People like to tiptoe around the topic of money: who pays the bill, how much that holiday cost and what did you pay for that haircut? And the reason for this is that, more than likely, the payment was too much. In the creative industries, payment is a hot button issue. There seems to be a disconnect between a creative contribution and something thats "worth money". It’s seen more acutely in areas such as photography, were freelancers are regularly offered jobs that ‘won’t be paid’ but will be 'great for exposure’. This wouldn’t happen in trade areas such as joinery or plumbing, so why in the creative industries?
Creativity is less tangible than bricks and mortar so it can have the problem of not being perceived as work in the traditional sense. That’s probably because the word work carries with it the vision of sweat and graft which is an unanticipated juxtaposition to something like writing or performing. People therefore (wrongly) place creative trades on a lower pedestal giving it less value. Anyone who works in or with disciplines like photography can telly you that the difference in quality between an amateur and a professional product is titanic but, if someone doesn’t get that to them it’s 'just a photo.’ When in fact, that photo is the culmination of a life’s work and study to give you the best possible image.
Where do podcast guests fit into this? Well, the podcast world is growing; what was at one point an inviting rock face is now a goldmine for story telling and indeed money making. The landscape is in two halves overall: podcasts made by “professionals” and podcasts made by “non professionals”. I would class ‘professional’ as podcasts made/owned/hosted as part of groups like Radiotopia or Earwolf or as part of large broadcasters like the BBC or NPR. Whereas ‘non professional’ covers almost everything else. It’s big business that with a large audience that loves high production story telling as much as three friends just having a chat.
There was a time when podcasting was relatively new and most were made by plucky amateurs who at that time outnumbered the professionals. Now it’s a relatively even playing field where a podcast by the BBC can by just as popular as ones produced by Timmy and his mates at home using Audacity.
A lot of the really successful shows transition from being made independently with little money to being backed by a large groups or sponsors. Which is great! The podcast producers get to live the creative dream of making money from an idea that you’re passionate about. It also shows that good ideas are the road to success in podcasting making the art form (yes art form) extremely varied.
As the industry becomes even more commercial, there's been a growing discussion around paying podcast guests and it’s an area where podcasters can take a page out of radio’s book.
Now based on my own experience there are two churches here and the first is promotion. If you have a guest on your pod who is promoting themselves or a product then they generally don’t get paid (take note of the word ‘generally’ I’ll come back to it later). For example I’ve worked at the Edinburgh Festivals with handfuls of different radio stations and if a guest came on a programme for an interview, famous or otherwise, they wouldn’t receive a fee as they were directly promoting a show and this is the same for both public and commercial broadcasters.
The second church is requested contribution. If you have asked someone to appear on your show to contribute (creatively or otherwise) using their own talent skills and experience, without whom the show wouldn’t be as good or even possible then they generally (there it is again) should receive a fee. This goes back to the photographer problem at the start, they are creatively contributing so deserve to be paid.
Time for the fun bit, these rules are by no means set in stone.
While radio has more of a structure for this than podcasting it can still be pretty vague. For example, someone’s contribution to a show may be more valuable than someone else depending how regularly they might be used by one programme or how unique their contribution is and because its all about creativity, knowledge and experience (not bricks and mortar) it’s difficult to determine the value, and that’s where we could get into the fun world of negotiations but I don’t have the time or willpower for that… which would make me a pretty crap negotiator.
I believe if you can, you should. If you make money from your pod then you should aim to be paying people for their contribution. As the industry is diverse and complicated trying to grow any kind of structure would be really difficult and relies upon the bigger names making a consorted effort to lead the way.