What inspires one to podcast more than 500 episodes? Will this ever make money? Charles will talk about his experiences in building audience, his good luck and frustrations, and the opportunities he sees. Charles uses the opportunity to market his book.
This session deals with a mature subject matter.
Photo by Mark Blevis.
Bob Goyetche: I’m Bob Goyetche.
Mark Blevis: I’m Mark Blevis. This is special edition coverage of Podcasters Across Borders 2007 on the Canadian Podcast Buffet.
Bob Goyetche: We hope you’re enjoying our journey through Podcasters Across Borders. What a great weekend it was. And what a great weekend it will be June 20th to 22nd, 2008. Keep an eye on Podcasters Across Borders.com for all the information.
Mark Blevis: Wow, that was nicely done.
Bob Goyetche: Thank you.
Mark Blevis: This episode of Canadian Podcast Buffet is brought to you in part by TD Canada Trust.
Bob Goyetche: Our next speaker from Sunday morning, Charles Hodgson from Podictionary “Building a Podcast Inside and Outside of iTunes”.
Charles Hodgson: I think that next year I’d like you to limit the registration to 10 people because I really haven’t had time to get to know the people that I’d like to get to know. Or maybe extend the length of this thing to a month, something like that.
So I do a podcast called Podictionary, the podcast for word lovers. And I want to talk about three things today. What got me started, why I began podcasting. And that’s important because it tells you why I keep podcasting or so I thought anyway. What my experiences have been so far, I’m sure you’ll see something familiar there. But I hope there’s some new reflections as well. And where it’s going for me. And I hope that it’ll give you something to chew on a little bit that might be good for you.
So if you want to become rich quick the thing to do is become a podcaster or you can become an author. An author in Canada makes on average $12,000 a year from their writing. So you can see you can retire on that very quickly. In my own personal case, I had a book deal with a big publisher for a manuscript that I’d already written and it’s been 29 months to bring it to the market. So you got to hold your breath for a long time. So for both being a podcaster and being an author, you’d better love it or else it’s not going to last.
I love doing my podcast. I love doing my book. Mark and Bob do not want me to take this time to turn it into a presentation about my book. But my publisher does want me to take the time to turn this into a presentation about my book. So I’m going to take just a few minutes to talk about my book and it does actually relate to the podcast, so please bear with me. It’s a book…as you can see here it’s about the words we use for our bodies. And some of the words you know and some of them you don’t. So the little bump in your ear that keeps your ear buds in is called the tragus. And the reason it’s called the tragus is because there was an ancient Greek word, tragus that already existed and had a different meaning. But I’m sure many of you even have had teachers in school and stuff that have fuzz growing out of their ears…anybody have that? Okay, so the tragus in your ear is called the tragus because of people like that, because the ancient Greek word tragus meant Billy Goat. And the fuzz growing out of your ears is the Billy Goat’s beard.
Here’s another word that you don’t know. This is from old English this time. This is…just means hole. The word thorough means hole. Once you know that thorough means hole, you know why these things you know they’re called nostrils, nose thoroughs. So this is a book about the words we use for our bodies. So necessarily I need to talk about our private parts and some of those words are rude. I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve treated them. So I’m going to take just a moment to read one very short passage about a rude word and the rude word is “twat”.
“The twat is the female genitalia, it means nothing else. Strange then that in 1841 the poet Robert Browning used twat in his poem “Pippa Passes”. He wrote this work during the reign of Victorian propriety when things sexual were never discussed. Pippa Passes also includes the memorable line “God’s in his heaven – all’s right with the world”. It was Robert’s wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning who wrote “How do I love thee, let me count the ways”. It seems that Mr. Browning was under the impression that a twat was something that nuns wore on their heads. And so he used the word quite innocently and he went to his grave in 1889 still unaware of his error. And here’s the offending passage “then owls and bats, cowls and twats, monks and nuns in cloister’s moods adjourn to the oak stump pantry”. Now I don’t know about you, but that makes me wonder about counting the ways. While we’re in the neighbourhood, you should know that the word “ass” has been in the English language for more than a thousand years. So has the word “arse”. You can see how people might have started to get them mixed up. And as a matter of fact, when people started using the word “ass” with the attributes of “arse”, other people started to be embarrassed to use the work “ass” and so they needed to invent a new word to mean “ass”. And so donkey came into English about 300 hundred years ago just because of that.
