New Experimental TSF Subscriber Benefit: Audio Narration
A few years back, I started adding audio narration to some of my posts at my old website. I was already set up for podcasting, had a studio-quality microphone, and the software to do the editing. I wasn’t consistent about it, however, because I really had no way of knowing how much the audience cared for it.
I recently re-discovered the idea of performing audio recordings of my own writing here at The Skojec File in one of Substack’s own posts. I immediately sent an email to the Powers That Be at Substack, asking for an ability not just to record audio as a podcast with its own page, which was the only option they offered, but to put narration right into the post. In a weird case of “Great Minds Think Alike,” they announced that exact feature within 24-48 hours of my request. I’d love to take credit, but they must have already realized that this needed to happen.
I now have a follow-up request for them to offer the ability to paywall the audio player itself so I can make these narrations an exclusive subscriber benefit. (I love you free subscribers, but the paid people? They need a little extra TLC.) Without it, the only way I can make this a subscriber benefit is to put the narration at the bottom of the post, behind the ugly paywall. If I put it at the top and try to paywall it, the whole post winds up there. My philosophy is: the text version should be free, but the audio version is a perk for those of us who like to be a little bit extra and are willing to chip in a few bucks to help me feed my million kids and buy me gross protein powders I can mix into chalky shakes to boost my metabolism and stuff so I can, y’know, stop being so fat.
For today’s purposes, I’m making the whole thing free and putting the audio at the top, so people can decide if it’s worth it. I may keep this post pinned at the top of the ‘Stack itself for a while so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
Real talk: a subscription here only costs $5 a month - for now. In today’s inflation dollars, that could probably buy you a couple of “penny candies” (there’s an old-fashioned phrase!). But it’s also the only income-generating work in content creation I’m doing right now, and it’s not exactly bringing in the big bucks. (Thank God my wife, the real estate guru, has a new property management business I’m helping out with, or we’d be in trouble.) But I want to offer real value, and to my mind, this is one way I can do that. I’m certainly not alone. There’s a new subscription service out there called “NOA - News Over Audio,” and to hear real people — not terrible text-to-speech bots — read articles you could otherwise read for free with your own eyes, they’re charging $7.99 a month.
I figure, reading my own stuff should punch up the subscription cachet around here.
At least a bit.
For much of the last year since I left my old job, I’ve been focusing on getting my head out of my rear end so I could get this thing up and running for real. Depression is a real bear, though, and it took me a lot of effort to shake it, so my posting here has been sporadic, and that’s on me. But I’ve been on a health and wellness journey for months now, and that is finally starting to bear some real fruit - still have a long way to go. Along with it, my creative juices are flowing again, and my prolific writing powers are starting to wake back up. After all, I’m a guy who wrote over a thousand articles in seven years at my last job. All of this means I’ll be writing more consistently, though hopefully not so much that you get inbox fatigue and unsubscribe. I like to strike a nice balance. I also like to be thoughtful with these posts and take the time necessary to do them right. If I stick with this post narration thing, I’ll be producing more audio as well. (I do plan to start a podcast back up, too, so stay tuned on that front!)
So here’s the deal: these recordings are actually really time consuming. I spent about 6 hours working on the audio for the post, F@&! You, God Bless. The finished narration came in at about 22 minutes, but I had to record it three times to get the levels right, and each recording took longer than the final run time to complete. I then had to spend time editing, mixing down the tracks, uploading the files, etc. Once the process is streamlined, it’ll be quicker, but it’s still going to be a couple of hours of extra work on top of the time I spend writing each post, which usually takes 6-8 hours just for the first draft. For reference, I’ve worked from Monday through Wednesday this week on just that one 3,000 word piece and its narration.
All of this is to say, I’d really like your feedback on whether this is worth it to you. As of now, I have no way of seeing how many people listen to or download the audio from each post. (Substack, are you listening? Hellooo!) That makes it quite difficult to know if people are engaging with the audio content unless they tell me.
Look, we’re all busier than ever these days, and more and more of us are listening more than reading. It fills up dead time when we’re driving, going for our “stupid walks for our stupid mental health,” doing chores around the house, or whatever. If you’re already reading here and it’s worth the $5 to have me read to you in the dulcet tones of this sweet set of pipes, hit the subscribe button right here, but please also say something in the comments (or via email) so I know that this had an impact on your decision.
Thanks, TSF readers! You’re the bestest.