A select group of media companies seem to have all the power and money in the audio space, selling ads and TV adaptations that seem out of reach for the rest of us. But what if we told you don’t need institutional backing to be a successful podcaster?
We break down who has the money right now in podcasting and why, along with what you can do to keep your podcasting power without needing to sign away something valuable to someone else.
First things first, let’s look at the most common podcast entity out there.
What is a network?
Good question. But maybe a better one is: what is it not?
The four main entities in podcasting are: networks, studios, platforms, and collectives.
- A network sells ads for the podcasts under their one name, like Radiotopia or Maximum Fun.
- A studio produces podcasts under that name, like WNYC Studios or Pineapple Street.
- A platform is where you listen to podcasts. Think podcatchers like Overcast or Pocket Casts, or streaming services like Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
- A collective is a loose affiliation of podcasts that share resources and branding. That’s Multitude.
Can you be more than one?
Yes! Think about what each of them does: a platform hosts, a studio makes, and both a network and a collective group different shows under a shared name.
So Spotify is a platform, but they also make original shows (and own studios like Gimlet and Parcast) and sell their own ads. So they’re 3 out of the 4. Radiotopia shares a collective’s ethos, sells ads for the independently-owned shows under their network, and also provide some funding and support for new shows, so they’re 3 out of the 4 too.
Knowing the differences between these categories can help you figure out what a company actually does. But the words an entity uses to identify itself tells you about their values and how they want to be seen: a “curated network” for Radiotopia, and a “destination” for Spotify.
Wait, who has money?
Well, it depends. Platforms are usually the ones with the most money because they’re tech companies, owned by tech companies, or funded by investors or venture capitalists. Some studios and networks owned by platforms share in these resources too, while others earn money by selling technology (Megaphone, formerly Panoply), ads for a lot of shows (Midroll), or making podcasts for clients (Pineapple Street and Gimlet).
What’s the difference between a collective and the rest of them?
Collectives are defined by decentralized power. Let’s look at where decision-making power lies in the other kinds of entities:
A podcast network’s staff have a say in what shows get signed, which ones stay on the network, and sometimes the content that’s on each show. They may take over the rights to monetize and adapt an individual podcast, require all shows to promote others in the network, and/or control merch and live show decisions.
A studio has leaders making decisions about the kinds of shows they produce and how those shows sound. The studio itself may also control the intellectual property their staff creates, as opposed to the producers that worked on that show.
A platform is its own entity that brings access to potential listeners in exchange for a combination of your data, image rights, and content: all the stuff they list in their terms of service when podcasters submit their shows onto the platform.
A collective is everyone going in together for mutual benefit. There is no centralized editorial control, no intellectual property grabs, and a bare minimum of requirements.
Maybe an example will help!
How does Multitude run as a collective?
We are two of the examples above: a collective and a studio. We are home to five original podcasts that are independently owned by their hosts, and we also produce podcasts for clients. As a collective we share resources, an office space, pitching power to festivals and conferences and live event spaces, and relationships with sponsors. We can survive because we’re working together, able to accomplish more than we could on our own.
Our shows also fit together because we believe the same things. All six of us hosts were drawn together because we’re friends off-line, sure, but also because of our shared values. When we decided to start a collective, we codified the tone that unites all our shows: We celebrate and share things we love while remaining critical of them, especially around topics that often have traditional gatekeepers. That’s the Multitude voice. Now, working together, we can think more strategically about how the shows we’re making now and might make in the future fit into that voice.
How does that benefit us?
When you’re bought in together, you have allies no matter what. We show up at conventions and rep each other’s shows when someone can’t make it. We pitch big festivals and conferences together, then share rides and Airbnbs to keep costs down. We shout out the other podcasts in our own shows often, whether that’s a quick mention when a joke comes up, intentional cross-promotion when someone has a big episode out, or guest starring on one another’s shows. Listing “Multitude” as each of our show’s authors also makes it easy for listeners to find our stuff. Instead of reading four other podcasts’ names when we want to give shine to our friends, we can just say “Type ‘Multitude’ into your podcast app.”
The best example of collective power is touring together. We started doing variety show style live shows, booking venues way bigger than we could have individually. That also helps convince venues we’re worthwhile to book for standalone podcast live shows.
That sounds nice, but come on, it’s 2019. Do you make money?
Yes, actually! Hello, this is Amanda, the CEO. I run the finances for the collective: doing accounting for each podcast, divvying up profits from live shows and merch sales, invoicing clients for consulting and production work, paying the team members that work on each client project, and investing revenue from our membership program into shared resources like our studio.
I also sell ads for all the shows, and invest a percentage of those ad sales back into Multitude’s staff and studio (and paying the majority of that ad money to the podcast’s hosts). Selling for 5+ shows means that our smaller podcasts get ad shine, too; a sponsor might come in for one show in particular, have a great experience, then decide to buy across more of our shows. Companies love when you can make spending their ad budget really easy, and working with one person to buy on multiple shows — and knowing that every one will be as funny, punctual, and high-quality as the first — makes it easy to spend more with us.
I own Multitude Productions LLC. That legal entity has a short contract with each show as a legal entity (which is co-owned by each of its hosts equally). It outlines what each of us will do for one another, without overreaching legalese: Multitude sells ads, promotes, books live shows, and sells merch for the podcast, while the shows agree to promote the collective at least once a month. That’s it. The rest we opt into because we want to and think it’s a good idea. No one loves reading contracts, but having something in place is important. While we hope it never happens, it makes everyone feel better to have a piece of paper clarifying that either party can walk away for any reason (with reasonable notice).
That sounds pretty cool! Could I do something like that?
YOU CAN! POOL YOUR RESOURCES! WORK WITH YOUR FRIENDS! TAKE OVER THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION!
DON’T YELL AT ME.
Sorry, artist collectives just get us very excited.
Listen, we can’t do much about media companies continuing to buy EVERY SINGLE THING out there. But we can band together with our friends to protect our art.
(That is not to say you cannot make money and sell something you make, which you absolutely can. If a giant company wants to pay you boatloads to adapt your show? Get a good lawyer, negotiate your butt off, and make that money!)
Collectives give you power together on the day to day. Like a union or a worker’s cooperative, we know we’re a lot more powerful collectively than we are apart.
So if you want your podcast to get some shine, find some friends and shine together.
Multitude is an independent podcast collective and production company based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Our original shows make niche interests accessible by bringing enthusiasm, nuance, and inventive formatting to topics we love. We also help clients of all sizes make and market great shows; perform and give workshops at podcast events; and publish dozens of free resources for creators.