Well hi there, and thanks for stopping by this first of what will be three parts. It's a kind of blog study/examination of the art of asking for support, and I hope to unwrap the psychology and pitfalls of the whole process, while also addressing the following questions:
How do podcasters, especially history podcasters, feel about asking for money
What kind of requests for support are considered okay, versus what can often come across as begging?
What part does the listener play in the whole process?
What examples in particular spring to mind of someone who may be taking the requests for support too far?
How easy is it to become obsessed with the monies, and lose sight of why you started podcasting in the first place?
Let's find out, in this latest blog post by Zack Twamley, host of When Diplomacy Fails Podcast.
It can be tough to know how far to push the bar sometimes. Even while I love doing this, and I will always provide it for free, and I don't expect people to pay, I still feel a strange sense of guilt or even shame when I do my usual Patreon plugs.
In a way it is a very unusual strategy - I give you something for free, and I have to suggest in such an effective or appealing way that you become convinced of the necessity of throwing some $ in direction. Maybe it's because you've been with me since the beginning and you feel obligated to give after all these years - you my friend are an unusual beast. Maybe you want to avail of the Xtra content that I offer because you genuinely think it's worth your $ - this, I feel, is why most people would sign up, though I could be wrong. Maybe you like the idea of supporting because it makes you feel like a stakeholder in a project that you can feel invested in - this effect is usually magnified when merchandise is involved and the display of support can be more public, and we all know how I feel about merch.
Yet, it's unusual because of all the listeners that my Acast statistics tell me I have, only a very small percentage of that number are actually giving $. And yet, even though I know this, I accept it and am perfectly fine with it. This, business strategists would argue, is not right, because Zack, you're giving your time and efforts to produce something and you should get reimbursed for it. We have likely heard this argument before, in fact I may even have used it myself in the past in the course of a debate with someone else. Yet, at its core I believe it's fundamentally flawed, because, well, to be blunt, nobody is asking or forcing me to do this. That's a key aspect of what is called a hobby, and the reason why we as podcasters feel as though we need to use the aforementioned argument is because podcasting is what you could justifiably call a 'supremely time-consuming hobby' or STCH [let's call it "stitch" for effect].
Since this STCH takes up so much time, by its very nature it prevents us from doing other things, or it has to take a back seat when real life gets in the way. It's a hobby, it's not a job, so in any other circumstance this would make sense. My friend Sean, who you may know from the TALK episodes, thoroughly enjoys painting models for his tabletop wargaming. These things are insanely detailed, and obviously took hours to produce. They bring immense joy to him and his wargaming buddies when they group together and compare models. Sean is, therefore, participating in a STCH...but is he asking people for support on Patreon or trying to justify himself to his friends? Generally, no he isn't.
That's not to say that there's no wargaming model makers on Patreon - one guy is even making over $3k for his videos! Generally though, wargamers aren't known for asking for money as podcasters are; in fact I would argue, and I think I'd be quite safe in this, that in terms of engaging in a STCH, podcasters are the most notorious of all for asking for monetary support. Why is that?
In my humble opinion, it comes down to a number of things, but it must at least partially revolve around the fact that podcasting is a very personal hobby, and at times an intensely lonely one at that. At the same time, you also have the opportunity to connect and network with a seriously large bank of people that hold similar interests in common to you, so often you can feel like you've struck a gold mine if your pod becomes especially popular. Listeners wouldn't get this podcast except as it's told in your voice; this of course makes it that much more personal. Not only are you charged with investing the time hours in building up your models - so your story, your characters, your main events etc., but you're also bringing that story to people in a way that is unique to you, whether that's because of your accent or your pitch and tone. This personalising, while it can be an Achilles Heel for some podcasters, it can also ingratiate the listener towards you, because you're different, because you are so unique, or because the way you tell your story has a distinct feel that he/she can't get anywhere else.
Above all though, while such personalising is important, the major reason why podcasters, as the purveyors of a STCH tend to beg for money the most, is for the quite obvious reason that what they produce, they give away for free.
Think about it - what other hobby compels people to slave away for hours, engaging in a product and building up an item which nobody directly asked them to engage with, only to come to the end of a long and laborious process, hit upload and then wait for the response. There's no middleman, no add to cart and certainly no profit for the podcaster, so why in God's name does he insist on doing it? Well, for the reasons we covered in the first point - he/she can personalise it, he/she can make a podcast their own, he/she can work away for hours to produce a nugget of gold. And after this process is complete, then they get to see what people all across the world think of what they've just done. The extent to which this satisfies the creative juices of the podcaster cannot be understated, because it is this satisfaction that keeps them coming back - the fact that not only do they know they are producing genuinely good work which people enjoy listening to, but that by telling others and spreading the word through whatever format, their product will reach more and more listeners until they can actually consider their podcast popular.
