Podcast Festival Diary: Day Five (Final)

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Polina Paunova

For most podcast creators, their shows are passion projects. A platform to share their voice and ideas with the world. But as programs grow their communities and reach, many producers have started thinking about monetizing their work. In turn, this leads to an even more crucial dilemma – what is the future of podcasts and can they become a sustainable instrument for making quality content?

On the final day of Listen Up: The Power of Podcasting, Bulgaria’s first podcast festival, speakers shared their experience with trying to transform an audio program into a somewhat stable small business. That, however, can be quite challenging even in countries where podcasts are not a new phenomenon. Although American comedian Joe Rogan signed an exclusive multimillion-dollar deal with tech giant Spotify, most producers can’t rely on such partnerships to keep their shows alive.

“Most of us are not Joe Rogan,” said Katy Lee, co-host of The Europeans, in a panel dedicated to monetizing strategies. “Independent podcasting is unlikely to make you a millionaire or a billionaire. There’s got to be another reason you’re doing it. Maybe you’ve got a message you want to share with the world or you just want to spend some time being creative.”

While Lee advised creators not to “go into it for the money”, she also noted that quality content can attract sponsors and new audiences. To become sustainable, The Europeans relies on a mixture of income sources such as advertising, grant funding and listener support. The latter is at the heart of NARA, a pioneering podcast in Lithuania which focuses on the topics of social inequality, politics and cultural issues. After his show raised over 50,000 Euros on Patreon, host Karolis Vysniauskas highlighted that more and more people are willing to support creators in the digital era.

“Previously, it was fashionable to get stuff for free, like illegally downloading a movie. It was seen as a smart thing to do,” Vysniauskas noted. “In Lithuania now, people understand that it’s actually smart to invest in other creators because they can give you back. I love this change of culture.”

For Bulgarian podcasters, there also have been some promising signs that this format can become more mainstream. The closing discussion of the festival brought together Georgi Nenov of the Superhuman podcast, Govori Internet’s co-producer Elenko Elenkov and journalist Polina Paunova from Radio Free Europe. The three panelists are cautiously optimistic about the future of this genre in Bulgaria.

“I believe that we, as the people who have already made a podcast, are the driving force, which has to help everyone else who wants to start now,” said Nenov. In addition, Paunova and Elenkov noted that podcasting in Bulgaria needs more diversity in terms of its subgenres, which shouldn’t be limited to talk-shows. Also, the panelists believe that larger companies and businesses will start to recognize podcasts as an appealing platform for promoting their products, which in turn would motivate more people to create content.

The lectures and discussions from the festival are available at the You Tube channel of AEJ-Bulgaria as well as at the website of the event. There are no recordings of the special workshops within the programme. 

The event is supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and America for Bulgaria Foundation.