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Meet Glow.fm, which wants to do for podcasters what Shopify did for Kylie Jenner

The platform eschews Patreon’s donation-style model, making it easier to turn loyal listeners into paying subscribers. Is this the future for indie podcasting?

Meet Glow.fm, which wants to do for podcasters what Shopify did for Kylie Jenner
[Image: courtesy of Glow]

So far this year we’ve seen some of the biggest, most award-winning podcast producers get acquired to become smaller parts in much larger media operations. Six months ago, it was Spotify buying up both Gimlet Media and Anchor. This week, radio giant Entercom snatched up Pineapple Street Media and Cadence13.

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Despite the ongoing consolidation, there are still plenty of independent producers—and Seattle-based Glow.fm wants to make it easier for them to make money.

Launched in public beta in June, Glow is optimized for mobile and only takes three taps for a listener to sign up and start supporting their favorite podcast via a monthly subscription. It integrates with Google Pay and Apple Pay and offers a custom landing page for members. Podcasters receive a backend membership management system as well as the ability to offer free trials and gift subscriptions.

CEO of Glow, Amira Valliani. [Photo: courtesy of Glow]
“It’s about making monetization as easy as possible, so the podcaster can focus on the actual podcast instead of telling listeners they have to go to a separate website,” says CEO Amira Valliani, who today announced that she’s raised a $2.3 million seed round, led by Greycroft, with participation from Norwest Venture Partners, PSL Ventures, WndrCo and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. Notable other investors include rap artist Nas and Electronic Arts CTO Ken Moss. “We want to make it easy to test different value propositions. And where I want to go is to make it as easy as possible for creators to test new ideas. That flexibility is important.”

Valliani started thinking about the idea that eventually became Glow while living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and hosting a local news podcast. “I had gone through all the pain points of creating the podcast and getting an audience for it, and after a couple of episodes, I had grown a pretty decent following, but I knew nothing about the people who were listening,” she says. “I see it as an ability to take something you have a passion for and put it into a business, and the core piece of that is monetization, but the next piece is the ability to experiment and try things out to gauge response of your listeners and then the ability to reinvest in the growth of your audience and your business.”

She calls that ability to test just what an audience will pay for finding the right content-market fit. “We’ve been working with creators, and I think in terms of data, we’ve seen that between 1% and 5% of listeners are willing to pay, and we’re seeing it go up with some of our shows,” says Valliani. “One of the most interesting things we’ve seen is being able to really test and find content-market fit, this idea of deploying different calls to action or different content and see the numbers go up and down based on what they’re offering.”

One of Glow’s beta testers is David Stein, host of Money for the Rest of Us. Stein started his podcast about five years ago and first began monetizing it six months later. His options to do that were very limited, and those that were available were charging half his revenue to do it. He eventually developed his own app but signed on to Glow because it was easy to use. “What I liked about Glow is that whole process, which used to involve directing your RSS feed and a few other steps, is just one click,” says Stein. “It’s seamless for the listener.”

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The other aspect Stein liked was that it forges a direct business relationship with his listeners, unlike a platform like Patreon, which essentially operates as a donation model. The tech podcast Acquired reports that it’s now making more money from its newly launched premium show than from advertising on its existing one, more than doubling its revenue. In a statement about the funding round, Nas is bullish on the direct relationship between creators and artists and their audiences, saying, “Podcasting is the perfect medium to build that relationship. Five years from now, people are going to be earning annuities off of podcast content, and Glow is going to help make that happen.”

But despite all the hype, there is still plenty of real talk when it comes to a future where podcasters can live off their subscription revenues. Both Valliani and Stein note that for most creators, it’ll be a mixed monetization model, with creators relying upon both advertising and subscription support. Earlier this year, podcaster Tim Ferriss halted an experiment in which he dropped all advertising in favor of a subscription, because his listeners actually preferred the ad-supported version. “99% of my listeners are totally OK with ads, and many of them look forward to finding new products and services through my sponsor reads,” Ferriss wrote on his blog explaining the move. “It’s industry standard for high-download podcasts to have ads, anyone who wants to skip over ads can skip ahead, and people generally do not want to support multiple podcasters by paying for them à la carte.”

The maturing of the podcast market has also signaled the diversification of its revenue models, from ad-supported to Netflix-like platforms like Stitcher Premium and Luminary, to the indie band equivalents that Glow is catering to. Valliani is realistic in her expectations and ambitions for Glow, saying that advertising plays a crucial and important role for many. “We want to keep helping create a relationship between creators and audiences, and I hope we can fill a different but important role,” she says.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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