I there and welcome to verbal voices. I'm Paul Lemley, head of partnerships at Verbal. We're early stage start up building audio in podcasting technology for creators just like you as of this recording, working to launch our beta platform and we can't wait. Still introducing to you this experimental podcast is a way for us to connect with audio creators of all stripes. From traditional interview podcast hosts shortened long form story tellers, business leaders using audio to engage their customers, poets, speakers, battle rappers, stand up comics, audio book authors, teachers and, in this episode, a podcast network founder. Our new platform will cater to them all, and it's my responsibility to dive deep with them on their creative efforts. I want to find out how they've mastered their craft, what challenges they have faced and overcome, what tools they use to grow their audience. And, of course, what they're excited about most within this fast growing world of audio. On this episode, we have Sean Howard, co founder of Fable and Folly and award winning audio fiction Podcast network, with a combination of marketing, advertising and audio production experience. Sean and his co founder, Eli Run the fastest growing audio fiction network with genres across SciFi fantasy, speculative fiction, thriller and historical drama. One of their flagship shows, titled Albus Alex, follows Alba Far, Loria's royal physician, as Head, which and the Onley regular staff member at the new house appealing Alba has an endless line up of patients and a bickering king and queen to please. Fortunately, help is on the way. Unfortunately, that help is from Magnus, a troublesome young ex monk and aspiring surgeon, and Holly, an accident prone very herbalist. While you listen, be sure to take note of the ideas, tips, tools, processes, challenges in the types of winds that help audio creators build a highly engaged audience. So you're ready to learn more. Let's jump right in. Sean, how are you doing today? I'm doing great, thank you. Surviving Cove. It, I imagine. I'm sure it's It might be difficult. A zey network co founder trying to grow order some challenges you're facing just in the cove, it context. Um, well, first of all, I think podcasting sort of state level is everything we saw in during Cove it, and it's been increasing. Um, audio fiction is also one of the areas. I think that has had the biggest lift during Cove it From what I've seen, Um, I think there's now a growing The stuff I'm seeing shows that there's more people looking for information. But there's also people that are tired of hearing about Cove. It Audio fiction is like a nice way to still keep consuming what you're used to consuming, like during chores and whatever, but not having right hearing about cove it cause I'm done. I don't want to hear any more about it, right? Yeah. Host is I'm like, Yeah, absolutely. Well, I don't want Teoh. Definitely don't want to dwell on covert either. So I just wanted to see what? What? Your context was coming into the conversation today and also, you know, growing your network. How did you actually get into podcasting in general? But but also building a network of audio fiction. It's not exactly a common career. Path definitely wasn't a title. Maybe 5, 10 years ago. Eso tell us a little bit about your history and where we find fable in folly today. Yeah, it's still not a career path. That's part of the problem. Um, but it is a title you can take. Ah yeah, I got into podcasting to spite. Our boss was 2011. I was working at a digital agency and our boss had a podcast, and we wanted to make one bigger than his. That's how I first started in 2011. In 2014 my partner and I created our first audio fiction show. Albus Alex, Royal Physician. It's Ah, it was a bit of a lark. We sort of stumbled into it. My partner and I wrote it. It's basically Shrek meets house. It's, Ah, the fairy tale medical drama work show. And and that was it we recorded in our home with blankets and pillows stuffed in our dining room. And we crammed a cast of 10 you know, into the living room. And that was it. We walked away after we published it. Ah, you know, every once in a while we have it appear on radio or something. But back then they were like 100 listeners. A day would be an amazing day. Um, and then one day a few years later, like two years later, almost three, um, the numbers just started to skyrocket. Audio fiction was starting to become a thing. People were listening to podcasts and wanted more. Uh and so that was when I was in 2017 2018. We were like, Oh, what is going on here? Um and so today Alba has over a million downloads. It's our biggest show, and we have four other shows we want. So So we just, um I don't know. We just on the side while we had jobs started producing more and more. And then ah, yeah, that's how we get into it. We just I don't know. We decided never to have a life again and just keep producing these audio fiction shows on the side. Right? And so, at what point did you pivot there? Or at least decide that a network was possible that other audio fiction creators come to use and you just start networking with them? And then it decided you decided toe joint forces. Or how did that come about who? Uh, I'd like to say that it was as a digital strategist, I'd like to say that