In a guest post first published on his blog, Joe Norman talks to the team behind The Anfield Wrap, a UK podcast which manages to employ four people through a subscription-based business model.
The Anfield Wrap is an independent podcast for Liverpool supporters. Starting in 2011 as a weekly show, usually on a Monday (post weekend match)— it was then picked up by local radio station Radio City Talk, who commissioned a second show for Fridays.
Neil Atkinson, content manager at The Anfield Wrap (TAW) and the main presenter, says they were very quicky seeing 20,000 downloads a week — and it became clear there was demand for more:
“We did history shows – and people wanted more of those, we did comedy shows and people wanted more of those. They wanted more analysis, more tactics, more pre-match, more post match.”
A subscription-based podcasting business
As producing TAW started to take up more of their time they became convinced there must be a way of earning “at least a couple of quid” from it.
They eventually decided on a subscription model and after four years launched the TAW Player.
“The idea was if you liked the free show — you’d then decide whether to subscribe, and between 8 and 13% do subscribe to TAW.”
Subscription costs £5 a month — with an additional 30 to 40 shows a month available to members, making TAW among the most prolific independent podcasters in the UK.
“You’ve got Gimlet in the US, but I don’t think anyone else in the UK, or anyone linked to football has done the subscription model. What we’re trying to do, there’s no blue-print or path to follow.”
They’ve now had over 10 million downloads, clocking up around 100,000 per week, but as Neil explains — that does vary.
“It fluctuates massively. If Liverpool win more people listen and more people subscribe. There’s a direct correlation between results and downloads. If Liverpool score a late winner against Crystal Palace — more people listen, more people subscribe.”
Why not advertising?
Four people now work full-time on TAW with funds coming directly from subscriptions.
The subscribed shows are hosted on Amazon, while the free content is on Libsyn.
So far no money is generated through advertising: Neil says that’s a conscious decision.
“You can end up managing advertisers expectations, and that’s not our job. Our time should be spent on producing content — and producing good content.”
He also believes it would be wrong to have adverts or sponsorship on the subscribed shows, “if people are paying money, they certainly wouldn’t want that.”
The importance of authenticity
As well being extremely popular — downloaded in 200 different countries — The Anfield Wrap has also been a critical success.
Neil puts part of its success down to the way it is produced — which creates authenticity.
“Something I think other podcasters miss is (contributors) being in the same place, the same room, making that the core of the podcast. That’s absolutely huge”
He’s not a fan of using Skype for recording phone calls.
“You can’t get that rapport, you have people talking all over each other.
“Football’s supposed to be a laugh. It’s a collective experience and the podcast should reflect that.”
Podcasting and audio quality
Another important factor is using broadcast quality audio.
TAW started out recording in Parr Street Studios, Liverpool — where Coldplay produced two of their albums.
Since then they’ve worked hard to ensure the quality of their podcasts is on a par with their Radio City Talk show.
“Audio quality’s often overlooked by podcasters, but it’s massive. People are listening on their commute, on the train — they want to be able to hear what’s being said.”
Discipline and structure: what podcasting can learn from radio
Finally Neil believes their experience from working in radio has improved their podcasting:
“There’s more discipline and structure in radio.
“Too many podcasts are, at best, a brilliant conversation. At worst they just sprawl. Having done radio you’re more focussed on someone listening, someone’s opted in. Let’s come back to them and where they are.”
The future of the Anfield Wrap
Looking ahead Neil says they’re focussing all of their energies on making the TAW player and subscription work.
He insists this will be done not through business plans or marketing strategies — but by doing what they’ve always done: concentrating on content.
“We trust our audience and that they’ll come and find us and not the other way ‘round. They want the audio quality to be good — but they don’t want us to sound like anyone else but ourselves.”