Knowing that people talk about and actively respond to your work; that it impacts them, makes them think or even changes their perspective on something - that feeling is like the next level when you're a podcaster of any shade. As a history podcaster these feelings are arguably more intense, because you're dealing with stories, debates, characters and events from long ago. Some of them people may know a lot about, others they may never have heard of, but either way bringing them such a story is so valuable because it promotes debate, encourages discussion and imbues knowledge - and when I say knowledge, I don't mean dry and dusty dates, I mean actual tangible knowledge about real people and events. Knowledge that we can learn from or feel inspired by. Again, it has to be said, when you are reaching that level, that is how you know you've made it as a history podcaster.
But back to our original question - why do the purveyors of a STCH, as podcasters tend to be end up in the receipt of funds? Why do podcasters often equate success with money and why do some podcasters attempt to transform their hobby into a money making business - and at the same time, can such a transformation improve a podcast or kill it with the pressure? As this is only part 1, we have not reached the point where we can answer these questions yet - we still have some ways to go!
However, if you are a listener reading this right now, consider the following statements:
You are never under any obligation, no matter what the podcaster says, to hand over your hard-earned money. Furthermore, this podcaster would not even be podcasting if it wasn't for your attention towards him, so if anything, they owe you.
If you agree with these statements, or maybe you're still not sure, consider also these statements:
As a podcaster, it is my responsibility to produce quality content for your listening pleasure. Yet at the same time I am also free to use my podcast for my own ends, especially when there is viable money to be made. If listeners object then they are under no obligation to stick around - after all, they are getting it for free.
How does that sit with you? In a way, both of these statements are fair. Where problems arise in the medium of podcasting is #1: when these viewpoints smash messily together or #2: when either one of these feelings are felt too intensely. To get an idea of what I mean by that, have a look at these two examples:
Michaela runs the true crime podcast board and bale. It's immensely successful and she enjoys a great deal of publicity and a large listenership, perhaps one of the largest out there. Because of her success, especially in such a short space of time, she becomes somewhat greedy. Soon, it's not enough to have a dedicated listenership and massive exposure on numerous media platforms, or to bask in the fact that many thousands, perhaps millions at some point, have enjoyed her product. What Michaela really wants is money. So she makes the jump to Patreon and soon enjoys legions of Patrons supporting board and bale - she's delighted. So she doubles down on her efforts, and before long she's making thousands of $ every month.
Again, it's not enough. Michaela gets tired of asking for money. Why, she asks herself, are more people not giving more money - why are so many listeners content to just listen to the podcast and not give anything back; particularly when I'm giving out such fabulous rewards? Soon, her language becomes more condescending - those listeners that question or criticise are silenced, and her tone within the podcast starts to sound yet more desperate and needy. Still, Michaela insists, I am doing a service and bringing people great entertainment on a regular basis - people should feel obligated to give. Look at the figures, Michaela says, only 1% of my listenership actually choose to become Patrons - ONE PERCENT! That's not fair, and the listener is greedy to taking my show and giving nothing in return.
So the feelings harden, the words exchanged become that much more impassioned, and some listeners actually begin to get turned off by board and bale's style. Their loss Michaela says, I still have legions of fans that are willing to support me - so she goes on social media and belittles those that don't pay, while praising those that do, and this only further aggravates the situation. By now Michaela has a reputation for caring more about gaining $ than she does about her podcast. Such an attitude is sad, her older, original listeners say, because when she first started out we really enjoyed her work, and in some ways we still do, but knowing how she behaves online, and how she views and treats those that don't pay her the $, makes it too hard to enjoy her work as I used to, so I'm out. Board and bale continues to be successful, but her original fans argue that its heart has long since been torn out by the pull of money and the podcaster's greed.
Boris likes his Eastern European history - as someone with a murky past and grandparents who moved to the United States many decades ago, he's always had an inherent curiosity about that portion of the world. One day he stumbles across a true audio gem - a podcast about Bulgarian history, by a guy called Eric. Boris is hooked: as one of his grandparents reportedly came from Sofia, he can't get enough of the history of the place. Yet, as Boris goes about his daily commute, he begins to notice something that starts to grind his gears - Eric, it transpires, has a Patreon page. Not only that - he regularly requests that his listeners check it out if they want to support the show. Boris becomes frustrated: 'this is ridiculous!' he exclaims, 'everyone is always looking for money these days!'
