It’s Time To Bust It Open

As part of my self-education as a writer learning to market his work, I’ve been watching trends in e-books and audiobooks as well as publishing industry trends, and thinking about them in the context of podcasting as an endeavor that takes a lot of passion and commitment from very creative people.

With all the talk of the podcasting revolution a few years ago, I wonder how many people truly grasp the potential enormity of what we’re doing. Just like good old Mr. Ballantine who invented the paperback, we podcasters are creating new kinds of intellectual property. However, unlike Mr. Ballantine, we don’t fully appreciate what we’re up to.

As a culture we value the Creative Commons, which is (in my opinion) a net good for both our work and for the broader markets we’re trying to engage. However, viewing the CC as the whole picture of intellectual property is, in my estimation, an error.

More importantly, as those of us who have been in the game get more sophisticated about how we do things (using custom-composed music, guest voices, licensing music from other commercial sources), we’re wading into more complicated legal and business territory. Some of us, such as Philippa Ballantine, have gotten broader distribution deals on Internet or satellite radio – others of us struggle ever to get noticed beyond the very niche podcast fiction community.

The bar-raising we’ve been doing is pushing podcast fiction, and perhaps podcasting in general, out of the realm of a hobbyist community and into the realm of being a true grass-roots industry. There will always be hobbyists, of course, and I think we should encourage them every inch that we can. But the last couple years have opened up vast new creative, legal, and business territories that few of us are properly equipped to deal with.

This leaves us vulnerable to the kind of exploitation that went on with musicians in the 1960s. At the Monterey Pop festival in 1967, most of the groups we identify with the hippie movement were signed to record deals. It was, for them, a dream come true – they suddenly had distribution – someone was paying them for their art! The community’s revolution was going mainstream, and the days of begging and busking and eating brown rice to get by were over!

Except that the hippe community, much like our own, had always worked on family trust and handshake deals, so when faced with something on a larger scale offered by people who spoke the right language, they signed up. And most of them got taken. They generated fortunes they didn’t get to participate in, they got locked into indentured servitude-like obligations, and they lost creative control of their own work and catalogs – and they had no one to blame but themselves. They signed the contracts without doing due diligence, and they were so happy at any opportunity for exposure that they literally didn’t look at the fine print.

We don’t want that kind of thing to happen to members of our community/industry. Whether friends or rivals or enemies, I know of nobody on whom I would wish that kind of misery, and I suspect most people in the industry feel the same.

At the same time some of us are scaling up to other opportunities, the gulf between those who have established audiences and those who are new to this is getting pronounced, and it’s getting harder (very subtly) for new voices to find the coaching and advice they need on anything but the most basic issues. Sure, there are a lot of resources about how to use Audacity, or where to find a good USB mic, but there’s very little newbie-accessible information on nailing down advertising deals, or improving one’s mic technique or audio engineering, or making the leap into full cast audio, or creating good working relationships with beta readers or voice actors. Or what about a place to get boilerplate contracts, or marketing strategies, or (for those faced with opportunities they’re not prepared for) good basic business resources?

I think the time has come for us to create an industry association for New Media creators, starting with podcasters. Over the next couple months, both Allen Sale of Astral Audio and I will be working on pilot projects and keeping hold of the resources we generate from them – contracts, tutorials, strategizing, a compendium of podcasts that are friendly to publicity interviews, basic legal and business information that we learn or employ along the way – and we will start packaging them for use by other content creators. When we’ve hit a critical mass, we’re going to look into forming a non-profit with the aim of becoming the SFWA of podcast fiction and YouTube video.

Some very good resources, such as the Podiobooks Mentorship Program, already exist, and what they do is vital. But it’s not enough, not if our industry is to grow beyond its little ghetto and more reliably generate opportunities for us in the broader world. We’re looking to augment what already exists, rather than replace it, and create a resource available to everyone to enable them to play in this sandbox at whatever level they want to, whether it’s as a hobby, a podiobook author, a multimedia producer, or a serious powerhouse transmedia content business. Our community has gotten big enough that it has the potential to get in its own way, and our visibility is still rising and generating opportunities many of us simply aren’t prepared to negotiate.

I think we can do better than the hippies did. I think, if we put together a definitive educational resource pool, the individual artists in our community might be able to transition upward without getting ripped off.
As Allen told me when we talked about this project: “We don’t want to fit in – we want to find ways to stand out so that we can’t be ignored.”

Let’s rock.

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21 Comments

  1. not being a podcaster myself, or an author, I still want to know.. how can I participate?

  2. I’m ready! Bring it!

  3. Here I worried you were starting yet ANOTHER podcasting project while releasing FW and DF10…but this is an effort to be applauded, advanced, and supported! There are so many folks that this can help-writers, artists, musicians, voice actors, photographers…the entire gamut of folks in the podosphere! I look forward to watching, participating, and learning.

  4. J. Daniel Sawyer

    For those of you wanting to help out, I will have a post on that in a couple days with particulars. But as an appetizer, here in the comments, riddle me this:

    What kinds of things would you like to see in an organization such as this? What problems/questions do you have that such an outfit might be able to help you out with?

