SoundCloud is an awesome service. Podbean, Buzzsprout and Libsyn are awesome, too. I’ve used all of these services for past projects and looked to them first when starting up Polygoing Off. After much weighing of pros/cons, however, I decided to stand up my own site for podcast hosting instead of using a pre-built provider.
First and foremost I went rogue because I wanted maximum flexibility for the podcast: flexibility in hosting and controlling the content, and flexibility in terms of how the site looked and worked.
Podcast Hosting and Owning the Content
“Owning the content” sounds control-freak’ish. It’s not … at least, I hope not. I wanted as little friction as possible around delivering new episodes of the podcast to the people following it. Subscribers get the show directly from me, not through a proxy like SoundCloud or Podbean or fill-in-the-blank-other-host. There’s no middleman.
Conceptually, I dig that. I wanted to be able to give new episodes directly to the audience, versus giving new episodes to somebody else to deliver. It’s in-person. That works both ways, as subscribers who want to participate in discussions or leave comments are communicating directly with me.
Aside from the touchy/feely side of that, there are practical benefits to direct communication.
Assuming I went with SoundCloud and the podcast blows up (as in, “becomes popular,” not as in, “action movie helicopter”) all the comments and conversation are locked within the SoundCloud ecosystem. If I wanted to switch to another host, I’d lose that archive of audience interaction.
Also assuming I was on SoundCloud, god forbid the podcast gets flagged as inappropriate or tagged for Copyright violation or marred by whatever other twitchy internet perils lurk out there. SoundCloud could simply turn the thing off. I don’t like the idea of someone else acting as the gateway for my content.
Also-also assuming I was on SoundCloud, they’d be the ones managing my podcast audience – subscribers, followers and the like. Most sites make it difficult, if not impossible, to export your fan base.
Again, if I was to move the show to some other service both the audience and I would have to start from zero: people following the podcast would have to re-subscribe elsewhere, and I’d lose access to the fans engaged on SoundCloud.
Controlling How the Site Looks and Works
I want to provide a consistent, awesome experience for people interested in the content. By using my own podcast hosting site (built on WordPress), I have control over the user interface.
Don’t Move the Cheese
Remember when YouTube moved everything to Google+ and suddenly comments, notifications and interactions got weird? It took some getting used to for fans and content creators alike.
Remember when YouTube moved everything off of Google+ and suddenly comments, notifications and interactions got weird? That took some getting used to for fans and content creators alike, too.
I don’t want the podcast audience to have to puzzle out changes every time the delivery service alters something.
This is Cool, but I Wish I Could “Whatever”
Rolling my own podcast hosting platform allows me to tailor it to the audience. If subscribers are clamoring for new features or fresh ways to interact, I can make those happen.
SoundCloud, YouTube and others are massive platforms. As an individual creator you have little flexibility for customization. I like the idea of being able to act on great ideas from the audience to make the experience better – custom integration with Reddit, or better features on mobile for example.
Most podcast hosting services offer a free plan to get things up and running quickly. Most also have caps or restrictions on these plans, such as limiting the number of hours you can host for free with SoundCloud and Buzzsprout or capping storage with Podbean. Others offer free trials.
I’ll be doing these podcasts for the unforeseeable future and will likely outgrow any of the free accounts available or go longer than a trial period. Considering that, I checked into the paid plans from a couple hosts.
The Quick and Dirty
I’m not going to break down services by features and costs. After doing a bit of research I’m operating under the blanket statement that a competent plan with a podcast host will cost between $8 and $20 a month. Some are a little cheaper, some are a lot more expensive.
I consider a plan “competent” when it has the full set of features offered by the host (nothing gimped or withheld on free or less expensive tiers), a good amount of storage and reasonable bandwidth allotments.
Examples would be SoundCloud’s $15/month plan, Podbean’s $8/month plan or Buzzsprout’s $18/month offering.
Pay to Start
While free plans make it easy to get going quickly, most hold back features that you can only unlock by upgrading. Usually said features involve statistics around downloads/plays or social integration. I wanted a full feature set from day one.
I also suspected my show would take a while to get going. I’m not a celebrity; my podcast is gonna grow slowly in a grassroots way. A free trial seemed problematic because I was not going to reach any kind of critical mass within 30 days. Handicapped free accounts posed a problem because I wanted to see analytics on how the podcast was growing and how people were interacting with it.
I could get started for free, but I’d either 1) not grow fast enough by the time my trial ended to justify the costs, or 2) miss out on features that would help me grow the podcast to a point where paying for it made sense.
For an earnest effort, I’d be paying regardless.
How Does Rolling Your Own Solve That?
It doesn’t. You’re likely going to have to pay for podcast hosting whether it’s with a third-party service or a regular ol’ web host. Web hosting is usually cheaper, though. I use these guys, who have been stellar for the years I’ve been with them. I’m on their mid-tier plan and I pay for a year or two in advance, averaging out to $8/month.
8 bucks monthly VS. 15 bucks monthly is a big deal, especially when you’re starting out. In addition to the flexibility outlined above, it made more sense to invest a little elbow grease standing up a custom podcast hosting site on WordPress.
Let’s try to be balanced; it’s not all 1-ups when you roll your own podcast site over utilizing a dedicated service. It takes time to setup and manage. It takes a bit of technical savvy or a willingness to study up on what you need. You also miss out on some inbred social features of the established platforms.
Time and Tinkering
Saving time is a major benefit of going with an existing podcast host. There’s no boilerplate around setup aside from filling in some titles and descriptions. Setting up a podcast-friendly WordPress site requires installing a number of plugins to achieve parity with SoundCloud, Podbean and the others. These plugins provide features ranging from iTunes compatible feeds to Twitter integration, and even being able to play podcast episodes on your pages … which WordPress can’t do by default.
You also need to find – or design and build – a theme you like to make your site look the way you want.
I mentioned above that rolling your own site can empower you with near-infinite flexibility and customization; the flipside of that empowerment is the curse of responsibility. When things go awry it’s up to you to fix things. If SoundCloud goes down for a few hours, podcast fans blame SoundCloud. When your site has an outage, fans blame you.
Just as there’s no middleman to act as a gatekeeper to your content, there’s no middleman to be a smokescreen between you and any problems.
YouTube does a (pretty) great job of recommending similar videos based on your watching habits. SoundCloud has a (pretty) decent recommendation system, as well. When you operate outside of those platforms, you’re missing out on popping up in somebody else’s related content suggestions.
But In the End …
… I rolled my own. Losing out on the discovery capabilities available on larger platforms worries me a bit, but the worry doesn’t outweigh the positive aspects of controlling my content and being able to customize every aspect of the site.
There might be scads of factors I missed, but the above outline the checklist I ran through when making the decision to host my own site. Let me know if I missed anything and feel free to share your thoughts; for now, the die is cast!