You use emoticons on your email. Here’s the emoticon for “ass”. Here’s one the Jack Layton would like, a big ass, a tight ass, a dumb ass and a smart ass. So now you know why I think it’s a good book. So my job was to make other people think it was a good book. So if you don’t…last year in 2006 there were 260,000 books published, titles. So if you don’t publicize your book, it sinks like a stone. So on the second of June, 2005 I figured out what a podcast was. And I thought if I do a podcast, people are going to hear my voice and they’re going to fall in love with me like I fall in love with the broadcasters on CBC and NPR. And if they fall in love with me, they’re going to go out and buy my book. So I went to bed that night, thinking I wonder if that’s a good idea? And at 3:00 in the morning I woke up and I thought, I know that’s a good idea. So I got out of bed, I went down stairs and I started trying to figure out what I had to do to become a podcaster. And by the time I went to dinner that night, I had put up my first episode on the word “chauffeur” and I’ve been doing one a day, five days a week ever since.
When you do one a day, five days a week for more than 2 years, you often wonder why am I doing this? I knew it was ‘cause it was a vehicle that I wanted to sell my book with. It’s not a podcast of the book. It’s to compliment the book. It’s a word everyday with a history of the word and a little story tied around it. It’s not new words that you don’t know. It’s supposed to be very accessible, everyone…it’s not supposed to give you a better vocabulary, it’s not supposed to make you smarter, it’s supposed to be entertaining. So the word “chauffeur” came about because when people started driving cars, they weren’t gas-powered cars, they were steam engine-powered cars. And to have a steam engine, you need steam. And to have steam, you have to have a fire and the fire has to be hot. In French the word hot is “chaud”. So the chauffeur was the guy who heated the fire, made sure the fire was hot. So that’s the connection between the podcast and the book. It’s something you already know but something about it you don’t know.
So when I started I wondered, you know, maybe by the time my book comes out, I can have a 100,000 people listening to me. Nowhere near. But I haven’t done too badly, says 2.5 million downloads here. I’m at 2.7 million downloads. That sounds like an impressive number so I use it as much as I can. But in fact what it means is I’ve got somewhere more than 5,000 listens per episode and I don’t have any idea how many people that means I’ve touched but I’ll take a wild guess. Maybe I’ve talked to 10,000 or 20,000 people. And so for a book that hasn’t even come out yet, I’m happy with that.
So not to exaggerate the degree of success I’ve had, but to the degree that something’s worked, what is it? Being there every day I think has been important because if someone liked it they came back the next day and there’s something fresh there for them. Content is king, everybody knows that so I’ve tried to make it entertaining and interesting when I did it. I was very early on, there was another podcast the “Word Nerds” and I was lucky enough that they caught my existence and they mentioned me a few times. And so I think that my first 400 listeners probably came because they were up there mentioning me. I managed to get exposure on national public radio. There’s a radio show which is also a podcast called “A Way With Words” and I was on there. And it says negligible here because I was expecting a big boost when I appeared there in my listenership and I didn’t really see it. Then in February of 2006, I was featured on that top part of the iTunes store and my listenership went up 50% it was very dramatic. Right after that I was also on the Yahoo Page. I was featured and although I know that lots of people are using it. There’s hundreds of people supposedly subscribed to my podcast through there. I didn’t really see any peak or anything there.
I’ve been…appeared in lots of magazines and newspapers and blogs. And I thinks it’s all good, you know. But they say that publicity is a cumulative thing ‘cause I didn’t see any of them standing up as single points that raised my profile or raised my listenership. I tried to take matters into my own hands. I came up with this elaborate plan to build listeners through a Nano giveaway. So my advice there is, don’t waste your time or money. It costs a lot of money, it takes a lot of time and maybe a few people new came on, but not appreciable. I already had the system down so I did again with a book. Much cheaper. The book was on words so it was a narrower focus but again I didn’t really see any results.
Then this past Christmas enough people got iPods in their stockings that when they plugged them in the internet looking for something to listen, I had 200 new listeners just from Christmas presents. In March I was lucky enough I had front page coverage on the Living Section of USA Today. USA Today has a circulation of 1.2 – 1.4 million copies so I don’t know how many pairs of eyes saw that. Let’s guess, 2 million people saw that. It was front page. It was very impressive. But I only saw 200 people come as listeners that stuck to me. Maybe 1,000 people came to the website. So it’s really hard to convert from one medium to another.
