It’s a common problem for podcasters: you’ve got a passionate, loyal audience, but at a time when it seems everyone is producing an audio show, your weekly musings haven’t exactly rocketed up the charts to attract an audience large enough to generate meaningful sponsor interest or ad revenue.
But don’t give up: there might still be a way for your podcast to make money.
That’s the promise of a new Seattle-based company called Glow, the latest spinout from startup studio Pioneer Square Labs. Glow’s first product, which debuted Monday in public beta, is a technology platform designed to make it “simple and seamless” for podcasters to convert their most loyal listeners into members who pay recurring subscription fees for access to exclusive content, ad-free episodes or other perks, or even to simply support their favorite show.
“Glow is the platform to help podcasters build their businesses,” said Amira Valliani, Glow CEO and co-founder, who has spent her career in media and communication strategy, including a role in strategic communications in the White House during the Obama administration. “We want to make it possible for every podcaster who’s producing great value for listeners to be able to build a business around it.”
Valliani got hooked on podcasts five years ago, struck by the thoughtful and engaging nature of the medium. She launched a show of her own about the election in Cambridge, Mass., where she was living at the time. She also founded and ran a boutique podcast agency, working with podcasters and brands. Both experiences helped her see the challenges that podcasters face in generating revenue.
Glow emerged from discussions between Valliani and Ben Gilbert, a Pioneer Square Labs co-founder and podcast host who was also looking at podcast business models, including the challenges of monetization, with his colleagues at the startup studio. They met at a conference, and Valliani ultimately moved to Seattle to work as an entrepreneur in residence at Pioneer Square Labs starting late last year, incubating the ideas that would turn into Glow.
The company is launching the platform in public beta today, but it has been battle-tested with some well-known shows. Podcasts in the private beta including Acquired, co-hosted by Gilbert, which uses the platform to offer exclusive content through its $5/month Limited Partner program; and Techmeme Ride Home, the podcast from the popular tech news aggregator, which offers an ad-free version of its show to paid subscribers for $5/month via Glow.
Acquired has able to convert 4 percent of its listener base to paying members who get access to two “Limited Partner” episodes per month. The membership revenue, $25,000 annually according to the Glow website, has effectively doubled the show’s revenue stream, Valliani said.
Paid membership programs aren’t a new concept, but in many cases, podcasters have made use of general-purpose online membership programs to sign people up. One of Glow’s selling points is that it’s made specifically for podcasts. It’s mobile-first, designed to make it seamless for listeners to sign up. After hearing a call to action, it takes three taps to sign up and pay. Glow integrates with Google Pay and Apple Pay, and offers a customized landing page for registering members and backend system for managing a membership program.
Additional features include the ability to offer free trials and gift subscriptions.
The company generates revenue by taking a percentage cut of the transaction, without requiring podcasters to pay anything up front.
A summary presented during the beta signup indicates that the company takes a 20 percent cut of the overall membership fee in situations where podcasters are charging for access to exclusive member content; or 12 percent for those charging for access to existing podcast content. Custom pricing is available in other situations. Startups commonly experiment with different pricing during beta periods.
Glow, which was known as Kimberlite during the private beta, is the latest of 14 companies to spin out of Pioneer Square Labs. Funding for the new venture hasn’t been publicly disclosed. Valliani and chief product officer Brian Elieson form the core Glow team, with support from Pioneer Square Labs under the PSL studio model. Glow is also looking to hire.
Valliani described the membership platform as Glow’s first product for podcasters but declined to detail Glow’s future plans.
One major competitor promises to be Slate Group’s podcast monetization platform Supporting Cast, which was announced earlier this year and is currently in an invite only beta. Pricing for Supporting Cast hasn’t been disclosed publicly. Spotify’s acquisition of podcast companies Gimlet and Anchor for a total of nearly $340 million earlier this year also served to validate the larger market for successful podcasts and related technology platforms.
“It’s a fun time to be in podcasting,” Valliani said.
Correction: Posted updated on June 11 to reflect the number of PSL spinouts.