By Darren Johnson
Campus News and -30- WIRE
This column is as much about the business model of podcasting as the art of it, and I had been intending to return back to the “Artie Quitter Podcast,” which I had written about previously. Then, just the other day, host Artie Lange was arrested for alleged drug possession, so I put a rush on writing this.
I regularly snipe about the business model of podcasting — where podcasters cram in scammy ads for mattress companies, money investment deals, dollar razors, mail-order steaks and such — and know from experience, running a newspaper that has similar ads, that this isn’t sustainable. Such ads typically kick back pennies on the dollar. My newspaper doesn’t count on such ads (we have traditional ads, as well), but, for most podcasters, such affiliate ads are their only revenue source. So, in other words, few podcasters are making much money — and, now, it seems, podcasts that had started a couple of years ago with great expectations and energy have stagnated. Many podcasts start to grow tired, and tiresome for the listener, after awhile. Without money coming in, how can they grow?
The podcasters who do make a go of it usually have other revenue sources — comedians like Greg Fitzsimmons, Mark Maron, Adam Carolla and Joe Rogan have excellent podcasts, but their MP3s are also used to promote their gigs across the country. It’s rather a genius way for such comedians to build a nationwide audience in this day and age, considering regular AM/FM radio only has regional reach. Second, because of their podcasts, these comedians are more likely to attract friendly audiences to their shows — friendly audiences create buzz on the Internet, bringing in more fans. A podcast and a traveling show can have synergy.
Artie Lange is a comedian, too, though he is best known for the nine years he’d spent on “The Howard Stern Show,” as it went from FM to SiriusXM, ending his run several years ago after a drug-induced suicide attempt. He then started a paid podcast — paid subscription podcasts are a rare business model — a couple of years ago, and I was an early subscriber, but I let my subscription lapse because the content became repetitive, often hostile, and shows were inconsistently delivered. Many shows just featured depressed Artie in an echoing room, rambling, while his live-in producer, Dan, laughed along nervously.
In the past year, Lange has often railed against his old employer, Stern, calling him a sellout and gaining the listenership of the large anti-Stern contingent who populate message boards. Business picked up after these rants. In a February performance with Judd Apatow on a “You Made It Weird” show, recorded in an Asian restaurant, Lange broke down crying at one point and left suddenly. But before that, he’d revealed that his podcast is bringing in $600,000 a year.
This is an incredible amount of money for a podcast. I remember listening in the first year and Lange would often complain about the sluggish growth of his show. Once he started railing against Stern, his numbers must have improved.
There seems to be a sizable number of former “Stern Show” listeners out there who hate Stern now. To be fair, “The Howard Stern Show” did try to go PC for a while, but the show has been excellent in the past year and a half.
On another podcast last month, Lange and Gilbert Gottfried complained for a bit about how they are banned from “The Howard Stern Show,” and then they did about an hour’s worth of racial humor so un-PC that it probably wouldn’t have made it onto Stern’s show in any era; a recurring target was Tracy Morgan and whether he was faking his traffic injury because of the huge Wal-Mart settlement he won. Lange was even more pointed about Stern in a show last month with former “Stern Show” intern Steve Grillo.
Whatever the case, perhaps podcasters like Lange — if indeed he is making $600,000 or anything close to it — have the right business model.
Lange’s show is purposely amateurish. His music is royalty-free generic. The show sometimes starts abruptly, or cuts out unexpectedly. Microphones fail. Lange may leave mid-show. Meanwhile, a show like “Missing Richard Simmons,” which I wrote about last week, is utterly professional but uses the scammy affiliate commercial model. Is it better to have a few thousand listeners willing to pay $6 a month or a million listeners, who you hope will shop with your advertisers? (And will the advertisers honestly kick back your commission?)
Research shows that people distrust and fast-forward podcast commercials. Eventually, the market for frozen steaks and mail-order mattresses will be saturated, anyway. The smart podcasters may look to find a rabid, paying niche. Though Lange seems to have the anti-Stern crowd already captured.
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