Then again late March I was sitting at home and I noticed that my download numbers were going through the ceiling. What’s going on? How come so many people are downloading my stuff? So I went out looking to try to find the reason and it turned out that “Grammar Girl” had been on Oprah. And “Grammar Girl” lower down in the same article on USA Today, she was in there. So I thought maybe people saw her on Oprah, they Googled her and they saw my stuff in the USA Today article which is also online. And that’s why I’m getting these downloads. That’s great. But the more I examined that, the more I realized that can’t be true because the download numbers were up, up, up but the website numbers were static, so that couldn’t be true. So I looked a little deeper and I found that I was being featured a second time on iTunes. But this time it was really obscure. It was like 3 or 4 pages deep in this long list of other podcasts that they were featuring. And so what that meant to me was in just over a year, I went from the top level banner exposure on iTunes bringing me about 500 hundred people, 400 people to something really obscure out of the way bringing me 2,000 listeners. So it meant to me that iTunes is big and getting bigger fast for podcasts. So iTunes is king in terms of bringing you podcast listeners and that’s great. But it’s also terrible because they’re the facto internet portal for podcasts, that means that there are no…there is no uTube for podcasts. There’s no web-based central place for people to go to find out about podcasts. And that means that there’s millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people who might like your podcast but you are out there in the crowd of billions of web pages instead of being in the thousands of tens of thousands of podcasts within a portal. And its incumbent on you to try to standout in that crowd. You’re on your own.
So what that meant for me was I’ve always used Libsyn as my service provider for my podcast. They have a very simple blog engine and I thought one of the things I needed to do was, I needed to get a per episode player so that if people came to the website they would be able to hear right away without the complicated need to subscribe or anything what I was about. And I tried and tried to get something like that to work within the Libsyn blogging engine but I couldn’t make it work. So I was forced to go to WordPress and PodPress. And thank you Nico. I think that it really works well, it looks beautiful but I can tell you it was a pain in the ass. It took me a long time to figure out what the paradigm is, to decide what look I wanted, to get everything working. I went to a big publisher for my book because they’re going to contact all the bookstores, they’re going to put the books in the boxes, they’re going to do all that stuff for me. Here I gotta download the software, I gotta keep it updated, I gotta make sure that the plugins don’t conflict and, and debug it. I think that’s a real hole in the service models of these guys.
So people talked about this before. Now I’m getting outside of iTunes and I’ve got a website. Google is the place that I want to be…I’ve got lots…I’ve got hours and hours of audio…I got no text…so for a long time I thought that was a good thing. My book has about 60,000 – 70,000 words in it. For my podcast I’ve written over 200,000 words, that’s money in the bank for me. If I publish that on the internet will the publisher think it’s as worthwhile? My fancy New York agent thinks not. So I’ve got this conflict. Do I put it up as a transcript or I don’t. So I tried to, I’ve been doing that for the last couple of months. I think it’s working in terms of bringing me new people but it’s too early to say. I’m at the beginning of this SEO Search Engine Optimization journey. I think though as well as bringing potentially the search engines, someone said before it’s good for people who are deaf who can still access your stuff. It’s more than that, certainly in the book world. There’s lots of people who don’t even have sound cards. So I don’t care if they fall in love with me because they listen to me or they read me. As long as they buy my book, that’s what I want.
So my podcast is different in that it’s something you might call evergreen. That means did you find it interesting when I talked about the chauffeur coming from steam engine?…okay…so that’s two years old…it’s still interesting today if you didn’t know it, it’s going to be interesting two years from now. So it means I can build as every new episode comes, I’m building a larger and larger target and hopefully a web property that’s valuable to me. But it has a down side as well. RSS technology was never designed to carry…now I have 540 episodes up there. And when I got to around 300 I started to get feedback from some listeners that it was breaking their feed meters. Now that doesn’t mean that smoke was coming out of their computers. It meant that they were starting to have repeat downloads of stuff they’d already heard. So that was a problem for me for two reasons; one, I didn’t want to annoy my listeners and have them go away. I also didn’t want it to screw up my statistics. So I had to fix it and what I did was I peeled back so the RSS feed just has twenty items on it and the last items…it’s not working right now…but the intention is and it’s worked in the past…if the last item is a backstop episode. So if people come and they find my stuff and they’re interested and they listen to it and they get…they listen through the first 19, the 20th says there’s hundreds more back at the website. So I also set up archive feeds so it’s a static feed with a hundred episodes so they can get it through iTunes as well. And back at the website there’s alphabetical listing to try to round out the value of the web property. So the tip here is, if you’ve got stuff that’s going to be interesting in the future, keep it available. See if you can build up the value of your web property around that.