it was like I sat back and calculated and saw the opportunity in the market. Reality is, I got laid off because of coded and Ah, I was up one night till two. AM going. Why isn't there an option for a career as a podcast producer? You know, we have. We have Hollywood moving in. We have all these forces changing podcasting we have Podcasting is gonna be a billion dollar advertising market by next year. Um, it's already crazy. Big. And I just wrote this manifesto and I said, We know it. I'm going to see I gotta back up. Like I've often said to people, You shove a marketing plan for your podcasts, you should have multiple revenue streams. But sponsorship advertising has always been one that I backed away from. Like I just was like having a buyer by for our show. And it really didn't amount to anything like so I basically don't realize that that was me. Like I was avoiding it, right? I didn't want to go into that space. I didn't want to touch it. I wasn't trying to deal with advertising, Would it? Upset my listeners, you know, Would it just be me pretending to own a Casper mattress and spouting off bullet points like everyone else was doing right? Um and so anyways there with this manifesto, and I sent it to some of my favorite and some of the best audio fiction shows out there. And I was a little surprised. I expected one or two to come back and say, OK, Sean, because frankly, a lot of us have tried joining networks, and it hasn't always been a great experience. And a lot of us have often been anti advertising as a thing. Um, and so it just I don't know it just rock rolling down a hill. Next thing I know, I've got 15 producers that are in, and, um and we're up and running. That's how it started. Nice. You mentioned trying to join other networks. What was that like, or what was that approach? In those conversations? I have spoken to multiple creators that are trying to get to the level of downloads that most networks they're looking for. But it's still extremely difficult, and I think that are. The next question I'd have is about building one's own network with, you know, joining forces just as you did. So what was that like? First of all, with trying to pitch other networks to join them well, I took an approach that was sort of the antithesis of past experiences I've had. So there was nothing Hippie collective. Feel good. We all get together. And like, I love all these people that I approached, this was very much pick. This was very much pitched as I'm gonna try to commercialize shows. Do you want to be a part of this? And it's structured entirely around, um, basically sponsorship and advertising, So it just made it clean and simple. Um, I was able to write up a vision where audio fiction producers could make a living one day doing this off our work. And then I was able to say, Here's a revenue stream. I want to try and build for everyone. Um, so it just made it simple. Clean it about it, allowed us to just bring people on easier, but then also have a clear exit, right? This isn't working for you not working for me. We could just stop it. Um, So, yeah, that's how I decided to structure it. Um, and then, um, I've worked really hard to make it be operationally about that, right? So making sure the supports air there were bringing on shows making sure also that they get access to me. So, um, you know, I don't have a full time job, thanks to cove it. Hey, we're gonna mention covert a lot today. Um, so I'm basically now Ah, fractional. Like CMO that's available to all these podcasters, and none of us have ever been able to afford that. I, for my shows couldn't afford Sean toe work on our shows, right? Like I was working 12 hour days and commuting. Um, So So now I can sort of be there for these shows to cause I'm also invested in them, right? Like I I make money. If I could sell advertising on their shows and the more I grow them, the better for the network, the better for them. So that's how I structured it. Um, And what's the response been since since that manifest. So obviously the network is rolling, and our previous conversations, it sounds like it's gonna grow extremely rapidly, which is exciting. Teoh here, and I'm looking forward to watching it. Uh, but what has the demand been for new sponsors coming in? So far? We're still early, but I can't share much, but things are looking really good. Um, I've been I'm really excited about some stuff. That's what happening over the past week. There's been a number of opportunities I didn't expect in areas that weren't just sponsorship as well. So it's been interesting to look at those, um, the demand from people wanting to be a part of it. That's the hardest part, right? It was really like I expected just reaching out to my 1st 15 expecting three of them to be interested in talking. I didn't expect all of them to be interested in having a conversation, so I sort of had to put the brakes on early. They're still shows out there that I want a network, but I have to I have to make sure I can deliver. Right? Right. 