Tonight only, at a theater near you: the podcast innovators of Rifftrax

Anyone who has followed this blog long enough knows that I am fascinated by how entrepreneurs have attempted to make money with podcasts. For a moment, forget about news publishers, or those focused on b-to-b lead generation or working on a non-profit model like NPR. I’m talking about pay for product — and your product is a podcast. I’d even eliminate — the spoken word bookseller — from my list, because they sell their content by subscription instead of purchase by the podcast.

I found one business a few years ago that fits my rigid, purely retail requirements. They sell what has to be one of the most novel applications of a podcast. Rifftrax started their business by selling podcasts that only have value when listened to while watching a movie.

The company has since morphed and grown. I now see that Rifftrax is testing live events “rebroadcast” in movie theaters. Below is an ad for a screening that’s taking place all over the country, tonight, of what I’m sure is a very funny version of the world’s worst film: Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Rifftrax at a theater near you!

I will be intrigued to see how this national screening takes hold. When I went into the site of NCM Fathom, their apparent partner in this event, I saw that a good dozen theaters within the Metro Milwaukee area are showing the film. If any of my readers attend the event, contact me or leave a comment. I’ll be intrigued to learn how it went, and if this may be the first instance where a podcast business has spawned a theatrical film series.

Full disclosure: When I wrote my first blog about Rifftrax, they sent me a $10 eCoupon to encourage me to select a podcast or two for a Rifftrax party I was throwing. I paid for the download instead and gave away the gift as a prize in a subsequent reader contest.

Magazines learn Web 2.0 tricks

Five months after the American Society of Magazine Editors presented a National Magazine Award for general excellence to National Geographic and The New Yorker, it is what these publications are doing off the printed page that impresses me.

Three Ways Print Magazines Are Making Daring Online Plays

While retaining impressively high editorial standards, The New Yorker has found ways to leverage this content in ways that should attract a different breed of reader — or at least a newer generation.

The image below is a screen capture of a featured political cartoonist at work, creating a caricature for a story. Included on the same page are links to feeds for editorial content unique to the medium — podcasts and blogs.

(The magazine also publishs all print content online. I love how I can pass along by email a copy of an article I’ve read in the print edition of The New Yorker. Example: The South Korean film The Host (original title: Gwoemul) was one of my favorite films of last year, but few in my circle of friends and acquaintances knew about it. Anthony Lane, the bright and Wodehousean film reviewer for the magazine, described this film wonderfully in this New Yorker review. I’ve probably emailed that review to a dozen people, mostly because I find The Host brilliant, but also because Anthony Lane is such a persuasive salesman for the film.)

Another 2008 editorial award-winner, National Geographic, presents its stunning photography in a format that invites sharing. In fact, I had originally seen these photos (sampled below) in the print edition. Fellow blogger Lembit Kivisik had reminded me of them in a post on his Twitter feed. He commented to me that “I think about subscribing to the mag after visiting their site. Maybe I finally will now.”

And that’s the point, I think. Many of these magazines are flashing a little ankle, as it were, on the calculation that people will want an analog version of what they see digitally. (And who can argue that — unlike the online versions — the lush photographs and maps in National Geographic’s print edition are something to prize … to linger over and visit revisit often?)

Jozsef Szentpeteri's cool photos of colorful, bee-eating birds

And then there are the magazines using podcasts in a big way. My latest print Economist is a weekly treat (it’s sad, I know), but time being scarce, I appreciate their new service, Talking Issues. It allows print subscribers to download the latest issues as dozens of well-categorized and labeled podcasts. You get every word of their print edition. Now I get to “read” The Economist the way I would a spoken word book during my long commute into work.

Download the entire magazine in spoken word. Approximately 150 Mb per issue!

Do you have favorite examples of magazines making new media plays for our time and subscription dollars?

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?