsored, ad-free content that we don’t offer anywhere else.

In other words, it’s been hard for the business to be sponsor-driven AND membership-driven. While I wouldn’t call it an identity crisis, I do think a media company ends up setting their content creation path early on. Your audience develops a particular expectation, and it’s hard to change their perception of the relationship they have with you. If they expect all content to be free, that’s tough to change. But, if you establish early on that the content will be paid for by the audience via subscriptions, you can see if folks will back it. Then you can develop your business model.

Either way you go is a slow grind, requiring years to sort out. In fairness to our own membership system, it’s only been a few months since we launched it, and we haven’t marketed it heavily. It could be it’s going to take years of grinding away and adding content to the premium library before we know whether or not more listeners will choose to support us in this way. People don’t react quickly to new sites, and asking them to do something more than mash a subscribe button is a larger request of them than you might think.

That said, there are newsletters and podcasts that have successfully monetized using a subscription model. But remember the percentage game. The vast majority of the audience will not pay for content. Monetization becomes a math problem. How much revenue is required? What percentage of the audience will pay? How much would you have to charge each of those folks to meet your revenue target? Is that a reasonable number? If that number is not reasonable, are you willing to do the grind required to build up your audience to the point your business is sustainable?

This is where it all falls down for most people. They just aren’t willing to wait. To grind it out.

RS: How does having premium members play with maintaining a vibrant community? Any concern of potentially turning off “free” listeners?

EB: As a side note, an interesting aspect of the membership site has been the chance to pay folks from the community to create content. We’re excited about Ignition being a platform that others can share quality content with other technologists and get paid for it.

From a standpoint of our core community of listeners, the membership site hasn’t changed the equation in a notable way. I think it’s still too early to understand what the impact will be as yet.

As far as upsetting our audience members who consume our content for free, we haven’t changed the equation for them. Although we’ve talked about moving some of our previously free content behind the Ignition paywall, that hasn’t yet happened. Should we do this in an effort to make a premium Ignition membership an easier decision? Probably, but we haven’t gone there yet. If we do, I don’t expect to alienate many, if any, folks. We’ll migrate content in such a way that most “free” listeners won’t feel the sting that badly.

RS: Is the trick giving people as many ways as possible to show their support, whether monetarily or otherwise?

For us, that’s a part of it, but I think you can get too spread out as the business owner. I don’t recommend having a Paypal donate button, a Patreon account, a membership platform, and fifty other ways for folks to interact and support you content. Pick something, and put your energy into whatever that platform is.

For us, adding Ignition to our Packet Pushers world has created a significant amount of technical and content debt. We’re stretched a bit thin, which has made it hard to put as much content into Ignition as we’d like as quickly as we’d like. Any time you launch a new website, put up an e-book for sale, create a new podcast channel. support a new payment method, etc. you put yourself increasingly in the business of backoffice operations.

No matter how automated you make your business or how easy you think it is to do Internet commerce, the process cost drags on you as a creator. Are you a writer? Podcaster? YouTuber? Do you make your money on content creation, giving your audience something of value? Or do you make your money fiddling with WordPress plugins? Obviously, it’s about the content. It’s easy to underestimate how much time is taken away from content creation because you’re figuring out why your website is loading slowly today.

Therefore, I recommend keeping your technical debt as low as possible by commiting to as few platforms as possible. Drive people to the platform you settle on. Don’t let FOMO drive you to use all the platforms that seem to have momentum. Your true fans will go where you ask them to go to show their support.
Well since Ethan had such a great list of podcasts and such a great interview, I'm just gonna leave it at that for this week.

Talk soon!

JJ

CREDITS


I made the newsletter art in Google Drawings because that is the limit of my artistic skill. 

Rich Stroffolino and Anthony Lemos help with this newsletter, go follow them!  


Thanks to Ethan Banks of the Packet Pushers Network

SELFISH PLUG SECTION: YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ THIS!
 

At Infinite Gain Productions, we help our clients launch podcasts and improve the quality of podcasts they're already producing. Our clients are non-profits, journalists on a mission, and individuals with a dream.

The second episode of Very Old Dad is out in the world! I got a chance to talk with home health aide Shamain Watkins about her job, her life, and how to accept the realities of life with elderly parents. 
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