You may be aware that I’m stepping in to host a podcast: The Hard Move, a PbtA analysis conversation. This is part of a series to keep me honest while moving forward over Season 2 (2020).
Part 2: Financial Planning
The Hard Move isn’t going to be one of the biggest Hard Movers in the podcast land. Let’s be real. The reality of our expectations are that we’re looking at *maybe* 500 regular listeners. Maybe. If we’re lucky. The reality is probably going to be in the double digits for the first month or two, with spikes of big episodes if I bag a big name (like, if I get some big designer or cross-promote with some other podcast for a week). But, that’s never what I’ve defined success to be.
Success in RPGs has always been, for me, about getting to empower my friends. Rider’s Last Rites spent a massive amount of dollars upfront on art and layout because I really wanted to work with Jake and dammit if I was going to make them take less than they were worth. Decaying Orbit overtook Tumbling Together as my primary project because I’m working *with* people on Decaying Orbit, and Tumbling Together has always been a solo project. So, the goal here isn’t to line my pockets with gold doubloons, but to find a way to shift those coins into other’s pockets.
There are two income streams for podcasts as it stands, sponsorships, and patreon. I’ll talk about each individually:
There’s a strange approach to taking sponsorship dollars in that it is vital for sustainability of a project, but the more you have the less interested people are in engaging with the project. Sponsorship reduces the perceived value of analysis, in the same way that money tends to alter the perceived value of journalism. It does create a weird balancing act where instead of keeping listeners happy, we’re now keeping listeners *and* sponsors happy.
That said, in indie games, the sponsors are going to be indie game developers. And I really want to help those developers get their ideas out there. I want to shout new games from the rooftops, but I can’t assign every episode to a new dev otherwise it’ll start to feel like an advert show. There are a group of shows that do that (focus on providing PR to projects they find interesting), and I can point you toward them happily, but it’s not what I want to do.
Additionally, when discussing shows that do focus on providing PR to projects that are commercial ventures, why should that PR be free? I understand Indie Games are tight (please, let me link you to the spreadsheets I have). I understand that there aren’t a lot of marketing dollars. But I also know there are SOME, and if I can make The Hard Move the best possible, then maybe I’m a good place for those dollars, which means I can spread them into other people (as above).
Sponsorships, then, are the burst economy that gives the “business” a safety net, balanced against maintaining a quality core product.
Patreon is easier to balance. The listeners are the sponsors. But it also means choosing between either gating content, or relying on kindness or obligation. A patreon that doesn’t provide extra value to its subscribers is asking for kindness, and that’s okay, but it also gets into the murky ground of “who’s turn is it, this week, to hold the indie $10 bill?” Asking listeners to be generous so that I can be generous to guests isn’t sustainable or the kind of success I want. So first and foremost the Patreon has to have some kind of value, which leads (unfortunately) to a kind of content gating. That value will be inaccessible to people who are unable to pay. There truly is no ethical consumption under capitalism, not even in podcasts. Fuck.
However, the benefits of Patreon are in its predictability. Regular, monthly patrons know what to expect, and they know what they’re being charged. That money can be counted on, from a “business” sense.
I continue to use “business” with scare quotes and all, because while this is *thinking* organisationally, it’s still just me, audacity, and someone guesting with some cool ideas. There is no actual business here (for better or, seeing my goals below, for worse).
Patreon then is a steady drip income purchasing additional content for those that want it. And my goal must be to make that content inviting and worth the money, without gutting the core of The Hard Move.
The plan, then, requires some goals. Firstly, my goal is to pay my guests at least US minimum wage for their time. That’s a good start, right? An hour and a half of recording, means we’re looking at about $15 (and we’re round up here, because you would, wouldn’t you?). That’s $30/month with a show a fortnight. That’s step one.
Step two is to pay my guests a more kindly wage. Not that $15 is nothing, but as an analyst and descriptivist I value analysis more than that. We aim for $15/hr, which puts us around $22.5. Hell, we round that up to $25. That’s a meal with a loved one, a couple of pizzas during a game, or a few beers with me sometime. That’s more what I’m talking about. That’s $50 each month.
At that point, we start paying me. I never get more than the guests, that’s my absolute rule. Rather we aim for thirds. The next steps pay into me, which I use primarily to buy games to talk about (there’s a LOT out there and I don’t own them all), and to maybe take some courses in audio editing. I’m still learning. The guests keep their $25/month each, as we climb to $75/month, when we’re splitting it 3 ways.
After that, we all go north together. Maybe, I mean, I dunno, because honestly to be getting more than $75/month is a pipe dream right now.
Patreon is going to operate at a few levels. A supporter level that gets you early access and patreon-only posts (which will be like this, a kind of update and plan for your consideration). A second supporter level where you get access to the first edit of the show (for reference, I record about an hour, cut the Ums, blanks, and “take two”s and end up with about an hour ten of great stuff, but it’s obviously different for each guest), and an individual supporter level where you’re basically sponsoring half a guest per month. There will also be an ad-buy tier for a 30 second midroll (subject to change, we’ll see what the publishers I speak to think is valuable). These ads *won’t* appear in the patreon extended cuts, and they’ll be as unobtrusive as I can make them. I’ll only take on buys that are within the agenda and principles of the previous post.
The sponsored eps will be a max of one episode a month which will be in addition to the existing episodes. So they’ll never take away good content, only add more of it! They’ll be on the regular feed, and sound like normal episodes, but with the designer as the guest. I’ll make a disclaimer at the beginning of each of these eps, of course, but I’ll also ensure I’m not taking on projects that I don’t actively care about (because honestly have you tried to fake my enthusiasm for 2 hours? I’d rather eat glass). At the moment, these eps are kind of a negotiated rate, PWYW, y’know? If indie devs with a kickstarter don’t think they can rustle up more than $20 to book in…sure. Like, sure. It’s okay. I’d rather empower them even though it doesn’t even cover a month of my guests, let alone the extra work that I’m gonna have to put in to get another episode out (there’s a reason it’s fortnightly!).
For the first months, I’m willing to put my own cash in to ensure my guests are getting paid. I’m saying this not because I want to increase that feeling of obligation for the patreon (because, honestly, I’ve set up the tiers to where I honestly believe that they provide great value), but because I want to be transparent with you about how important these goals actually are to me.
Financially, I could take the whole hit if I had to. It’s $30/month, across the remaining 9 months of this season that’s $270. I can bleed that, and the time that it’ll cost me to make it. So if I have to do this alone, dammit I will. But I really don’t want my ceiling to be “minimum wage”. I want to invite you in so that we can start shooting for those bigger goals. In the end, it’s really about ensuring that the people that make good content for you are supported by me. And if you care enough about what they say that you’re willing to support them, that’s okay for me too.