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Will 25 sponsor mentions ruin Jim’s favorite podcast?

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Risk of Failure

When you start your own business venture, everyone talks about the risk of failure. You’re putting in a lot of time, effort, and money with the knowledge that there is a good chance that you might fail.

Restaurants fail at an alarming rate. Less than half of businesses are around after 5 years. This Wall Street Journal study shows that 3 out of 4 venture-backed startups fail.

Heck, I live on a busy block in New York City. The corner restaurant has flipped 4 times, my gym has changed names 3 times, and last week the relatively new Naked Pizza (I saw that coming) was shut down and replaced with a new business called Joe’s Pizza (didn’t see that coming).

Risk of Success

So when you do launch something completely new to the world, and it succeeds wildly, you think you have it made, right? Not always the case.

I’ve been a fan of the Adam Carolla podcast for many years. In fact, I’d guess that I’ve listened to more than 90% of his shows dating back to his launch in 2009, but also before that when his radio show could be downloaded.

I also had the great opportunity to meet and interview Adam when I was working at Wired. At the time of my article, Can Adam Carolla Time-Shift Podcasts Back to Real Time, he was just making a key transition. As one of the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes now, it’s easy to forget that in the beginning he was doing the show himself, losing a ton of money, and had just brought in his former radio crew to provide news and sound effects.


The good news was, he was running his own business and free of restrictions… language clampdowns from the FCC, annoying program managers, and radio-style format. He could rant as long as he wanted.

From the start things looked good, as his first episode was downloaded 250,000 times, he had 1.6 million downloads the first week, and was named best podcast of 2009.
With millions of ears tuning in, over the past few years advertisers have taken notice and signed on, and show format has found it’s groove, and he now has businesses ranging from his podcast network to live standup shows to his very own wine, Mangria.

Too Many Ads?

The frustration I have is that while I’m still a regular listener to the show, the very thing that made me like it – long, uninterrupted rants of amazing content – now run the risk of turning me away.

Carolla has succeeded bringing a morning radio show to podcasting, the only problem is that I hate morning radio shows. I can’t even listen to sports radio when I go home Boston because the ads are overwhelming. Like most people, I not only DVR my TV shows so I can watch them when I want, but I fast forward through every commercial.

So I dug into the numbers.

I chose a show from January 15, when Adam’s guest was David Wild and Bill Simmons, ironically another podcast where I have listened to 90% of his episodes since 2007.


First, the minutia

– The show starts out with an ad, and by the time they get through opening music, the intro, and a plug for the guest, we’re at the 2:15 mark before any content starts
– There’s a break at the 18:30 mark for a 1 minute commercial
– At the 33 minute mark is the largest group of plugs and commercials, running 3 minutes in length
– A 1:30 block of ads at the 1:12 mark
– A 1 minute ad at 1:20
– Finish the show with 3 minutes

Now the summary:

There are roughly 12 ½ minutes of ads in the 1:45 minute show, or about 11%.

I don’t think the problem is the total length of ads. Around 10 percent seems a fair tradeoff for what we’re getting.

However, I think it is the constant interruptions that might bother people the most.

There are about 25 different plugs throughout the entire show.

The thing about podcasts are that I’m not sitting on my couch. I’m on a run, I’m at the gym, I’m at the grocery store, I’m walking in New York, I’m in my car. If I don’t want to listen to an ad, it’s a huge pain to dig out my ipod and fast forward, and it ruins the experience.

Listen, to put on my old man hat, I grew up in an age where there were no DVRs or iPods or Youtube to let you jump right to the good stuff.

Yes, we’re all spoiled now.

What it means for you

As your business grows, you can only hope that there are enough advertisers and paying customers willing to throw money at you. That’s the entire goal of a business, right? To serve your customers, put out a great product, and keep your business running?

Photo: Jim Hopkinson

But like the Vogue September issue that becomes as large as a phone book, web sites that bombard you with flash ads and rollovers and popups, and everything from sports stadiums to gondolas to the trays that you put your shoes in when going through airport security, you need to be aware of the balance and how it effects your customers.

– Know your audience
– Don’t sacrifice design
– Endorse products that you’ve used and tested
– Give value to your customers

Advertising is not inherently evil, and can enable great things to evolve and grow. Just make sure to check in on your success before it leads to failure.

Sponsor Message: Freshbooks Fresh Take of the Week: Sponsors

Ah, the irony. I’m hosting a show that complains about sponsorships, yet here is a plug for my sponsor. I’m not saying sponsorship is bad — in many cases it’s great — but highlighting the need for moderation. Right now I have one major sponsor, and that is cloud accounting website Freshbooks. Want to know more?

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