Boris becomes so frustrated with Eric's perfectly reasonable Patreon plugs that he stops listening. Two or three weeks later one of Boris' kids ask him 'Daddy, why don't listen to those Bulgarian stories on your phone, I really liked them?'. Boris sits his kid down and gets ready to do some explaining.
'Well...Junior', Boris begins, 'I did used to listen to that podcast, but he started asking for money so I stopped listening because it wasn't right.'
'He asked for money?' Junior's eyes grew wide. 'Why would he do that if you're paying him to listen to his show?'
Now Boris is a bit confused.
'Don't be silly Junior, I don't pay for the show, podcasts are free.'
'PODCASTS ARE FREE?' Junior's eyes widen even further. 'You mean you get all that for nothing?! I want to listen to podcasts too! I can't believe you don't have to pay for something that good!'
'Of course it's free Junior', Boris replies, 'why would anyone pay for a podcast, the problem is that he asks for support in nearly every episode.'
'So you don't have to pay?', Junior says.
'No, Junior, that's the whole point - podcasts are free to listen to.'
'Why does that guy do it then?' Junior asks.
'Because he loves the history of Bulgaria I suppose', Boris replies.
'But Daddy, I thought you loved Bulgarian history too'
'Well I do but...you see...Eric asks me for support and...and...it's not right.'
'Because I don't want to hear about his requests for support all the time, I just want to hear about Bulgarian history!'
'Well how long are the requests for help Daddy?'
Boris coughs uncomfortably.
'About 5 minutes or so'
'And how long is the show?'
'It's ehh...it's about 40 minutes long.'
Junior looks puzzled, and gradually walks away from Boris.
Boris shifts nervously in his seat. He knows very well that it's been two weeks since he last listened to the Bulgarian History podcast, so he knows there will be at least one episode in the feed. He opens up his phone and begins to listen to it again. Begrudgingly, he sits through the Patreon plugs, before realising that they're not all that bad after all, and take up only a tiny percentage of the episode in total. Boris then rights himself - perhaps he was simply having a bad day before, and that was why he got so annoyed. Then he began to feel bad. Eric was producing high quality stuff, Boris thought, and if I was producing that I want to know that people out there cared enough to help out too, even if there's no obligation. Almost despite himself, the curiosity gets the better of him and he checks out Eric's Patreon page.
It is then that Boris nearly falls out his chair. Before he'd merely dismissed Eric's requests for support as ridiculous and shameless money grabbing. But looking at the rewards he begins to get excited. A tour of Sofia as one of the rewards? Perhaps he knows the suburb where his grandparents came from? He scrolls further down, to see that for a little more, Eric will cook you a traditional Bulgarian meal. Stunned, and eager to connect with his roots, Boris signs up. Within minutes, he gets a personal message of thanks from Eric, and Boris then realises that he has made Eric's day. Eric - the same guy he's enjoyed listening to for the last few years, and now he's give something back to him. Boris decides to re-listen to the old back catalogue to get himself up to speed. He goes into Junior's room to tell him the good news, but Junior already has his ear phones in. Boris motions at him to take them off, and Junior makes a face.
'But Daddy', Junior exclaims, 'Dan Carlin is talking about the World War!'
So, what did we think? I feel these are great introductions to the two extremes of podcasting, and placing ads or plugs for support within them. Yes, they may be a little ham fisted, and perhaps even inspired by actual persons or events, though you can't prove anything, but the sentiments ring true. In the next part of this study, I'll examine how Patreon has revolutionised how we as podcasters create and seek to expand, but how it can also be a curse disguised as a blessing if you're not careful.
I hope you'll join me then, and let people know about this post by sharing it and talking about in the usual channels. What do you think about these points, and how do you feel about podcasters asking for money; will you just not give monetary support ever, or do you feel it's something you might like to do some day? A huge thanksss to Eric from the Bulgarian History Podcast, who didn't know I was going to feature him in this post, but who you should definitely check out because his work is top notch, and as Spiderman used to say, with a great podder comes great responsibility (on the part of the listener)...obviously I'm paraphrasing.
Anyway, thankssss for reading history friends, and I'll be seeing you all soon!