13 producers looking at me going. OK, um, so that's the hardest part. Um, is telling people Hey, um, of your show. I've got everything on hold right now. Well, I see what I can do. Um, yeah. I mean, the response has been great. Um, we we've gotten a little bit of hate mail, which I sort of I'm proud of them like Okay, good. Yeah, the nerve. You know, we're calling out that advertising and in podcast is, um, often lacklustre. I think. You know, when I started this, I was like, Ok, um, there's other podcasters that air with me that want to change this and do more creative, exciting, fun sponsorships that fit into our shows. But I was like, What about the brands? My gut tells me brands also want better experiences. And they want I want to see that they don't just want bullet points for being read. Um, some of them hopefully. And so, so far, the feedback has been great on that. Well, you, our last conversation, we discussed some of those formats and that new creative advertising and sponsorships you're doing with your shows tell us a little bit more about that structure and your approach there, Howie, how you're talking to these sponsors about their advertisements within the shows on. Actually, if you're willing, I'd love to share some in this episode strategically, if that's something you're open to but just highlights because it was one thing for you to explain it to me on our last call, but it was completely something else just to listen to it and look forward to it in other episodes coming up. So what? I can share our specs spots So they are back there, not They weren't even created by often by the brand there. Just in one case, we did have a brand request, a speck spots that was cool. Mostly is we just created to demonstrate what we would do on a show? Um, so our approach. I can understand why it's not done as much on networks because it means I can't just flight an ad across a bunch of shows. Every shows got custom creative. Every show is a fiction show, and it has characters and these amazing writers that are very creative. So the idea was to empower those producers and writers to come up with what ad spots and sponsorships would be in their show. So there'll be a break or you know what, cut to sponsorship. Um, but then how is that done? And in our case, we're having fun with it, like we're actually trying to create spots that have the most beloved characters that our listeners of those shows adore and and have them do it in their character voices and bring it into their world. So make that product relevant to the world that are. Fans are so excited about an addicted to, um that's sort of what we're doing. I can play one. I don't know which one you want to hear. So you heard all birds. All right, I have one. All right, this is fun. So this is on insurance company Suzie dot com s insurance. You don't think fun, right? You know? So this is a show called Mars Fall. It is a dystopian thriller, sci fi. Very intense. And one of the most beloved characters is Andy a nd I. I adore him and and fans are always asking for more. Andy. So they've chosen Andy to do the reeds. He's artificial intelligence, dynamic artificial intelligence, artificial narrow, dynamic intelligence advertisement log. I'm receiving an incoming message from Earth. The transmission is rather distorted, so I will do my best to decipher and translate it for you. It appears to come from auto insurance agent Suzy. It seems that although they have yet to start ensuring ai units like myself, Susie does help humans to save upwards of $100 per month on their auto insurance bills on decoding now that you can fill out a simple form on their website and they'll collect the best insurance deals for you to choose from so you can start saving money right away, huh? I should probably tell Chip about this so he can ensure the buggy. That thing's been through quite a lot. I better check to see if they can do off world insurance. For those of you on Earth, I encourage you to try them out with a simple click so you can secure your new rate online at Suzie dot com. That's s U S Why dot com start saving on your car insurance right now and advertisement look. So that's phenomenal. And it doesn't seem to be. I mean, it takes a more creative effort in time, which, you know a lot of interview podcasts may not want to take that time. Some are, um, but it just seems like low hanging fruit in the podcast industry toe. Take the time to develop the story or use that your characters in a proper way. Teoh actual actually make native advertising possible and enjoyable, so it's phenomenal. I like it way have some that are crazier, more even more fun. But, yeah, the, um, I guess the hard part is getting in the door. I think any podcaster could sell more interesting advertising, but it's hard. It's heart in front of the marketer or the brand fire. Um, and that's where a network does help. It's also where having somebody dedicated to sending endless emails and follow ups and a lot of us we don't We don't have that. We we can barely get our show out, right? No. Yeah, it's Ah, it reminds me of, ah, of native advertising and email these days. I know if you subscribe to any email newsletters, I'm a big fan of the hustle. And, um, what else we'll hustle is an example. They have extremely good writers that take the time to write, add content That isn't just your typical headline. Three bullet points and called action. You know it's telling a story, often funny and witty and charming to the highlights. A brand that's there never heard of, or a new feature of a brand you you're familiar with its It reminds me