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How I made money podcasting and why you probably don't want to (usejournal.com)
349 points by jason_tko 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

A hidden threat in this, is that podcasting can look like journalism to many economies. If you "report" on current affairs in any way, you can fall into the trap.

Mainstream broadcasters are always super-careful when staff are sent to the USA, to get the right visa. If the staffer just goes to the USA, they have to make damn sure they don't return to work, even if they take that call about some story, there is a risk: If you entered the US on a tourist visa but always intended interviewing somebody, you're working as a journalist.

They can, and do, chuck you out of the country. And returns get hard once you have to say YES on the forms about "...have you ever...."

I don't think the USA is unique in this regard. Lots of economies, western, democratic, and otherwise do not want people to casually "just do it" -you need to front up about what you do sometimes.

I always thought that a "tourist" visa allows you to do "work" for your non-US company, it just prevents you to from "working" for a US company, or being paid by a US company for work done during your visit.

I entered the US dozens of times on an ESTA for work reasons, I always declare I'm there for "business", offering detail if needed, and never had any issue.

As you'll find if you dig into visa regulations in many countries, the definition of "business" (activities usually permitted on business visas or visa waiver programs) is typically a lot more detailed than just whether the company paying you is in or out of the jurisdiction.

For example, in the US case, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B_visa#Acceptable_and_prohibit.... The rules for B visas apply to ESTA as well. Journalism is explicitly prohibited on B visas.

This is why my employer's internal immigration processes, even for short-term visits like conferences or whatever, present you with a comprehensive list of different categories of activity you might be undertaking to determine whether you need a work permit or not. It's annoying, and our internal immigration systems are very, very much imperfect, but I can see how it came to be.

That's great information, thanks.

To be honest, the range of activities allowed it's fairly reasonable.

Yes. I too have done this before I got my APEC. But somehow, journalism is treated differently. They get turned round by CBP.

Just curious: why would you use the word "economies" rather than "states", or perhaps less formally "countries"?

Because of force of habit. I work for a NFP with membership of China and Taiwan, and we have to steer a narrow course around calling places countries or economies. I got used to this habit.

Or why it being journalism matters. Podcasting = working. Journalism = working. They should run in to the same problems with tourism visas.

Somehow journalists make headlines when this happens. Lots of people enter on a tourism visa and do not earn income but are in the us for a mixture of reasons -what gets reported, is journalists being caught and expelled.

I have an APEC card. I only ever enter for work. I think it's considered ok to recreate, having entered for work related reasons.

> Somehow journalists make headlines when this happens.

Journalists make the headlines because journalists make the headlines.

AK-SHU-ALLY journalists write articles and copy-editors write headlines.

Sorry, had to do it.

This is true in general for digital nomads, whether they blog/podcast or even just freelance, a lot of whom continue to work a few months at a time in foreign locales on tourist visas. I've seen their blogs refer to visas as a gray area. I'm pretty sure this is a mistake.

I've looked at a few of the digital nomad guidence sites and none I've seen do much more than say its vague. If Steven King goes to the UK and writes a few news about his book, is he working? If I visit the Uk from the US on vacation and I answer a work email using my phone am I working? Probably these countries don't care, but where is the line between answering an email and "working" while living in the uk in a hotel room for a month?

I've never worked anywhere but the us, but as a dev I could work remotely anywhere in the world if I was certain it wasn't illegal.

I got permanent re-entry work permitted for Uruguay at very low marginal effort. It's not bali-cheap but it's developed, different, gateway to all of south America, and high tech friendly.

There are economies which would welcome you as a digital nomad.

entering the UK under a tourist visa or waiver program, you must be able to fund your stay. The tourist visas are No Work or Recourse to Public Funds. If you are funding your stay in the UK by working remotely, you are not abiding by the terms of your visa. This isn't the same as getting an emergency call out while on holiday.

How does the border agency know? They ask you a whole bunch of questions upon entering the country. So if the plan was to work remotely you'd end up lying to them. Digital Nomads calling it a grey area is often a nice way of saying "unless you tell someone the truth, you'll be fine"

If it's something you plan on doing, I'd highly recommend knowing the regulations for each country yourself and not relying on a third-party website to tell you things. That way you decide what you say to whom and what risk you take.

If you are visiting and not working for a UK company it is perfectly legal to do work while travelling. If you overstay your visa different story.

