22 Comments

Thanks for this analysis. I'm right here with you on the mindset and your analysis closely tracks with mine. This is why we very intentionally decided NOT to grow Foxtopus Ink in 2019 at the height of our podcast company's success. The constant growth mindset of more-is-more leads inevitably to wasted time in management, divided energies and relentless search for profit to keep the lights on. While we have not become a national brand by any means, we get a lot of fulfilment doing our own small projects well and thoroughly. We may never "figure out the business", but I think what we have learned is that a small solvent company is a lot more fun to work at than a large one that is always trying to grab a brass ring.

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Love this. I work at a small-medium public radio station doing a weekly show that I started a couple years ago, and the line that struck me most was about being able to benefit when shows do well, and live sustainably when shows do fine. I don't see either of those happening at my current job. I've also believed in co-ops for a long time. So I have a question. Are you thinking about starting a virtual meet-up for people interested in...the Revolution? Is there a way someone interested could help with that?

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workers owning the means of production, huh?

what a revolutionary idea 😉💪🏽⚒️🌹🚩

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Hi Mia,

Having run an independent radio (remember radio?) and podcast production company for more than 30 years, I can't tell you how much I value your insight and transparency. As you my I recall, I also taught at UC Berkeley J-School for a decade or so.

The industry has changed, for sure, but the core challenge between production and profits still exist. It's why I remained independent for so many years despite various "roll-ups" that might have greatly enriched me. It's why virtually all my projects (many lasting decades) were partnerships. I so value collaboration. One observation I had was that distributors, marketers and salesfolk all really want to be creatives, yet have no concept of what it takes to prestidigitate a show, not to mention a new episode every week. It seems so smooth and effortless!

It sounds to me like you have a very viable vision for the future. While I remain happily retired and merely a spectator of the podcast world, if there's ever anything I can do to help, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Best regards,

Ben

benm@bmpaudio.com

415.235.8491

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I’m with you! Thanks for your story and your positive vision of how storytelling can and should work in podcasting!

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Really valuable analysis, Mia, thank you. Maybe we are naive but it's still sad to see greed and hubris seemingly trumping creativity and a collective/artist/maker-driven approach at Pushkin. Hear your message about how hollow it gets when the beancounters take over the storytelling. As an independent narrative podcast consultant (story editor/producer) in Australia, I've seen too many media executives salivate over how 'cheap and easy' podcasting is - based on zero respect for and understanding of the complex art of audio storytelling ('m talking crafted investigative journalism, not chat). And I guess when celebrity/chat/titillating true crime can pull in millions of listeners, premium narrative is a tough format to sell. But if money always won out, so much great art (books, films, visual art, music) wouldn't have got made. Yes trash sells, but so does compelling storytelling with high aesthetic and ethical values. Your co-op model sounds the go – good luck!

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Thanks for sharing! As a business person in a creative company, I don’t think business management is necessarily a bad thing. Profits aren’t evil; it’s just whether the system is sustainable (and we can create with the resources we have). If it didn’t work out for Pushkin, that is regrettable, but there are other creative companies out there who’ve enjoyed huge success as creative engines for decades with lots of profit- it’s not mutually exclusive- with a solid relationship between the business and creative and everyone between (it’s about teamwork after all)…Disney, LVMH, Pixar to name a few.

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I agree 100% with your observations and am very excited by this vision. I have some experience with various types of cooperative business models and would love to dig into how this can work in a creative content production setting with you.

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This is such valuable insight into an org I've been watching with interest from the outside since it launched. If this is how things are going at Pushkin, a company with a core commitment to smart, original programming (I mean, it's named after a Russian literary figure, for chrissake), it's not surprising what's happening at larger shops like Spotify. I love this rallying cry, Mia. I believe there will be success stories of the kind of collectivization you write about here, but am skeptical as to whether it can counteract the larger tidal forces. Won't growth-at-all-costs-focused companies just start outsourcing abroad? Or to A.I.?

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Oh wow, you've articulated some things that I had yet to recognize - at least consciously. As an indie, self-taught podcaster (and not a journalist, but definitely journalist tendencies - wannabee?) I struggle finding my place in the ecosystem. With that said, I am with you!

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My hope for the future is the people at the top realize how unicorn hunting at the expense of people is unnecessary in a world of abundance enabled by technology.

I'm inspired by your candour in sharing your story. Many times I've felt compelled to share my experience as a cautionary tale and also to have people question their motives. When is enough, enough? I think about OpenAI changing their corporate values from collaboration and impact driven to scrappy and scale.

I love your mission of taking all media and put its control in the hands of creators. I'm excited to watch your journey unfold and hope to be part of your movement

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Love this, Mia. I've just signed up for the course. This model is so desperately needed. Thrilled to see you taking the lead here. x

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I hate to sound cliche, but this has given me a lot of clarity during this time of great uncertainty in the media world. I'm a producer who was also laid off this year, at a company in partnership with an entertainment titan. Perhaps one of the most shocking and consistent responses I've heard from fellow media colleagues was something along the lines of "get used to it, it's just how this industry works." I feel most hopeful when I see companies like Defector or Maximum Fun doing well. For now, I'll stay in this industry with the intention of working toward a future where I can make shows that are more substantive, more sustainable, and that are owned by the creators. For now, that's my guiding light.

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Great piece, Mia.

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Can't wait to hear more updates as you go through the entrepreneurship journalism program!

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Thanks for opening such a window into your (whew!) experience with Pushkin and the great out-of-box thinking you're doing post-trauma!

Question: Why not a nonprofit framework? I love what you're saying here about collectives, but I wonder whether a nonprofit framework can accomplish a lot of the goals you're talking about. You point out that the AP is a collective, but there are plenty of multi-billion-dollar nonprofits out there, from NPR to the NFL. As a former nonprofit arts leader, and one seriously contemplating launching another to house my new narrative interview podcast There's a Poem in That, I have some experience with this. Would love to explore the pros / cons with you if that's of interest, as this is very much on my mind right now.

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