Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Seeding with Podcasts

My post yesterday about how the spirit of radio personalities have migrated to podcasts prompted an interesting (albeit slightly off-topic) response from Sean Tubbs of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network (CPN).

I created [CPN] three years ago as a place to give my public radio pieces their own archive, but also to expand into other kinds of programming.... My conclusion has been it's not cost-effective as a for-profit model at this time because the potential audience at this time is so low.

But check back in 5 years or so.

My day job at Charlottesville Tomorrow, however, allows me to make a living while using blogs, podcasts, and all of these new communications tools to advance our mission

Right on, my brother.

That's exactly what I use my podcast for, too. The "DCD Classical 'Cast" is a promotional podcast for our label, DCD Records. Since we're selling sound recordings, it makes sense to present the merchandise in an audio format. (Why not just send promo copies to radio stations? We'll discuss the glacial speed of song rotation in the classical music format another time.)

We can see a correlation between the titles that sell well and the ones we feature on the podcast, but it's not a one-to-one match. Unlike a radio broadcast, a podcast is forever. There's a bump when a new episode first gets released, but there's no way to predict which episodes are going to downloaded at any particular time, and therefore when you can expect the sales they generate.

Someone just discovering the "DCD Classical 'Cast" may subscribe, and automatically download all the past episodes to get caught up. Others might be looking for a specific performer, composer or label, and just download just the one episode they're looking for.

Our very first episode
, for example, was most recently downloaded June 1, 2008 -- yet it was released February 7, 2006. If we only looked at the February/March 2006 sales of the titles featured in that episode, we might conclude that our podcast was a failure. But over the course of the past two years, those releases have enjoyed an increase in sales over similar recordings not featured in our podcasts. So we have a different conclusion.

Just like with the CPN, it's all a matter of scale. A certain percentage of the subscribers to the "DCD Classical 'Cast" purchase the music we showcase. Potentially, we could reach the stage where our subscriber base (and therefore our customer base) grows large enough to account for the bulk of our sales.

It hasn't happened yet, and quite frankly I'm not counting on it to ever do so. Classical music represents about seven percent of CD/download sales, and that market share has been fairly consistent for some time now. However -- our podcast is reaching classical listeners worldwide. So even if our circulation remains modest, people who otherwise would have never have heard of the artists and labels we carry can now enjoying them.

And unlike that fleeting moment when a song's broadcast on the radio, with our podcast our subscribers can enjoy the music when they want, where they want, and as many times as they want. And that's just fine with me.

Our circulation grew by about 50% over the first year, and jumped 70% in the second. As Sean suggests, let's check back in five years and see where we are. We might not be on Easy Street, but I suspect we'll like our new location.

- Ralph


  1. I apologize for being slightly off-topic. What I should have said was that podcasting can't yet obtain the critical mass to develop local personalities like you might hear on local radio. Those that are getting buzz and traffic are appealing to larger communities of interest that aren't necessarily geographically connected in the same way that an announcer can turn on a microphone and speak to people live one on one in a close area.

    Let me ask - could you get your DCD podcast aired locally somewhere?

  2. Definitely not in its current form. The program runs approximately a half an hour, but playing times range from 28-40 minutes. There's a "commercial" for in the middle of each episode, with calls to action, mention of pricing, and some other no-nos for public radio (and the possibility of getting this on a commercial classical station is vanishingly small).

    The repertoire is all from the labels that we carry -- and only from those labels that have given us permission to use their music in the podcast. That tends to limit what I can play somewhat.

    If I were to produce a version for radio, that restriction would go away, of course.

    Still, the idea for this particular podcast is to showcase the music we have for sale, and that's the single unifying element of the show. I'm not sure that theme would make sense in a broadcast media, especially if the commercial break in the middle had to go away.

    Now a podcast about local classical performers would be something else again. UVa has a great music department, and I think a program that mixed interviews with concerts would be interest both locally and globally.

    If we had good recordings of the Charlottesville Symphony, as well as all the faculty and student recitals (some of them are really good), then there would be more than enough material to create an interesting podcast that could also double as a radio program.

    - Ralph