Put another way vp of sky visits Canada answers a few emails/calls while on vacation, perfectly legal.

answering calls, writing a few emails on holiday, is different from actually living in a country on a tourist visa and working remotely.

Define "living." As a US citizen, I've gone over to the EU, including the UK, for multiple weeks to attend multiple conferences, have customer meetings, etc. I've never been anything but 100% upfront in answering any questions about the purpose and duration of my visit honestly and have never had an immigration official so much as blink at my answers.

I know that some countries (such as China) do require business visas for attending a conference and I've to get letters of introduction, etc. in order to get my visa. But it's never been an issue in Europe.

I appreciate what Tim has done and continues to accomplish to raise the profile and acceptance of startups as a viable career choice in Japan.

I've first-hand experience with the many challenges of startups in Japan. Finding talent who understand how startups are different. Convincing larger partners you're not simply another "supplier" they can grind margin out of. Explaining to potential investors the tradeoffs of quality, speed, and confirming product fit.

Educational platforms like what Tim has built through podcasting are needed to help close these gaps.

Thanks to Tim for the insightful post on "how the sausage was made" and looking forward to seeing good things coming out of Tepco's innovation platform.

Wow. Thank you for that. I love putting the podcast together, and I enjoy it more now that I've taken the show non-commercial.

I like to think I'm having an impact on the ecosystem here, and as I mentioned in the article, four Japanese startup founders have told me that listening to the guests on Disrupting Japan is a big part of what gave them the courage to start their own companies. I kind of teared up when they told me that. I'm not sure exactly why.

These open, personal episodes are emotionally draining to publish. I'm a nervous wreck right up until the moment they go live. The feedback is almost always wonderful, so I don't know why it's still so hard to share, but it is.

I guess I'm fine with that.

Maybe part of connecting is just accepting that we are all kind of basket cases on the inside. And that's perfectly OK.

Indeed, thank you very much. I listen to a lot of podcasts while commuting and exercising, and I'd wondered about how the business end worked. I receive an extraordinary amount of great content for nothing more than the price of ads (which I skip a lot of; sorry but it's true).

I have gone out of my way to purchase products that advertise on podcasts: I'm typing this as I eat a lunch flavored with hot sauce from FuegoBox.

I don't know how well most podcasters do from that. You had a wonderfully lucrative target audience; most of what I listen to has a larger market but with less money. I don't know how many Casper mattresses and MeUndies they can possibly buy. The impression I get from the IHeartRadio-branded ones hint that by the time the marketers and support get their cut, it's poverty-level wages.

Again, thanks for the look behind the scenes. That was incredibly informative and very well written.

I think the same basic strategy could work for any true niche podcast. But "niche" is different than "small."

Two guys talking about the NFL to 3,000 listeners would be very hard to monetize, but a sports podcast that focused on local HS sports teams, or one that talked about MLB from the LGBTQ perspective? Those would be pretty easy to monetize using the same basic strategy I used.

I think the biggest advantage I had was not my specific audience, but the decades I've spent selling new products and starting companies. Of course, that is also my audience, so I can't be completely sure.

This author really practices what he preaches with regards to being vulnerable himself to get others to open up. Check out the about page [0] of his site. It's an honest reckoning of his entire life, not just a list of the highlights, as so many other people's bios are.

[0] https://www.disruptingjapan.com/tim/

Great post

Is there a general ratio for how much audio you record per session vs how long your average podcast episode is? Do you cut, say, 25% or something like that? They seem to run 40-50 minutes, from checking your site.

Would going the Patreon route (since your podcast is ad-free now) be viable?

For most shows, I record 60 to 90 minutes of conversation to get 20 to 40 minutes of edited content. I try to edit down to the bone, where there is nothing else I feel I can take out.

That might seem a bit extreme, but some of my guests are not native English speakers, so there is a lot to fix in post-production.

Not OP, but it wildly depends on the format. I do two different shows. One is live radio where the podcast version is a verbatim copy of the livestream (except for postprocessing and metadata), so 0% gets cut. The November episode has a fun 2-minute interlude where I fumble with the studio software trying to get music to play.

My other podcast is scripted and pre-produced. An episode usually comes in at 8 minutes, and I usually record around double that. For some sentences, I do 4-5 takes until I get it right. (That said, recording is really the smallest part. The biggest timesink on that podcast is research and writing the script, which takes around 3-4 hours per episode. Partly because of my perfectionist attitude.)