    -Dan

  5. “It’s alive. It’s alive!” There are more questions that have been asked, and I answered all but one; luckily keeping my head free from reaching critical mass. We don’t claim to have all the answers but we want to allow you the opportunity to seize what is yours. We want you to push yourselves to be better, and I can’t wait for Dan to tell you more. Just because we are taking charge doesn’t make us your Dark Overlords. We are your equals in this venture. We just happen to be the crazy mad scientists willing to unleash the two-headed monster knowing that this will either become a big deal or a big dud. All in all, the ball will be in our, (the community as a whole), court.

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  7. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post and the last one. Thanks for all the interesting ideas. If I can be helpful, let me know. Bryan Lincoln and I are starting a resource podcast for full cast production, but I think you already knew that. 🙂

  8. This is exactly the sort of thing I envisioned when I read Allen’s first post. I hope to be able to contribute and use this group as a resource as I venture forward from audio drama production in to podcast novels and other ventures. This is a great opportunity knocking on the community’s front door. How can we not answer it? Thank you to you both for taking the lead in a group of equals and starting to clear a path toward a more comprehensive and collaborative effort for all who wish to be involved!

  9. Sounds like a lot of fun. If there’s any way I can be of help, let me know.

  10. This is something I am very much interested in. My podcast isn’t something marketable yet (it’s all fan-related projects at this point) but the same tenants apply.

  11. Great post. Count me in for whatever community based effort you have in mind. If this means helping others out with audio-editing, providing voice talent, editing fiction or giving ideas, I think it’s time we do something BIG. Also, I wonder if a true “podfic” publishing company isn’t in our future…

  12. Great post! As someone who’s just begun podcasting, I know that a resource like the one you mention would be immensely useful. Also, from what I’ve witnessed of the podcasting community so far, this isn’t only something they could be capable of, but would do as well. It seems like it would also lessen the burden on established podcasters who continually get questions on how to get started. They could merely direct them to this resource.

  13. Interesting idea. Naturally I want to help/be involved. Thanks for working on this guys!

  14. David,

    Honestly, this is a chance for those in the audio drama production bubble to step out of their comfort zone and help podcast authors and also a chance for said groups to interact with one another. Audio drama groups get used to help produce the podcast novel like I am doing this year. Darker Projects did this with Autumn a couple years ago and stepped away from that experience. We hope to go beyond simply the listening experience of a podcast and use resources like youtube to make the characters larger than life if I may borrow a pro wrestling term.

    Morgan,

    While I do not disagree with your assessment, the true burden of authors has been marketing their work, figuring out how to produce their work, figuring out how to attract the audience, figuring out how to keep that audience, and making a sustainable income. This group would help encourage the veteran to do better and teach the novice how to do things in a productive manner; authors getting help from musicians, film makers, screen writers, dare I say people actually in the publishing industry. We have the chance to be making the next Guild series or Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. We have the chance to use Facebook to make a Farmville type of game that our listeners would enjoy because it takes place in our world(s). Cellphones could be used where listeners would receive random texts from characters. All of these resources are there laid out in front of us and no one is using them effectively. We want to change that.

  15. Another great post, Dan. To echo Abbie above, there are other things coming down the pike that should compliment your vision. I’m really excited for what is to come!

  16. If I may be permitted a contrary voice: There are those of us who, like me, can’t ‘do’ podcasts – I can’t listen to them without losing track, I want a written transcript. I can read a document far faster and with better ‘uptake’ than I can listen to one, and if I’m momentarily distracted I can find my place quickly. I’ve tried, and I’ve bounced off this particular New Media – so please, for the love of Mike, include a written transcript if you must do Voice. We learnt to read for a reason, after all.

    Steve.

  17. Or complement, even. Hahaha. Not that complimenting Dan is a bad thing…

  18. J. Daniel Sawyer

    SteveH –

    Alas, no medium will be for everyone. The decision whether to put one’s text online is potentially thornier than the decision to produce an audiobook or dramatization, however I am hoping that one of the resources we have is a basic legal primer on what self-pubbing text on the internet does to the rights situation of the work. Doubtless some authors will consider it a worthwhile thing to do, while others will continue to opt to keep their print rights unexercised for the time being.

    Podcasting obviously isn’t the only form of new media that we will need to address – internet video is another, net game adaptations is another still. We’re going to need both a how-to resource and a business practices/legal resource, at the very least, for this to be a viable industry association worth the name. The idea isn’t to get people to follow a program with their work – it’s to help them understand the field of options and the potential costs, benefits, and liabilities of those options.

    -Dan

  19. Allen,

    I agree with everything you’re saying. I imagine though that many established and successful podcasters get a lot of questions about how to do basic things. And given the helpful nature of most of the podcasters I’ve witnessed, I think a lot of them might feel inclined to help novices and pass on knowledge because it’s still such a new environment. If a resource like this existed, they could – in good conscience- direct new podcasters to it. Newer podcasters would, theoretically, become better podcasters quicker and the more established podcasters could spend time they might previously have spent with more in depth mentoring on their own projects. That’s a win all around.

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