A year has passed since I started podcasting. It's time to look back, and look ahead.
In October of 2007, I began uploading episodes of Clear Heart. In January, 2008, I uploaded the final episode. So far, about 8000 people have downloaded at least the first episode, and about 4000 have downloaded the final episode. It appears that half the people who sample the podcast stick with it for the entire 17 hours. (Statistics are hard to gather and somewhat unreliable. I'm using only the most conservative numbers, which I can verify. The download number may in fact be much higher.) The listeners are spread all over the world. I've heard from Argentina, China, England, France, South Africa, Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy, and a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Half the people who listen come to me through iTunes. The other half come through various web sites, but mostly through Podiobooks.com.
I don't ask for donations directly, but Podiobooks attaches a request for donations to the podcast. From 4000 listeners who have heard the entire podcast, I've received about $80. My cost of making the podcast amounted to $128 for a good microphone (Samson), plus about 4 months of my life. So I have to conclude that:
1) People just aren't gonna pay for internet content.
2) I've lost money on the investment, if we're measuring by dollars.
3) I really don't care. I didn't go into podcasting to make money.
Though I haven't done any publicity for the last 6 months, people continue to download. I've been running steadily at about 200 new listeners per month, with about 100 per month sticking with it to the end.
Action/suspense podcasters claim to get 40,000 listeners. That's probably a first episode number, and I don't know what their last episode percentage is. As a "literary" podcaster, I'm at the upper end of the scale with 8,000/4,000.
Okay, enough statistics.
It's been gratifying. Web culture encourages feedback, far more so than book culture. I still get steady email from people who've listened and just want to say thanks.
There's no reliable filter or review process for podcasts. It amazes me that somebody hasn't started a web review of podcasts and established a standard. Instead of the New York Times Book Review we could have the Intergalactic Review of Podcasts.
Podcasting is coming to be seen as a desirable career move by young writers. Podiobooks now seems to release a new title every day. When I joined, it was about once a week. They have a mentorship program, a good one, full of wannabe podcasters who have the same enthusiasm (or desperation) I'm used to seeing in wannabe writers.
As a means of finding a publisher, the jury is still out. I'm now self-publishing Clear Heart. (Soon - real soon - I promise!) The podcast proved to me that there will be an audience if I self-publish. Now the printed book will have to prove there is an audience for a commercial publisher.
This project began as an experiment and an adventure. It grew into a love affair. I love the newly-invented, still-evolving medium of the podcast novel. It's more innovative and free-spirited than conventional audiobooks. It doesn't have the time constraints of radio. It takes the novel back to its roots: the oral storytelling tradition. It gives words their original power: their sound. The words enter directly, literally into the head of the listener wearing earbuds.
It's been a fun ride. The audience response is wonderful. My big disappointment was when it became clear that no print media - newspaper or magazine - had any interest or even much understanding of what it meant to podcast a novel. My big thrill was to get in on the ground floor of a new art form, one that is bursting with fresh energy and new ideas.
Would I do it again? I'm doing it right now, preparing another novel for podcast.