I'm interested in this, too.

Also, it seems like there are still ways to receive some revenue from creating useful content that thousands of people are interested in. Not because the money is so important, but because there are parts of community engagement that are fun to do and feel rewarding, and there are other parts that can be contracted.

I didn't understand the "make a media company" or nothing aspect considering he is still podcasting as a fun hobby anyway.

  I didn't understand the "make a
  media company" or nothing aspect
If I quit my BigCo job to bootstrap a business from my savings, I'd want to recognise if the business was failing well before it lead me to personal bankruptcy. So I'd have a deadline and success criteria.

Presumably his success criteria for the become-a-pro-podcaster experiment wasn't being met selling his ad inventory alone, and selling extra inventory to his existing sales prospects got him closer.

As a consumer I almost always wish more was edited out. Too much time is wasted on random anecdotes, stories, etc. that have nothing to do with the topic hand. Maybe there are two different audiences as well. One that likes the podcaster and thus wasn't the unedited content the other could be content focused and only want the core of the content which is probably only 20% of the recording.

Loved the ending. Self-disclosure is a big part of humanistic psychology. Sidney Jourard[0] explored this in depth:

You cannot collaborate with another person toward some common end unless you know him. How can you know him, and he you, unless you have engaged in enough mutual disclosure of self to be able anticipate how he will react and what part he will play?

If we want to be loved, we must disclose ourselves. If we want to love someone, he must permit us to know him. This would seem to be obvious. Yet most of us spend a great part of our lives thinking up ways to avoid becoming known. Indeed, much of human life is best described as impersonation. We are role players, every one of us.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Jourard

What a fantastic quote.

Trying to create a market is like being stuck in a sailing boat in the dead calm. Easier to just sail with existing market winds.

The end bit about parties is so true. That's the best when you meet someone and get them to really open up and tell you about some crazy thing they are working on or they had happen to them.

This was an honest, down to earth look at realities of podcasting.

Well written and sincere, great stuff.

Thanks! It was great to see my article posted. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It took me about six months to get ready emotionally to write that article.

Podcasting was one of the best (non-financial) decisions I ever made.

It's behind a sign in wall for me because I've read too many medium articles, apparently.

Bring back blogspot!

Here is a link to the original. I posted on Medium because it seems more people will visit Medium than a blog they've never heard of before.


I wish it weren't so.

Among the Hacker News crowd the sentiment is going the other way.

Interesting BTW The listener in the Vatican is probably Robert Ballecer

Medium is a catastrophe, obviously, but where it does have stuff you want or need to read, just install one of the many cookie-deleting browser extensions. I'm a simpleton so just manually hit a 'delete cookies from this site' button, but there are fancier options that will routinely delete cookies from specified domains, etc.

I haven't yet found a freemium site that either this or turning off javascript doesn't work for.

I share your frustration, particularly with Medium (and a true sense of dismay at those who choose to publish their effort on Medium's platform).

TFA was great, and I'm motivated to pursue my podcast idea (not for money, but because I think it would be interesting). But I just don't get why people put their creative content on Medium. Does it actually add value (bring more readers?) Seems to me it will discourage some potential readers; what's the offset there?

If I understand correctly Medium charges both readers and publishers for a service that you can get free elsewhere? Does that sum it up?

Let’s say the service is to get the audience to the content... and it’s not a very simple problem to solve.

HN does it very well, btw.

I only find Medium articles linked from elsewhere or via search. In both cases having those articles hosted on another platform or on private blogs would work.

What I don't do, which is where Medium might add value is go on Medium to search for content. I don't reckon I'd find good stuff by going down that route.

So really they are piggy backing off search and links that would otherwise go to "free" blogging software, or at least something like Ghost that isn't in your face and actually hosts just the content.

In short they are a parasite.

Outline is awesome for as long as it works. It's only a matter of time before it is effectively blocked by the content capturing sites.

I know it's a bit of a rant, but we shouldn't need Outline to make the web useful. Thankfully it exists as an option, but that's like needing antibiotics because every time we go shopping we get cut 1,000 times by the doorways to the stores we try to shop at...

It's already starting to fail on some of the major sites. Recently it's stopped working on the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and a couple of others that I can't remember offhand.

