And now a word from our sponsors.

Since my initial post regarding Podcamp, a lively conversation has erupted both here and over at the Something to Be Desired blog as spurred on by Podcamp Pittsburgh organizer Justin Kownacki.

I don’t have the attention span to cover everything point by point but reading over it all and thinking about it has lead me to reconsider some of what I’ve said, or at least look at it in another way.

First off, I want to be clear that I do not in any way believe that sponsorship of podcasts or an event like podcamp is a bad thing.  My previous post would most certainly lead one to believe that I do, but I will say that courting sponsors and working with them will inevitably lead to questions regarding your motives in what you produce- whatever you produce.

With that said, we can discuss how new media producers are supposed to earn money from what they do.  Making money is difficult enough, and doing so with a freely distributed good is nearly impossible.  It is the fundamental problem of digital distribution.  Currently advertising certainly seems like the best means to this particular end.  No one would argue with the kinds of numbers Google is doing.  As long as we are able to maintain an editorial line between advertisers and content, then we are safe.

Now, there will be those who cross that line, as there are in every medium.  This is expected and inevitable.  However, the difference is that we are working in an age where reputation is everything, and as Calacanis has pointed out, the community of media consumers will not put up with content that is bought and paid for by moneyed interests when it gets in the face of the openness and “truth” of the blogosphere.  Authenticity is king, after all.

Which leads me to my final point in this long and winding road:

Sponsorship is a necessity, but it must not frame the discussion. 

Podcamp would not work without its incredibly gracious, incredibly giving sponsors. Most conferences have sponsors and the attendees still have to pay!  I am so thankful for that.  But despite the “unconferenceyness” of it all, I really feel that having sponsors leading discussions, shilling their products and then disclaiming those shills is really disingenuous of those participants.  I think Network2 is a great idea, and I thought Chris was a really nice guy, I have purchased clothing from SpreadShirt, but when you open a panel called “The Future of Video” with a five minute pitch about the company you work for, I’m calling bullshit.  Even if that company has no business model, yet.
We are treading a very fine line, for sure.  Podcamp needs sponsors.  We all need to eat.  We all want to represent our stuff- I was there to talk about 54 hours as much as I was to network and learn.  Part of what is great about all of this is that people get to talk about what they love and we all get to hear about it.  I just don’t want to watch something with so much potential be subverted so quickly without at least calling attention to that subversion.

One thought on “And now a word from our sponsors.”

  1. Rar. I had a nice, lengthy comment to submit, and I mistyped a 1 as an “I”. I believe my comment has been relegated to the Doom Patch now.

    Suffice it to say: Luke, I agree with you completely, though I do have a slightly more optimistic take on sponsorship involvement in sessions than you do. Perhaps the sponsors sessions neeed to be held separately, or scheduled with an asterisk, so the attendees can go in with their “pitch detectors” on high. But, for the most part, I think the self-promotion that ends up happening in these sponsor-led sessions has more to do with people using themselves as their own best reference than with any true need to subvert the discussion for the sake of personal business growth.

    Sure, Network2 and Spreadshirt (among others) want to grow their businesses, but neither of them thinks they’re the only solution in town. They just happen to know themselves better than anyone else, so when someone asks a question, it’s hard to not give a personal reference as the answer.

    You know what could be interesting? Having the sponsors products represented by their users next time around, so it becomes more of a consumer report than a possible shill…

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