Podcasts are the wave of the future! They will kill radio dead. They will kill TV dead (okay, that’s a “vidcast,” but roll with me here). They are the cornerstone of user-generated media that will unleash an avalanche of talent upon the world! Die, evil global big media, DIE!
Oh wait, sorry — that mantra is from 2005. And, let’s be honest, that prediction ranks right up there with the 49ers winning the Super Bowl this year. Gobal big media seems to be doing okay. At least that’s what Rupert Murdoch told me last week right before we bumped fists and he said “word is bond.”
So podcasts haven’t taken over the world, not just yet — but do they sell stuff? For niche companies selling niche products to niche demographics, the answer seems to be “yes.” One case in point is Skeptic Magazine, which has turned a sponsorship with the podcast Skepticality into a circulation-increasing endeavor.
Skeptic Magazine is a publication of the non-profit Skeptic Society, an organization that promotes critical thinking and espouses the values of science as opposed to myths, magic and charlatans of all makes and models. Skepticality is a podcast that, no surprise here, covers the same content. Hosted by Derek Colanduno and Robynn “Swoopy” McCarthy, Skepticality was heavily featured very early on iTunes when the iTunes podcasting page came online. The show quickly generated a large following, with an estimated 18,000 listeners tuning in to each episode.
Daniel Loxton is the editor of Junior Skeptic, Skeptic Magazine’s sub-title that promotes critical thinking among younger readers. Daniel was a guest on Skepticality in January, 2006.
“I stumbled across the show through iTunes in about November of 2005,” Loxton said. “I liked it right away: it was fun, personal, smart, and noble. So, I wrote the hosts just to let them know I appreciated what they were doing. They then invited me on as a guest. That gave us a social contact we wound up building upon later on.”
Social contacts through social media? Who’d have thunk it? The concept of podcasts as information distribution started to circulate around the Skeptic Magazine staff, and Daniel suggested a sponsorship of Skepticality.
“I knew that launching an original new podcast would stretch our resources, and that we had many other important projects we wished to pursue,” Loxton said. “Our goal is outreach and education, so getting into the podcast market successfully could carry a risk that for-profit companies might not recognize: we could take audience away from the other skeptical podcasts.”
So instead of creating a competing podcast, Skeptic Magazine sponsored Skepticality.
“It was amazing to me to get the validation from Skeptic,” Colanduno said. “To me, Dr. (Michael) Shermer and Skeptic Magazine were in my mind the standard for how it should be done. Very little bashing on people, and well put factual information with little to no spin of any sort.”
BUT DOES IT SELL STUFF? So everyone is making nice-nice here, but what’s the bottom line?
“The honest answer is that we don’t exactly know,” Loxton said. “We think it does sell stuff, but we’re too small an organization to invest heavily in market research.
“We receive tons of positive feedback from listeners, many of whom tell us they subscribed to Skeptic after listening to the show. This suggests, anecdotally, that it is reaching people. More substantially, the duration of our alliance correlates with a period of healthy growth across the board: for the show, for our online sales of books and lectures, and for Skeptic magazine subscriptions. The problem is that we’ve made other improvements to our editorial content, our web presence, and our wider media presence, so it’s difficult to tease apart the variables.”
Hard metrics aren’t available, but the marriage of independent podcast and established magazine is a perfect fit for Loxton’s marketing checklist.
“Skepticality gives us the capabilities we wanted in the first place,” Loxton said. “It gives us the chance to distribute audio educational content for free, worldwide, and to better address topical concerns; the chance to introduce our work to the original audience of Skepticality, and an additional platform for promoting our other efforts and our other allies across the skeptical world.”