of that's and and how native content has become farm or sought after in email and, you know, text content. So publishers, it's about time podcasting comes around Teoh. That's everything. So Bravo and I expect it's gonna be more effective. Um, and that's the other side of what we're doing because I'm a measurement guy. So we've worked to put in, um, an attribution measurement partner right into our buys. So I want to know beyond just use the coupon code or go to this u R l you know, with, you know, go to Suzy dot com slash mars fall beyond what happens to the people that listen to this over and over. They love it, they talk to their friend, and then they actually go and do the calculator without ever typing in the code. I want to show that brand marketer or that agency that this works. What are you using to measure that we don't have to dive deep into that, but but I think it would be interesting for people to know what you're how you're actually facilitating that. Here we have two partners, one is chargeable and the other one is pod sites that we are using. Excellent. So let's back up toe audio fiction in general, I don't know how large this segment of podcasting on audio creation is. Can you contextualized it for us? Is there any data to back up audio fiction just as a category into itself? And then what's the potential? There has to be a large audience that is clamoring for this type of content and also new listeners that haven't even discovered it yet. I'm more of an interview podcast listener. I haven't dealt into audio fiction. Can you give us some numbers or some background around the industry itself? So favorite folly. We have 250,000 downloads a month off. That's offseason, so we we go much higher cause we're seasonal. Like unlike a lot of like show like we we take 6 to 9 months, approves the season right and then were released weekly or biweekly. Eso in season were much higher cut, but that's basically with nothing in release where sitting around $250,000 a month, um, our largest show does around again, not in release around 40,000 month. Justin people listening through what most people would call the back catalogue. We don't have a back catalog and audio fiction, Um, were serialized TV for your mind, like were were a T where the TV show you can consume while driving your car or washing the dishes. Um, so we are smaller than were generally considered smaller than the podcasting industry. Like were a subset of podcasting. Um, we are, I think, the fastest growing category inside podcasting. Um, but audio fiction, I think, took a little while to take off. Um, you know, it is not as big as you know, Any of the I was going to call them, But you know, all the murder show. Like who? Murder by blah blah. Um, but our numbers air good. And the ah, the word of mouth in our industry is phenomenal. Like people that become attached there. They're rabid there, rapidly attached to audio fiction. They want more. But in the U. S. People, I think, sort of lost the ability to listen to fiction in audio. Um, So for example, I was a good case, you know? I was doing podcasting in 2011. I couldn't listen to an audiobook. I kept trying, right. A lot of people have experienced, kept trying and I just kept drifting and not focusing. I had. I didn't know. I didn't have the skill to focus in that way until I was doing this training course. I had to drive eight hours and it was for a weekend. It was down in the States, and audio books saved my life right, like late at night trying to drive, and I got addicted to them. And ever since then I love audio fiction. So I think there's a There's a journey where people go through where they get their into their first audio fiction a za faras size, you know, just like any other industry. We have our, you know, people like the Joe Rogan a Sfar a scale, you know, you have shows like Welcome to Night Vale or Were Alive, who have basically downloads in the tens of millions. Um, you know, our largest shows are basically over a million, but under two million downloads so far, so that's sort of a sense of the scale of where we're at. What's interesting is then the the model around subscription service on the Netflix of audio fiction, if you will versus the dynamic advertising or the native advertising that you're working on. There are some players in the space, but but it hasn't gotten to that scale. Do you think it's It's gonna get Teoh Netflix level where we're paying 25 bucks a month toe, have access to thousands of audio fiction shows, Or are we gonna dwell in the native and dynamic advertising world? I think it's gonna be both. So, um and I don't think it's just audio fiction, you know, Spotify announced. Was it yesterday they acquired Joe Rogan. Exclusive. Um, so I think Spotify is a force right now to play with in podcasting, and that's going to increase. We had luminary try and launch a exclusive, you know, they keep cutting the price on it, which is not a great sign. Um, mid roll has attempted numerous times to do this, right? The latest I think a stitcher haven't mixed it up in my head. Um, so I think it's coming. The biggest thing that I'm watching is Hollywood is coming in, and this is the year, um, we haven't seen the show's yet, but, you know, we've gone from past years where I can't even get an agent to return our