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Linked by Jason Snell

There’s no such thing as free podcast hosting

[Disclaimer: Anchor is a sponsor of several Relay FM podcasts, including some of mine.]

Nir Zicherman is a co-founder of Anchor, a company that offers easy tools for building and sharing audio content. He wrote a Medium post on Monday with the provocative title “Why You Should Never Pay for Podcast Hosting”:

Anchor has a singular mission, and that is to democratize audio. Democratization means making it possible for anyone to start a podcast, regardless of experience level, location, socio-economic status, or anything else.

What makes podcasting great is that anyone can do what used to only be the province of companies with radio licenses, which generally meant large corporations. But there are still barriers to podcasting: technical ones (it’s complicated to record and edit audio, and even more complicated to post it) and financial ones (computers, microphones, and hosting services cost money).

One of the most eye-opening experiences of my life as a podcaster was being on a panel about podcasting at a science-fiction convention and mentioning the price of what I considered a good starter microphone—$50—and seeing a whole lot of people gasp with shock at the high price. For some people, that’s too big an ask. The easier and cheaper podcasting is, the better.

I’m confident that Zicherman is sincere in his belief that improving access to podcasting can make the medium a much more diverse and vibrant place, and Anchor’s tools have the potential to let people create podcasts who would never have even bothered trying before. That’s good.

But while this post reads like a think piece, it’s also an advertisement for Anchor’s services and a challenge to its competitors. As such, it’s worth highlighting the business model behind the mission:

It means more than just enabling anyone to create podcasts. It also means enabling podcasters to create value from their work and ultimately make money off of their podcasts.

People may ask “So if you’re not making money off of me to host… what’s your business model?” We are not in the business of charging you, the podcaster. We want to work with you to help you make money off your podcast, in which case we all win….

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Anchor is spending some of its millions in venture-capital investment to give free hosting to podcast users with a business model in mind: create enough volume that it can eventually monetize those podcasts by inserting ads and taking a cut.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s worth being clear about what the business model here, as micro.blog founder Manton Reese points out. Anchor’s hosting is free up front, yes, but they still want to make money from the content its customers create on its service. (If that business model sounds familiar, I’ll point you to YouTube. A lot of people have made a lot of money on YouTube, but a lot of YouTube creators could probably also warn you about the dangers of building a business off of a single provider that gives you hosting for free in return for a share of ad revenue.)

As Apple Podcasts marketer Steve Wilson put it: “I’m interested in seeing better, modern tools that will empower creators and grow the medium.” Anchor’s approach is interesting and could bear a lot of fruit; but sometimes services are also worth paying for. It depends on what your goals are.