Paying for what you like

“I pay for the things I like.” – Jen Kirkman

The above quote comes from comedian Jen Kirkman‘s appearance on the most recent episode of The Long Shot Podcast.  She said this while the regular panel of comedians were discussing their podcast’s nascent donation-based monetization model.

As discussed in prior posts, I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy.  (It’s my other art/performance/entertainment interest aside from music – there are many parallels between a music and stand-up.)  As a result I listen to a LOT of comedy podcasts.  I suppose one could say I’m a somewhat early adopter – I’ve been listening to podcasts steadily/daily for almost two years.  I mention this because (comedy) podcasting has really exploded the last few months, and as a result different comedians/shows have pursued different monetization avenues: subscription (Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, Never Not Funny with Jimmy Pardo), donation (Marc Maron’s WTF), commercial (all ACE Broadcasting series’), premium content (WTF), live shows (The Adam Carolla Show, WTFNerdist), etc.  It’s very interesting seeing the varying successes of each.

Why this is so compelling to me is that comedy podcasts are largely free, done so intentionally to attract a large audience.  However podcasting ain’t free.  Not only does the comedian him/herself take the time to produce/record/edit the material, but, depending on the scale of the operation (and it varies WIDELY – compare The Adam Carolla Show with Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast), there is likely a staff assisting in the process.  Then there is the bandwidth used to distribute each episode, one of the costliest elements.  (For instance, in the first months of Adam Carolla’s podcast he paid it out of his own pocket, upwards of ~$15,000/month!)  This is all done so that the listener may be entertained a couple hours each week or day FOR FREE!!!

At every turn towards monetization there have been vocal detractors for pretty much all series’.  This is what I’ve found fascinating: so many hundreds of thousands of people listening to this FREE content regularly, then complaining when asked to pitch in what often amounts to only a few dollars each month.  (Not too different from the generic starving children in Africa.)  I actually do donate to such things; just as I do to NPR (something else most skimp out on).  Then I remember that I’ve seen this all before, only in reverse:

The music industry.

As everyone knows, the music industry has all but imploded over the last 15 years or so.  Now we have what’s euphemistically called “the economy of the free.”  What that translates to me as is: “Why the hell should I pay to be entertained/moved?”  Which, for me, goes back to what Jen Kirkman so eloquently said: “I pay for the things I like.”

Those who know me personally know me to be a loud, staunch advocate of paying for music.  (And, as described in my New Listen series, I like to pay for physical copies – CDs – whenever possible.)  Yes, Lars Ulrich & Co. can be annoying when yelling about Napster from their mansions and jacuzzis.  But what about those of us trying to “make it” (whatever that really means)?  Should musicians not be compensated for their art?  It was made with time and physical/mental labor, afforded often by years of study/practice, and then made available for public consumption.  Sure, it can’t be physically felt, but, assuming it’s effective, is it not felt emotionally/intellectually/viscerally?  (Sorry Google, I know you want everything to be free so you can keep making money on ads.  Not gonna happen.  Hopefully…)  Keep in mind I’m not here necessarily defending Kanye West’s bank account – ick! – but rather those of the smaller, more independent acts.

We’re all familiar with the torrent sites, P2P sharing, etc.  Another common practice, oddly enough by music majors (who theoretically will seek careers making money via music), is to excessively “borrow” music from music libraries, stuffing their hard drives to the gills.  (Yes, I’ve researched music from university collections many times, but if I end up finding I like something enough for personal enjoyment, I’ll then buy it.)  Again, I just don’t understand the theft element.  I would think that of all people, musicians would largely set the example that paying for music is respectable.  I’m happy to report I’ve bought, or received as gifts, all ~1000 albums (and growing!) in my collection.

(Granted, I often unintentionally take this to extremes.  I generally don’t even listen to copies of CDs people randomly make for me.  If I put it in and like it, I’ll go ahead and buy it.  If not, I’ll discard it and not use it again.  Sometimes I don’t even listen to it because I don’t have the time and have no opinion to lead me to purchase it.)

Now what do these two topics – comedy podcasts and the music industry – have in common, other than the obvious?  For podcasting, this young and evolving medium has yet to really find solid financial ground, but the wheels are in motion for it to establish its legitimacy (in the eyes/ears of the listeners).  (One major example is the recent rumor that Apple was in talks to have Howard Stern move his market-moving show from satellite radio to podcasting for a $600 million contract.  However he later announced he’ll continue on Sirius for another 5 years.)  Then on the other hand there’s the music industry, a once commercially-dominant industry that has completely unraveled, now struggling to make a profit.  (Again, I’m concerned about the musician, not necessarily the corporation.)  At the heart of both “industries” is the consumer’s ill-informed belief that they deserve everything for free.

So the next time you decide to “rip” something off the internet (or library), please remember Mrs. Kirkman’s simple words of wisdom: “I pay for the things I like.”

And you should too.

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