phone call, right? Hollywood Teoh having meetings with some of the biggest names right from I won't I can't say, but, um, I think what we're seeing is not just that they're calling people, but that they're starting production houses and they're starting to green. Light. Production of fiction shows is sort of a trend that's happening. Audible Originals is back in business and looking great shows. So I think because of cove ID, I don't know for sure here, I'm guessing, but because of cove it the barrels running dry like last last week again, the man DeLorean announced, I think they're just like, delaying it. And they keep just waiting a couple weeks than announcing a new person for the next season that they've cast, right? I'm like, Yeah. How you gonna do that? Like what? What what big name actor. Even if even if California opens up, what big name actor is gonna walk on a set right now? Right? Not. But they wanna work. So they're looking for things to do. You can't do stage. You can't do TV. Really? You can't do movies, so they're actually starting to want and request from what I'm hearing to go on new shows audio fiction. So I think the idea of audio fiction as an on ramp into TV and movies has been something that's been growing slowly for a while. Um, as as a vehicle, because it's already serialized. You know, unlike a book where it's hard to make it serialized, you have these shows that are designed to be serially serially consumed. So I guess those are all the forces I'm watching. I don't want to say or get in trouble here, but, ah, I think we're going to see Thean mysteries about to change pretty significantly, because there's a level of investment that we're not used to seeing in the independent space, right? And I think with the two big events that have happened in the last week, both Joe Rogan and the Barstool sports podcast drama We're seeing the numbers. I think the numbers are becoming more visible to a greater public that I mean, I didn't know that Joe Rogan could pull in that much. I didn't know the caller Daddy. Girls were demanding a million dollars. Barstow was offering 500 caper hosts to come back. I didn't know it was that large and and the $100,000 sponsorship deals per episodes that they're pulling in. It's astounding it there at that level. But there's so much in the podcasting world to yet get to even even half, even a quarter of that. And that's really exciting. Teoh in an industry that has so much potential and so much unawareness around that potential, too. Yeah, it is. It's there any time. And I'd say to anyone out there who small or starting or you know, we'll get their numbers and going, Oh, um, it you don't have to get those numbers right all of to be at those numbers, but you don't have to. What you have to do is know your audience of building audience and then do the work like build the plan. Like I talked a podcast after podcaster in audio fiction and out, and almost no one I talked to has a marketing plan. Nobody has a business plan. Nobody has. Here's our revenue streams. Here's our model. Here's what we're trying, you know, like I had a plan, but I always just had this. I always had. Advertising is like, great out. I'm like I don't know. You know, I tried. Well, let's talk about that. Everyone that I've talked about about podcasting and has even considered jumping into podcasting. It's always one on one interview show or a single person, you know, talk show, talking about a specific topic or an industry or niche. Very rarely do people. At least I come across and I'm sure you far more because you're in it. But very rarely do they think about audio fiction. Do they? Do they think about storytelling or even, or even like journalism? How would you approach audio fiction as your core genre on the creative side, but also on the marketing side? If the hard question. And I remember when you sent me like a I might ask this question. I was like, How did you know that? Um okay, so let's break it apart. Um, okay, So first of all, I think getting started on audio fiction. Ah, focus on preproduction. First of all, you can you can get involved. There's so many ways to be creative about recording, even during this time period where we're doing social distancing, we've had to get very creative on how we are recording during this time. Um, so focused on preproduction. Really spent a lot of time there. Don't Don't Don't schlub it. Ask questions. Reach out to other producers. We will often share things that are helpful. Like, you know. Do you have a casting call sheet? Do you have this? Well, like, Yeah, here's my template. Um uh, but don't everyone come to me like spreading around, uh, but basically focusing pre production and pay your actors, Please, Please pay your actors. We have to figure this out. As money starts coming into this industry, this'll game has to change. And even without money in this industry, I really have to say I have a lot of respect for the small indie creators who have managed to pay their actors. Even if it's just an honorarium, like tiny 25 bucks. I think it's just the right thing to do. Um, so I'd say focus on your pre production, be really clear on who you're trying to reach. And it's not just someone that listens to audio fiction like find the other shows, find the shows you adores a creator and