On embracing freeriding (economics of podcasting etc)

One area of pseudo-public-goods currently still evolving: podcasts

They aren’t yet fully captured by YouTube / FB or similar (invasive) advertising platforms (but I’m sure there are efforts in that direction). I’ve recently seen more and more embrace of paywalls with previously openly-available podcasts joining exclusive networks / apps etc. Ironically or maybe predictably, the more profitable podcasts get, the more they keep pushing the limits of business models (to the breaking point sometimes).

There are basically four funding models (which can be combined):

  • third-party ads
  • paywalls
  • donations
  • volunteering (and producer funded)

At this time, at least podcast ads are still not individually targeted, though I’m sure there are companies experimenting with how to do that. Plain traditional donations are certainly effective to a point. Some podcasts are part of a bigger ecosystem (a separate business or organization has a podcast on the side). I’m writing this because of recently encountering more and more embrace of paywalls.

As we emphasize at https://wiki.snowdrift.coop/about/economics, almost everything about club goods is antisocial except functioning as incentive for funding. Paywalls inhibit so much potential value that a work may otherwise have.

At Snowdrift.coop, we don’t want to end freeriding — it’s not the problem! The problem is public goods not getting enough support. More people funding may mean less freeriding, but part of the reason I want to fund public goods is to live in a world where everyone can access all the value.

If I only can access the limited set of resources that I directly fund, I will be greatly impoverished. I’m not going to fund every podcast or journalist or software project! I want to be part of a critical mass of supporters donating to many of the projects I care about most. Then, if some other project produces valuable work, I’d like to be able to access that too.

Overall, I don’t want less freeriding, I want more! I want so many robust public goods that nobody is still willing to accept ad-encumbered or paywalled resources.

I’ve recently seen people use simplistic statistics to complain about the percent of podcast listeners who donate. That’s a completely misguided way to look at this; a scarcity mindset instead of one of abundance. Better for a podcast to have 100 million listeners with just 10,000 patrons (only 0.01% of listeners donating) than to have 5,000 listeners behind a paywall.

Side clarification: a paywall for rivalrous resources is not the same problem; having people join an exclusive club to get direct support or have their questions answered etc. is totally different than a paywall that blocks people from simply using/reading/listening to existing works.

I wanted to write this both to (A) continue emphasizing that both ads and paywalls are not acceptable solutions and (B) make sure we’re clear that the public goods problem / coordination problem is not that freeriding is bad! Freeriding is not itself the problem! Our goal is to get to a world where public goods have truly adequate funding so that we see far more freeriding!

The world I want is one where I put in my part creatively, have just enough wealth for a healthy and stable life, and otherwise get to share robust public resources with everyone; parks, libraries, roads, technology, culture etc. We will not get there by demonizing freeriding or by putting value behind paywalls or tied to ads!