From Podcast to Paidcast

by Devanshu Mehta Feb 23, 2006

Until recently, most podcasts have generated revenue through advertising or drawing traffic to their web sites. A few networks such as The Podcast Network have formed as centralized commercial organizations, but so far, sponsorships have been their only source of income. This week marked a major milestone in the young and fast growing medium of podcasts- two popular podcasts are experimenting with two very different payment models and a third one is turning the world of film distribution on its head.

First, Ricky Gervais, the creator and actor of UK’s The Office, who has one of the popular podcasts according the Guinness Book of World Records, is moving to a paid subscription model. The podcast was produced by Guardian Unlimited and consisted largely of mindless but hilarious banter between Gervais, collaborator Steve Merchant and butt-of-all-jokes Karl Pilkington. The first season of twelve episodes concluded last week and had a quarter of a million downloads per week. The second season is moving to a $6.95 subscription for the entire season and will test whether a new, untapped market exists for popular podcasts on the Internet.

If Gervais’ experiment fails to generate revenue, there is another model on the horizon that is being tested by Apple with Scott Sigler’s EarthCore. EarthCore originally started out as a free serialized novel released through podcasts. When it completed its run in September 2005, it had 10,000 subscribers and also picked up for print publication by Dragon Moon press. Now, iTunes is going to offer the complete series of podcasts as an audiobook for $9.99 through indie music label Conquer the World Records.

Of course, both of these models would succeed only with a specific kind of podcast. Gervais’ model may require a huge subscriber base and a celebrity or brand name to succeed. EarthCore’s model is more likely to be emulated because of its similarity to audiobooks. Also, both of these revenue models depend upon a successful free run before moving to the paid world.

If video podcasts, vodcasts, are your thing, Skinny Bones productions has a completely revolutionary approach to film distribution. They are looking to distribute a complete full length feature film for a $2 monthly subscription for twelve weekly parts of 10 to 15 minutes for a total of $6 for the film. The film is called On the Cutting Room Floor and has been described as a Hollywood satire. The advantage of this model is that a viewer can decide to bail out on the film after the first $2; an option that is not available in theatres or video rental stores. The revenue model for this film simultaneously opposes conventional wisdom in the realm of podcasts as well as film distribution and should turn some heads in Hollywood.

As the term ‘podcasting’ crosses its second birthday, the medium seems to be approaching maturity. Whether the many thousand listeners and viewers around the world will buy it, remains to be seen.

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  • The really strange thing about the iTunes business model is that Earthcore is still available for free over at

    treocast had this to say on Feb 23, 2006 Posts: 1
  • @treocast, this is true. In fact, it is strangely true with all kinds of media that are also available for free; people still buy Linux from Red Hat, people still buy print copies of books released through Creative Commons, people buy books, music and DVDs that have been public domain for years. Part of it is that buying a product gives one a sense of sercurity in the assumed support behind it; part of it is wanting to support a particular company or artist; and part of it may just be ignorance. smile

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on Feb 23, 2006 Posts: 108
  • As a footnote to my article, the first episode of Ricky Gervais’ store is the top selling Audiobook on iTunes. It costs $1.95 for half an hour.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on Feb 28, 2006 Posts: 108
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