I won’t spend too much time here. Find other ways that people can subscribe. Everyone knows how to use email even if they don’t know what RSS is. Now you never know where this stuff is going. I mentioned Grammar Girl before. Well the other thing I found out when I visited her…when I visited iTunes and found out that I was being featured the second time was that she has an audio book for sale. Less than an hour of audio for $5. She was number 1 audio book sales for more than a week on iTunes. She was in the top 20, 30, 40 for weeks, months. She made real money. I thought I want one of those. So the reason I want one of those is because if I have an iBook, first of all I’m going to get some money for something I’ve been doing for free for 2 years. That’s a good thing. But you know what else? iTunes is going to make some money off of this. And if they’ve been willing to promote me twice with no money involved, I think they’re going to be able to promote me more when there’s money involved. And even if people who don’t buy the audio book will be interested more likely to find the podcast. And then they’ve fallen into my trap. They’re gonna fall in love with me and buy my book.
So, see if you can build parallel vehicles to your podcast ‘cause it’s not only has a chance of making some money…not that I’ve made any yet…and it’ll bolster your interest in your podcast because there’s now, for me, there’s 3 legs to my stool. There’s no…an audio book may not be the right route for everyone. Usually audio books are an extension of the product for the publisher ‘cause they already have a successful real book. And her audio book was unusual in that there was no real book behind it. So I had the advantage of approaching the publisher. I actually…she had been a listener of mine before she started podcasting. So I asked her who her publisher was. It turned out her publisher was the same publisher that was doing my book. So the synergy fairies were working for me and so that won’t necessarily be the case for everyone else.
So I thought I was doing this because it was going to help me sell a book. But it turned out that its’ been a lot more than that. It’s also advanced my career as a writer, as an author, as a podcaster too. I know more now about the subject I’m writing about. I have more credibility. This is Lynne Truss. She wrote “Eat Shoots and Leaves”. Sold multi-million copies. She, before I even did the podcast, was willing to give me an endorsement blurb for my book. But this gal would never have given me an endorsement blurb if it hadn’t been for the podcast. Her name is Erin McKean and she’s the Editor-in-Chief of “American Oxford Dictionaries”. And she gave me an endorsement blurb for my book because she got to know me through my podcast. So it’s worth more than money here. The guy in the funny hat, he’s Richard Lederer. He was a co-host of “The Way With Words” that NPR Show. He also gave me a blurb. And a lot of other people have, you know, taken me seriously, given me the benefit of their time and credibility based on my podcasting. So with that in mind, once I take some questions, I’ll be happy to do that. But even afterwards, if you want to talk to me about your show and if I have any ideas to help you juice it up, I’ll be happy to do that. So that’s it, that’s all I have to say.
Bob Goyetche: Thank you Charles. I think Joe’s got a question…I’m coming…Sunday morning. What do you want from me?
Joe: Not bad. Joe Chisholm, Indie Can Music. And I just wanna say that what I knew before this weekend was fucking toaster. And what I’ve learned since has just been fabulous. You make a good point about a number of things. I know that just looking at my web statistics that although everyone I know in the music business, and I’m sort of a music oriented show is all Apple, Apple, Apple. But the people who actually listen, who actually download my show, they’re less than 10%. And so the iTunes thing is very limiting. Did you say or not say that there is any kind of pc based promoter of podcasts out there?
Charles Hodgson: Well iTunes is cross platform. But the problem…the barrier there is someone who hasn’t bought an iPod is unlikely to have downloaded and installed iTunes. Now there are lots of people who have. But there’s lots more, there’s the majority of people who haven’t. So for them, it’s your website that they…they don’t have access to the Apple directory or the iPod or the iTunes directory and that sort of thing. So…and getting someone to download and install software they don’t really care or know about, that’s a barrier. Anyone else?
Audience Member: Did you bring your book?
Charles Hodgson: My book comes out in August, this in an advance copy. You can see I’m shamelessly promoting every way I can.
Bob Goyetche: I hadn’t noticed. So, any questions? Well, thank you Charles.
Charles Hodgson: Thank you.
Bob Goyetche: This episode of the Canadian Podcast Buffet featuring Podcasters Across Borders audio is brought to you in part by TD Canada Trust.
Mark Blevis: Thanks to all of the PAB2007 Sponsors: Rogic Podcast Conglomerate, Third Storey Productions, TD Canada Trust, Thornley Fallis, StartCooking.com, Marion McDonald, Don Edwards, Freddie Litwiniuk, Bill Deys and Christopher Penn.
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Mark Blevis: For more information on Podcasters Across Borders visit that website www.podcastersacrossborders.com.
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