You are viewing an old revision of this post, from May 19, 2019 @ 22:36:43. See below for differences between this version and the current revision.

Maybe it’s just the podcasts that I listen to, but it’s been odd to hear how negative the reaction to Luminary has been. I get why people were mad at Luminary’s initial implementation of external podcasts, but it seems like a lot of the anger is at Luminary’s basic business model, and that I don’t understand.

The current podcast ecosystem’s business model is based on three approaches: 1) ads; 2) donations; 3) doing podcasts for fun. And I’m not exactly against any of those business models (I am against ads in contexts where that leads to excessive tracking, but podcasts have nicely avoided that), but surely those aren’t the only business models?

In particular, consider the business models of 4) pay for specific things that you want and 5) pay for access to a library of content, some of which you’re quite interested in and some of which you’re not at all interested in. Those both seem like good ideas to add into the mix, and in lots of other contexts I actively prefer them to models 1-3. Take video, for example: ad-supported video (whether from TV or from Youtube) is okay, I guess, but all things being equal I’d much rather have my video without ads; and while I think that it’s great (with caveats!) that video platforms have opened up that allow people to distribute video for fun, I also think it’s great that high-production-value video is out there.

So why wouldn’t I want that same wealth of business models for podcasts? I’m not even sure that “podcast” is the right analytical category here: isn’t the proper format audio, or at least spoken-word audio? And we have lots of examples of music distribution that falls within my categories 4 and 5, and Audible is a spoken word example that falls within my category 4. This is good, right, we wouldn’t want to say that music has to be donation- or ad-supported? So why are podcasts different?

Maybe it’s just a terminology thing: if you define “podcast” to mean “non-textual content served up via an RSS feed that can be read by any client”, then yes there is something distinctively good about podcasts (just as there’s something distinctively good about blogs) and Luminary doesn’t fit. But that’s not a reason to attack Luminary or even to be particularly suspicious of Luminary; I (obviously!) like blogs but I wouldn’t want all written content to be blogs, I like books too!


I first heard about Luminary because The Bright Sessions moved its followup show there. And yes, I’m sad that I won’t be able to listen to that show until I give in and subscribe to Luminary. (I like The Bright Sessions quite a bit, but I don’t like it $8/month; at least I don’t think I do…)

But The Bright Sessions tried Patreon; their Patreon is now paused, but it had just over 1000 patrons. (I was one of them, I was happy to kick in $1/episode.) Assuming two episodes a month, and assuming that almost everybody pledged at the $1/episode level, then that’s about $25,000/year (if it kept up a two episodes a month pace all year); that forces everybody involved in the show (which has multiple writers and voice actors) to treat it as a side gig. If Luminary can bring their show to more people and let the people involved turn this (and their future projects) into a career, then that’s a good thing, surely?

It’s possible that the Bright Sessions folks could have made a bigger business out of that show. But the flip side is: maybe they were more interested in making art than in growing a business. I mean, actors are always out there hustling for work, it’s not like actors can ignore business concerns; but we also don’t expect TV stars to be finding advertisers for their shows, or to be assembling the groups of people who are working on the show, or to do the heavy lifting pitching the show to a studio. And I’d like the podcast industry (or the spoken audio industry, or whatever we want to call it) to be healthy enough to support similar forms of specialization.


And maybe the above is the answer as to why I’ve been hearing complaints about it on podcasts: the podcasts I’ve been hearing those complaints on are done by people who run small websites / podcast networks / programming shops. They have interesting enough things to say that I listen to them (at least sometimes), but also this is the genre of “put three people in front of mics and have them blather away for a couple of hours”.

So these are people who are okay with being involved in all aspects of making their business work; and these are also people who (at least in their podcast work) do not put a premium on production values. Which means that the benefits that I see Luminary as potentially providing are not benefits that that group of people values, at least as producers?

I dunno. And, again: the open web is special, I’m not arguing with that, and we do lose something when walling off portions of it. But stuff can flourish behind walls in ways that is harder to pull off in the open, and business model diversity is good too. And this experiment in particular feels to me like one which has the potential to start filling in an important gap.

Post Revisions:


There are no differences between the May 19, 2019 @ 22:36:43 revision and the current revision. (Maybe only post meta information was changed.)