Why I’m Stopping the Fan-Supported Podcast Experiment


This is a quick public service announcement: I will be stopping the fan-supported podcast experiment and moving back to an ad-supported podcast. This post will explain a few of the reasons.

Let’s kick off with some housekeeping notes:

  • Huge thanks to everyone who became supporters. I’ll have more to share with y’all via email soon.
  • As part of that thank you, I will be refunding every supporter 100% of what they’ve paid to date. Doing this for thousands of people will take 1-2 weeks, so thank you for being patient.
  • All support subscriptions have been stopped, so you will not be charged again.
  • Just for kicks, I will do another live video Q&A just for supporters on August 2nd, 2019, most likely 8-9pm ET (5-6pm PT), so you can pencil that in. More details will be sent via email once finalized.
  • If you think your company/product/service could be a good fit for the podcast, I’m interested in a few new sponsors to keep things fresh. Most sponsor spots for Q3 and Q4 are already full, but if interested, please click here for more information.

Now, back to this stopping of the experiment…

You might be thinking “Well, that was fast!”, and you’d be right.

The feedback and data have been overwhelmingly clear. Given the size of the audience — the podcast passed 400 million downloads a month ago — experiments can sometimes yield conclusions much more quickly than expected.

So, what did I learn?

The entire experience has been very surprising. For one, many of my assumptions were totally off.

It turns out that most of my listeners have a strong preference for an ad-supported model compared to other options. Many folks have come to use the podcast and 5-Bullet Friday for discovering new products and services, and that has been reflected in the comments since launch. After weeks of consistent feedback from my audience, it’s now loud and clear that my vetting and sharing of sponsors is better received and a better fit.

Below is just one of many blog comments left after the initial switch to no ads/fan-supported:

“Tim, just feedback about the no-sponsor thing– I don’t mind hearing your sponsored adverts because I believe you’ve considered them carefully and only tell us about great products. That’s why I have a closet full of Mizzen & Main shirts and drink Four Sigmatic. Not sure I would have known about those without you. I would rather hear your ads for you to get paid than to offer up my own money; those companies have more money than I do. Just my $.02. Thanks!”

Here are a few more, out of hundreds:

Screenshot 1: https://i.imgur.com/ImJlcFr.jpg

Screenshot 2: https://i.imgur.com/vYH9Ute.jpg 

Live tweet example.

The really comical part is that I should have known, and I could have known. Actually, one could argue that I did know.

Pre-launch polling on social media almost perfectly predicted the outcome. Here’s the tweet I used to test the waters, which had nearly 18,000 respondents. The results were:

72% – No, I wouldn’t donate.

24% – I would give $5 per month.

4% – I would give $10 or more per month.

The comments on this post are really worth reading. The feedback was almost entirely positive towards ads and almost entirely “meh” about fan-supported.

In other words, the answer to my question was clear from the outset: 99% of my listeners are totally OK with ads, and many of them look forward to finding new products and services through my sponsor reads. It’s industry standard for high-download podcasts to have ads, anyone who wants to skip over ads can skip ahead, and people generally do not want to support multiple podcasters by paying for them à la carte.

I may very well write an in-depth blog post about the data and findings another time, but here are a few teasers:

  • Did anyone actually decide to contribute at the $1,000-per-month level I added perhaps 10 days into testing? Short answer: yes. That ended up comprising roughly 13.4% of total monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
  • What percentage of converted visitors to the sign-up page chose the lowest-priced option, no matter the dollar amount ($9.95, $19.95, etc.)? Across all of our split tests, approximately 83%. Keep in mind that this is 83% of total supporters, not 83% of total revenue.
  • The customer service was incredibly low labor. This was shocking. Even with thousands of paying supporters, there were very few inquiries and very few issues (great people, I tell you!). The self-serve portal worked. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, without adding bonuses and incentives for various tiers — something that would create 10x more labor than the ad-supported model, defeating the purpose — the upside wasn’t enough for most listeners to subscribe/support.

So, we are going back to what worked.

The short conclusion to this experiment seems to be “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.” My sincerest thanks to everyone who provided support, advice, and feedback. It’s been a great learning experience, and I’m lucky that I can do these types of tests at all.

Onward and upward!

All the best to you and yours,