Jim Harold has been podcasting since 2005. Initially he saw it as a fun way for him to explore the paranormal but it has now grown into his full-time business. He has two main podcasts: Jim Harold’s Paranormal which is based on interviews with various paranormal experts; and Jim Harold’s Campfire which focuses on people who have actually experienced paranormal events. He is also in the process of developing three new podcasts. Jim’s view is that podcast relationships are very deep ones and are something that takes time and devotion to develop. In this blog post we explore how this approach has influenced the way in which he has grown his podcast.
Jim’s experience with podcasting is that growth has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. His audience has grown steadily at around 10-15% every year. His biggest driver of new listeners is word of mouth with new listeners telling him they learned about the podcast through other listeners. Because he has been in the space so long he also gets word of mouth growth from other podcasters talking about him. His second main source of new listeners is from appearing on other podcasts with a similar audience.
Jim’s Campfire podcast does about 50,000 downloads per episode and Paranormal does around 45,000 downloads per episode. He publishes weekly. After about 4 years of podcasting he started to take ads. Then two years later he launched his Plus community where listeners pay a monthly subscription.
There are two main types of community interaction. The first is email and Jim endeavors to answer every email he receives from his fans, and he gets a lot of email! For premium fans he aims to get back to them within one hour. He has found this to be a highly effective way to build community- fans really value getting a response from him. It sounds like a tough job to meet that response rate, however Jim genuinely enjoys doing it as he is so appreciative that they listen to the show.
And the second main type of community interaction is via their 19,000 strong Facebook group. The Facebook group has been a great asset in helping grow the podcast. They have admins who help run the group and they have a zero tolerance for abuse. Interestingly they don’t allow any third-party content. So, if you had a paranormal experience, you can share it with the group. But you can’t share a video or story you found elsewhere. It does generate a lot of content and is a very free flowing experience.
The Facebook group has grown steadily and organically. The biggest issue with it is that Facebook changes the rules continually which can result in Jim’s group getting marooned from his members, i.e. the members of the group simply never see the latest comments in their feed.
Jim launched his Plus club in 2011, a member only premium product. Because there was no real platform to do it at the time, he had to build it himself using six different products. If all six of those products worked perfectly then it worked. But it required a lot of maintenance. About two years ago, Jim decided to move his premium offering over to Libsyn from his previous solution that relied on several different products and plug ins working together properly. He said that managing the old system literally gave him an ulcer!
The move was a harrowing experience due to the nature of transitioning a membership to a brand new platform. Other than offering free memberships to the new platform to fulfil prior commitments made on his old platform, he had to essentially cancel out every member and ask them to rejoin on the new platform. To Jim's surprise, he estimates that he retained 90 - 95% of his original members. He credits this to communicating clearly with his members about the transition and the superior platform that was coming online. Jim is highly complementary to Libsyn and says they've been a great partner in the current version of his Plus Club.
Jim has around 1,500 paying subscribers who pay either $7.95 per month or $79.50 per annum. With two shows with 50,000 and 45,000 listeners that means he up-sells 1.5-3% of his total listeners to premium (depending on overlap). That is very much in line with the 2% benchmark at which well run premium plans typically convert. The main benefit the paying members get is access to old content, with full access of the 1,800 shows in the back catalogue. They also get an additional 8 shows per month plus the occasional meet and greet.
With the success of his Plus plan, he now has about a 50/50 split between advertising and subscription revenues. However, one real benefit of subscriptions is they are a steady income stream, while ad revenue goes up and down depending on the quarter. In fact, subscriber revenue has fairly consistently gone up since he started the club.
Jim has done an exceptional job turning something that was a passion into his full-time job. He’s obviously done it through putting in the work to invest in and build his community. Interestingly, Jim has built up both advertising and subscription revenue streams. Looking at the PREMIUM model we can see the Plus club delivers on most of the elements, specifically:
Patronage – Jim regularly thanks his paying subscribers and makes clear the value of their support
Recognition – This is probably the weakest area as their current community platform, Facebook, doesn’t offer any way to distinguish supporters.
Exclusive content – Access to the back catalogue and additional shows
Membership of a community – Again the Facebook platform doesn’t really support tiering of community so this isn’t a specific benefit.
Insider access – Jim gives special attention in email exchanges with his supporters.
Uninterrupted by ads – The additional shows are free from advertising
Means of payment – A smooth process run through the Libsyn platform
Thanks to Jim for sharing in so much detail. You can find his shows at jimharold.com and on all major podcast apps!