Podcasts and the public radio revenue model

On Monday Ira Glass posted the message below on the web home of his outstanding This American Life radio program. He faces a common multi-channel marketing challenge. In his case, it’s this: How do you keep a version of your radio show available on the web for free, but also not tick off the public radio affiliates who pay a lot of money to run the programming over their airwaves (and consequently receive more donations from listeners come pledge time).

I’ve listened to the podcasts since they’ve been made available in MP3 format, and it’s been fascinating to track the various “we need your financial support” pitches proceeding and concluding the podcast episodes. He was initially asking for support of the originating radio station. Now, as the following makes clear, it’s time to subsidize this channel of distribution as well.

Help Keep Our Podcast and Streaming Free
Hello, listeners.

It’s been a year-and-a-half since we decided to offer our show as a free, weekly podcast, and that’s been a crazy, whopping success. But because so many people—sometimes more than half a million—are downloading and streaming our show each week, the Internet bandwidth to distribute the program this way costs $152,000 per year. We want to keep offering This American Life for free. You want us to keep offering the show for free. Our home station, Chicago Public Radio, doesn’t need to make money on our podcast, but they can’t lose $152,000 a year on it, either.

We think we can cover the whole cost by coming to you, hopefully just twice a year, virtual hat in hand. If you listen regularly over the Internet, please pitch in a little cash. To all the people who gave six months ago, a sincere thank you, and please consider giving a small amount again. A dollar from every Internet listener would more than pay for everything, but of course not everyone’s going to give, so consider a $5 donation. It’ll cover you and a few other people for a year of listening. If you donate more than a few bucks, you can choose thank-you gifts—including some stuff you can’t get anywhere else. One of the items is a CD of “The Giant Pool of Money,” our incredibly popular, recent episode about the mortgage crisis, which many listeners wanted to purchase as a gift.

Our dream is that we’ll get you and most of our Internet listeners to chip in at the $1 or $5 level, and that’ll cover everything. We’d love to take care of this expense with a flood of little donations from the people who actually listen to our show this way. And of course, if you feel that getting an hour of our show every week is worth more to you than a dollar a year, we’d be grateful for anything else you’d care to contribute. We really want to keep the podcast free.

How long will it be before we have a micro-payment account (aside from PayPal) that we can set up to allow for quick and spontaneous donations of funds, to support all of the “free” content that is enriching our lives?