How Spilled Milk Turned a Profit on Its Podcast with the Help of MoonClerk
March 25, 2014
We recently chatted with Matthew Amster-Burton about how he uses MoonClerk to gather support for his podcast, Spilled Milk.
Can you tell us a little about Spilled Milk?
Spilled Milk is a comedy podcast about food, hosted by me and my fellow professional food writer Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. Every week, we pick an ingredient, dish, or food topic and try to crack each other up while theoretically also imparting knowledge. Recently, for example, we’ve covered mixed nuts, bacon, and eggplant.
What are your responsibilities at Spilled Milk?
Basically everything. We were a two-person company until just recently, when we hired a part-time production assistant. People would probably be surprised to learn how much dull work goes on behind the scenes of a comedy show: editing audio, battling WordPress, writing descriptions and recipes, and managing subscriptions, just to name a few. Each 20-minute episode requires hours of work. Not that anyone wants to hear comedians complain about how hard they work.
How did you get started with your company?
Molly and I have been food writers, friends, and radio fans for years. We started planning Spilled Milk in fall of 2009 after taking a road trip together that featured a dangerous level of giggling. The show debuted in January 2010.
What have been some key factors in growing your business?
Patience – It took almost four years until we turned profitable, and signing up subscribers through MoonClerk was a big part of that.
Consistency – We record well in advance so we don’t miss an air date even if something comes up.
Details – We strive for excellent sound quality even though no one ever emails a podcast to say, “I just LOVE your sound quality!” But people do turn a show off if the sound quality sucks.
What do you use MoonClerk for?
Last year we started asking listeners to consider ponying up $5/month to support the show. The show is still free, but subscribers get secret bonus episodes, a handwritten postcard, and access to a behind-the-scenes mailing list. We were definitely inspired by NPR and by Jesse Thorn’s Maximum Fun network, which has been running successful pledge drives for years.
Before MoonClerk, did you use another payment system? If so, which one?
Yes, we used PayPal.
Why did you switch to MoonClerk?
There’s no way in PayPal to download a list with subscriber information – at least not with the account type we use. Customers who didn’t have a PayPal account had to sign up for one. We were willing to upgrade to a premium account that might address these problems…but couldn’t figure out how.
Also, a PayPal balance is like a separate bank account. With MoonClerk, payments go straight into our checking account where they belong.
How did these problems affect your business?
We were spending too much time fighting with our subscription system instead of working on the stuff we’re actually good at.
What made you decide to use MoonClerk?
I looked around for a new subscription system, and MoonClerk was inexpensive and clearly designed for a situation like ours. I also sent several support questions before activating my account and was pleased to see that my questions were always answered promptly and thoroughly. And I like that MoonClerk is specifically oriented toward recurring payments. We wanted what every company wants: to make it easy for customers to give us money. Oddly, a lot of systems make that difficult.
What was your experience when switching and getting started with MoonClerk?
MoonClerk is incredibly easy to set up. It took me less than ten minutes to create our first form, and it integrates seamlessly with our website.
What do you like most about MoonClerk?
MoonClerk works so well that subscriptions basically run themselves at this point. It integrates with MailChimp (so I don’t have to manually sign up each new subscriber for our mailing list), and it automatically emails new subscribers a link to the premium content. And support continues to be great. I like that MoonClerk is a small business like us, not a corporate behemoth who could accidentally sit on us without noticing. Now, if we could convince the MoonClerk team to host our show and write postcards to our subscribers, we wouldn’t have to do anything.
How has MoonClerk improved or helped your business?
Because we trust our subscription service, we felt confident enough to do a second subscription drive with a $10/month level. We’re now bringing in enough revenue from our subscribers that we just hired a part-time production assistant. I hope she’s as reliable as MoonClerk.
Any advice for others who are in similar industries?
Lots, but I’ll focus on two things:
First, most people who listen to your show will not subscribe. Figure 1 percent. If turning 1 percent of your listeners into subscribers makes for a decent amount of money, go for it. If not, wait and continue to build your audience.
Second, watch out for sales tax. If you live in a state that requires sales tax on digital goods, and you’re providing premium content to subscribers, every subscription payment is probably a retail sale. You’ll need to keep careful track of those payments for when you file your state tax return. MoonClerk allows you to download reports that can be brought into a spreadsheet program for tax analysis.
Photo Credit: Glenn Fleishman