Why Lauren Shippen Took Her Podcast to Luminary

— 4 minute read

Lauren Shippen, creator and host of The Bright Sessions, a popular scripted science fiction podcast, writes up why she decided to take her spin-off show, The AM Archives, to Luminary and it's paywall:

Yep, as of right now, The AM Archives will be behind a paywall for the foreseeable. That may not always be the case, but it will be a few years at least even if it does become widely available.

Lauren Shippen

She goes on to explain that her current show, The Bright Sessions, will remain free forever:

The Bright Sessions will always be free and available to everyone, everywhere (barring, like, the heat death of the universe or podcast apps all suddenly crashing or something).

As I've said before, I'd do the same thing if a company came with enough money to allow me to do one/all of my podcasts for a year or a season. Podcasting is still relatively new, why not? Who knows if you'll be able to grow big enough on your own.

Lauren has a Patreon campaign which doesn't show the dollar amount they're raising each month, but as of this writing they have 1,127 patrons. And their only tier is $5/month. You don't have to support at the required tier but just for the sake of this post, let's assume there are 1,000 patrons x $5 = $5,000USD/month support on Patreon.

We’ve had a Patreon for several years that enabled us to survive and do bonus episodes that would have otherwise been impossible. But to pull back the curtain on that a bit: one month of our Patreon earnings equals the cost of one bonus episode. Thankfully, we’ve been able to pay everyone - guest writers, guest actors, Julia & Mischa - pretty fairly, but we’ve made no additional profit off of the Patreon, ever.

It's not worth getting into nitpicking whether $5,000/month is enough of a budget for the quality of show + bonus episodes Lauren wants to create. I would suggest for anyone starting with Patreon to seriously explore whether adding bonus content is really what people want from you - or if they just want to pay to enable you to continue the show.

What I struggle with is this line of reasoning that many of the Luminary podcasters / PR folks are giving for why a paywall is the way forward for podcasting:

But in order for podcasting to grow - and for audio dramas in particular to level up as an industry - we’ve all got to try a lot of different things to see how we can create a sustainable and thriving creative industry.

I haven't been tracking The Bright Sessions / Lauren Shippen so I can't speak to what she's tried or done differently. So don't take this as prescriptive for her specific situation. But I wonder about other shows in similar situations that could try:

  • Adding an extra tier or two for options on Patreon. Wealthier patrons can help subsidize the show for those who can't afford too.
  • Take the show into other mediums like Aaron Mahnke has done with Lore.
  • Seek out a featured sponsor for a full season who will pay up front like Mailchimp did with Serial season 1 or WordPress/Automattic did for Exponent.fm.

Easy for me to type. Much harder to do. There's no guarantee extra tiers would ultimately get you more money on Patreon. Diversifying the stories you are telling requires a lot more time and sweat. And getting sponsors and dealing with contracts aren't why podcasters got into this thing in the first place. We just want to create more episodes of the show we're doing!

As Lauren states at the end of her post:

I hope many of you will subscribe to Luminary (and buy my book!) so that I can continue to pay people to make art, but I’m also working hard on telling stories that everyone can partake in, no matter the circumstance. I am but one small part in an expanding, vibrant community, and I’m going to do what I can to financially support artists and pull more people into the audio medium as both creators and listeners.

Hers is one show. Luminary is just 40 or so podcasts. We've got a long way to go in the podcasting industry before anything is set in stone. We'll all know how well Luminary's attempt goes later this summer after it launches and their investors are either gleefully swimming in their increased riches, or demanding more subscribers from Luminary to get a return on their investments and they have to pivot to some other way of convincing you to part with $8/month.