Interestingly, the blocking seems to be on the Outline end, because the site says "We're sorry, but this URL is not supported by Outline" if you try to use it on an article from one of those sites (example: https://outline.com/WytaqY). The message when scraping a page fails is "We're sorry. This page failed to Outline."

So it's not that the sites themselves have figured out how to block it, but they seem to have gotten Outline to specifically exclude them.

Reader mode is available in Safari and can't be disabled like that.

There is a little 'x' button in the top right of that sign in wall modal


It was a different one than usual. No x-button.

Was trying to let the guy know a lot of people wouldn't have been able to read it, not moaning about the usual "let's make it official" popup.

Go Incognito and try again.

There are many uses for podcasting for the classroom. They can be used to convey instructional information from the teacher or trainer, motivational stories, and auditory case studies. Podcasts can also be used by the learners as artifacts and evidence of learning; for example, a student might prepare a brief podcast as a summary of a concept in lieu of writing an essay. Podcasts can also be used as a means of self-reflection on the learning processes or products.[11] Podcasts can help keep students on the same page, including those that are absent. Absent students can use podcasts to see class lectures, daily activities, homework assignments, handouts, and more.[citation needed] A review of literature that reports the use of audio podcasts in K-12 and higher education found that individuals (1) use existing podcasts and/or (2) create their own podcasts. Students can create their own podcast to share their learning experiences with each other and also with other students from other schools.

As an aside, when I landed on this page, I had a sticky sign-in bar from Medium, a sticky menu from Noteworthy, and a sticky bottom bar asking me to sign-up.

The text - what I came to the page for - occupied just 60% of the screen.

What a horrible UI!

Lucky you. I get exactly zero content on my 13" MBA with increased font size:


That much? I only see the first two lines, and that's with a 16:10 monitor. From the "use a bookmarking system that only works on our website" to the astonishingly poorly-framed author photo to the "clap for this story" social media button which is a term I've never heard before in my life, the poor page layout choices are really dragging down an excellent article.


I get only 2/3rds of the headline on mobile.

I guess it’s nice that the Medium app is made for readers, cause their website sure as heck isn’t ...

Is it recursive day? This is what I get when I click on your link.


imgur seems to have this weird and annoying habit of detecting you're browsing from a mobile device even on links direct to the image, and then redirecting you to their site and lowering quality of the image you're looking at. At this point I just don't open imgur links when browsing from my phone.

Imgur has become actively hostile to anyone who browses the mobile website instead of using the app. They've spent years slowly pruning functionality out of the mobile site and just recently announced that in August users won't be able to log into the mobile site at all.

I have the sticky navbar, which I don't personally find intrusive, and otherwise none of what you mention. Just the article text. I use NoScript. Maybe you should, too?

I finally started to use Firefox more when the news came about about Google probably dropping support for real adblock. I had always run NoScript on my Firefox, and tended to be reluctant to use Firefox more because of it, due to how much time I needed to spend guessing which scripts to enable to get a site to work well enough. Now that I'm trying to use it more, I'm actually not finding it too bad - it seems to block websites from doing annoying things before I even knew they did it more than needing to fiddle with which scripts to enable.

Oh yeah, also using it in hopes of having real adblock on mobile.

Yeah I actually installed NoScript on Firefox for Android a couple months back, exactly because of the kind of shit mentioned in this thread[1]. While I recommend NoScript on desktop to anyone with some technical chops, it's clumsy enough on mobile that I'm not ready to recommend it. That said, I still like it better than the popups.

[1] Try to spot the article content! https://twitter.com/ColdPie1/status/1115247985410048001

There's usually a distinct change in tone when podcast hosts start keeping "revenue stream" at, if not the front, at least the back of their mind. I'm certain there are exceptions and I certainly don't begrudge anyone the desire to make money, but at the same time there are no podcasts I listen to whose best episodes weren't at the beginning of their run before the advertisers came.

Great post Tim! Crazy to see how far things have come since the Venture Generation days :)

Thanks! It's amazing how fast things change.

Reads way more humble then what the podcast name would suggest.

The title doesn't mention it, but this only applies to Japan where podcasting isn't nearly as popular or economically viable as it is in other countries.

My view is actually the opposite - that this likely applies to most countries except the ones with a large and established podcasting ecosystem, of which I only know one (the US, with UK scene piggybacking on it).

Superb piece, really well written, and a great underlying story about personal change. Brilliant.

If you are looking for a TLDR, I've got it summarized here.


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