The Cost of Things: Supporting Podcasts, Radio, & Friends

by Mike Dang and Ester Bloom

Mike: “I don’t want your money! Keep your money!” Ester. I can’t get that song out of my head — it’s stuck. It’s from 21 Chump Street, from the This American Life musical that just went up earlier this week.

Ester: That’s hilarious, MD. I haven’t listened to it yet but I’m highly susceptible to earworms so I’m sure that once I do I too will suffer from your malady.

Mike: So, it’s from their live show, and they have a video you can download if you want, and yes, I wanted it. The cost of it was $5, but they said that since the show was so expensive to make it’d be great if you could pay more. So I paid $20.

Ester: That’s great of you! Did you consider waiting to see how much you enjoyed the content before deciding how much to give them in exchange for it? I just signed up for Slate Plus, where you pay the site $50 a year or $5 a month to get upgraded content — podcasts without ads, for example — but that was after years and years of reading and listening to Slate content gratis. Their value had already been demonstrated.

Mike: I decided that $20 was a fair price to pay for something I listen to on a weekly basis and want to continue to support, so I paid it without waiting to see if I liked the video itself.

Ester: Right, that makes sense. You’re not paying for the video, after all; you’re rewarding them for their track record. I have done that too for TAL specifically. (I’m a radio dork.) But do you have other podcasts that you listen to and like and haven’t contributed to, even though they’ve asked? What’s your criteria for deciding which listening experiences to support?

Mike: Hmmm. Okay, so I checked and I’ve given to Radiolab and also Bullseye — two other shows that I listen to regularly. So I guess the criteria is how regular I am? I am not a regular Terry Gross listener — for her show I basically pick and choose depending on the guest. Hah, maybe I should support the Moth, but I basically created content for them. 🙂

Ester: (Am I the only person who can’t hear the word “regular” and not think about fiber?) Ha! Yes, the Moth supported you; it was a mutually beneficial arrangement you had with them. The trouble is, I listen to a lot of podcasts regularly. If I had to pay for every one, I’d triage, but since they’re free, I don’t yet. The question becomes then which ones I give money to, because they basically all ask. Dan Savage’s micro-version of his podcast, for example, has gotten so ad-saturated that it’s like taunting me to either give up or subscribe to the paid, macro-version. So far I’m resisting but it gets harder each week.

Mike: I should probably also say that my first job out of college was working as a radio reporter so, like, I get how hard it is to edit those segments and also how very little money there is in radio. So whenever there’s a project or an “ask” for a show I really like I’ve always given my support. I also bought a Planet Money T-shirt! And I don’t particularly like squirrels (which is on the front of it).

Ester: Squirrels are the worst! Except for cockroaches and rats and spiders and … Well, anyway. You’re a good man, Charlie Brown. I am part-lazy and part-cheap, but I did get it together to kick Slate some money, and back in the day I did the same for Maybe I’m more inclined to support websites than podcasts? There’s no money in either, frankly. Also, certain podcasts I enjoy, like Filmspotting, don’t seem to be in dire need of my cash. They announce new subscribers every week. It’s funny how that has a dual effect: it reminds me that people value this resource enough to fund it, but also lets me feel a little bit like I’m off the hook.

Mike: So what is the answer? I mean, we have limited funds so it’s impossible to support everything out there that we enjoy that deserves some of our money. I guess the answer is to decide how much money you can give on a regular basis, and then spread that mount around accordingly. A support budget!

Ester: You don’t budget, MD. Don’t front. And I don’t either, really! TRUE CONFESSIONS. My idea of budgeting is just spend as little as possible.

Mike: Hah, you’re right, I don’t budget. My “budgeting” is just spending less than what I make combined with automation, and it all works out. But I do look at my bank account multiple times a day, so I am always aware of exactly how much I can spend. So, could I spend $20 for This American Life? My bank account said yes.

Ester: That’s exceedingly practical and I would expect no less. I make a similar calculation. If I were to have a support budget, it would include my friends’ various endeavors — which I support in-person, when possible, and also on Kickstarter or whatever — as well as entertainment and charity. It’s a good idea, at least in theory, to have a fixed amount to spend on such things. Maybe if I had a sum allocated for that purpose, I would get around to giving some other worthy podcasts their due. But it’s still hard to know where to set the bar exactly. If I listen every week, or almost that often? If I listen *and* there seems to be some demonstrated need?

Mike: I mean, I wish I could hug all the cats out there, but it’s impossible. We can’t hug all the cats, Ester.

Ester: That’s so sad! We can’t end on that note, not on a Friday! Quick, what’s a cat you do get to hug, or a good thing you get to do soon? I get to make some friends happy by coming to a huge weekend “bachelor party” extravaganza in the woods even though it involves travel, strangers, expense, and uncertainty, all with Baby Girl, and part of me wanted to just bow out and stay home because of Stress/Anxiety. But it was important to friends that I rally and try to make it, so that’s what I’m doing, and hopefully it will be awesome-great and I won’t even remember why I was scared of going in the first place.

Mike: Hah, well I JUST finished cat-sitting, but if anyone has a cat they’d like me to hug, let me know.