A lot of our listeners are unhappy that our new download service is not a free service, but is instead a subscription based service. Some have written that's it's anti-democratic of us to charge, that's it's contrary to the the mission of Stanford University, that we're just being capitalist pigs. One apparently former listener even wrote that he was so offended by us charging for our download service that he would no longer listen even to our free stream, despite the fact that Philosophy Talk is one of his favorite radio programs and despite the fact that we are not broadcast in his listening area. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!
Because the reaction from some of you has been so intense, I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain just why we really need to be charging for our download service.
Philosophy Talk a pretty costly endeavor. And it is costly despite the fact that John Perry and I have been doing the show mostly out of our shared missionary zeal to bring philosophy to a wider audience and for no additional monetary compensation or even release time from our ordinary duties. But there are producers and roving reporters and researchers and studio engineers, and editors to pay. There are also remote studios, ISDN lines, and satellite uplinks to rent. Believe it or not, we even have to pay our own University a fairly substantial amount to keep our "free" stream up and running. And as we add episodes to the archive our monthly costs for that service keeps going up. Unlike John and me, no one else involved in this project works for free or even for peanuts. And nobody is willing to just donate free access to the technical apparatus we need to rent.
So far, our funding has come mostly from various arms of Stanfod University. The Provost, in particular, has, in his great generosity, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into funding Philosophy Talk over the past several years. Because we are not part of the core academic mission of the University, however, he understandably and reasonably expects that over time we will find a way to be more nearly self-sustaining. Perhaps if you were the Provost of a University like Stanford and you had to choose between, say, an additional professorship for this or that department or more scholarship money for needy students, on the one hand, and funding a public radio program, on the other, you too might insist that although you are willing to provide substantial seed money to get the radio program up and running, eventually the program would have to fend for itself. And that's where we are with Philosophy Talk.
Unfortunately, it's much harder to get funding for a program devoted to philosophy than you might imagine. It's also much much harder to get air time than you might think. And these two facts feed off each other to make life financially more challenging for us.
Most program directors of public radio stations remain highly skeptical that there is a real audience out there for a program as intellectually challenging as ours is. One PD wrote to us that he has seen no market research showing that he ought to devote 52 hours per year of his airtime to a show about philosophy. And that was that. We get that reaction a lot. And that obviously limits our reach and our audience.
Funding agencies, on the other hand, are reluctant to fund something unless they are confident that it will succeed. We've been turned down by the NEH four separate times in our attempts to get a radio production grant -- a grant specifically designed to bring more humanities content to the radio airwaves. Each time, part of the reason seems to have been scepticism that our show could really find a national audience.
All in all, Philosophy Talk faces a very large uphill battle for adequate funding. Partly because we are still trying to prove to program directors of stations that there really and truly is an audience that is hungry for what we have to offer, we basically have to give the program away for free to stations. This is something that separates us from highly sought after programs like This American Life or Car Talk. They charge stations a great deal of money in what are called carriage fees and sell a great deal of underwriting. By contrast, if we tried to charge stations right now, we'd be dropped like a hot potato. And because we are on relatively few stations, we also have a hard time selling underwriting. Even on pubic radio, underwriters want to know how many "impressions" (i.e. ears listening) you can deliver to them.
I'm not saying we're entirely hopeless. First, we did get a grant from the Templeton Foundation that will help out a bit. And Powell's Books has agreed to underwrite us for a very modest amount for one additional year. But it's not nearly enough to keep the program going.
That's where our download service comes in. It's our last best hope to try and generate an additional modest revenue stream to help keep our program afloat. Since we have a somewhat intense and devoted following over the internet, our hope for the podcast is that some portion of our listeners will be willing to lend our show some of the financial support it desperately needs to keep going. Of course, we knew going in that the culture of free stuff on the internet would be a serious barrier. But we figured we had to give it at least a shot.
Nor have we completely abandoned the concept of offering free stuff via the internet. All of our content remains completely accessible, completely without charge, via our online streaming service, at our
website. Anybody who has access to the internet can still listen to philosophy talk completely for free.
But the bottom line is that unless some of our listeners are willing to pay for the convenience of downloading philosophy talk, we will have a much harder time surviving. And this bold experiment, of which we are all so proud, will simply end. No ifs ands or buts about it.
Since I hope you want us to survive, I hope you will considering subscribing to our download service. At 69.95 for 52 episodes per year, an annual suscription basically costs you $1.35/episode.
That seems to me a comparative bargain.