say OK, you know, I want to do my thing But I wanted to be, you know, fill this space. I wanted to. It could be like another show. I want to be like this show, but in space or get really clear and then joined the communities of those shows. Get to know the creators because the number one way you grow your podcast in audio fiction and I think in podcasting is through networking. It's true having connections to other creators where you can go on there show. Or, in the case of audio fiction, it's promo swaps, right? Just like I guess that's the same in broadcasting, right? You each promo each other show on and then it's episode drops those air so powerful we do it. We've done it a ton where we dropped a show. That right is small, but we drop Episode one in our feet and we work some kind of trade out in some other way, right? It's just sharing the love It was done for us. Alright gives them a spike of listeners, right? We don't lose any listeners, right is broadcasters. That's the cool thing, unlike TV, but you don't really lose a listener when you share another show. Um you both gain. Um, And then the last thing is, if you get those relationships going and you find those shows that share an audience and you know that you know your audience, you conduce you. Um basically, what we call, I was gonna say, collaborate, but we call it cross over EPS. But crossover episodes, but in podcasting is collaborative episodes. Um, so basically, a cross over is when two shows get together to creators and they figure out a way to create an episode that goes across the two worlds. And then you each drop it in your feet. It is the single greatest way to get new listeners. That's gold. You mentioned creators. You mentioned paying creators. The question I have around that is, what's the best feeder system for audio fiction? Meaning there are creators out there. There are screenwriters. There are actors, their directors going to school right now. What's the best feeder system for audio fiction as an actual career path rather than going straight screenwriting, network writing or even directing? I have I don't know if they want me to call the Millennials, but I have to creators that air manuals have this beautiful show and one of them when I approached him to join the network, I adore their show, one of them lamented. He said. He told me that the thing that connected with him was this vision of a future where producers could make a living off of what we create. We know how to build audience. We're learning how to do all these different things. Um, we're trying to figure out how to scale, right? But we're learning as we go. And he said he went to school for this. He basically got a degree in podcast producing. I didn't know what the thing. I'm glad you there. And he says every year he goes back to speak at his school, right? Like to come into the class. He's asked by the professor, and every year you say the same thing. Can't make a living at this e can't find you a job. I can't get a job and it killed me like I was just like, this is this is insane. Um, and it's slowly changing. We're seeing I'm seeing I'm starting to see you know Spotify and different larger network start to put out Hey, we need Ah ah, producer for this. But only now this year really started to see those positions around fiction. Um, so I think this is the year where it starts to change. So do you have to go to school? No. Um, should you maybe not. I'm I'm on the fence about this whole college university thing anymore. But can you get in from any angle into audio fishing? Yes, if you have an idea that you just keep putting off But you keep playing with you can probably make it an audio fiction. You could be a writer. You could be ah, more of a director who can be ah, producer. Um, but you got to do it like you got to do it all yourself. The buried entries low. But you gotta learn how to be a market her, Anna, and get enough business planning. Die Minto into manage actors and be a writer when it's needed. And you gotta learn how to do it all. Well, I think that's a poignant and call the action for audio creators of all stripes to consider audio fiction and a good place to end here. Let's end by giving you the Mike and tell us what you're working on. What shows to start with. I'm listening. Teoh, Albus Alex Right now, and it's a good opener one. And that's yours. Your baby's. So, uh, I'd start there. But if there's others that you want to plug, go right ahead. Wow. Well, you can find all of our shows at fable and folly dot com. You can find links to where we are in social there. Uh, and there's an amazing array of shows. Um, I get in trouble if I call one of them out. Uh, I would say go to fable and folly. We have what the knee thing is, if you like. SciFi, we've got some great SciFi like sci fi comedy. We got that, If you like more thriller. We got that. If you like more, you know Ah, speculative fiction. You know, we have that like we have historical drama. We and we're small or small collection of amazing producers. And I adore all the shows. Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast. We can't wait to to showcase what verbal is up to, you know, building for audio creators of all stripes, but the audio fiction eyes. Definitely a category We want toe, you know, promote and bring new listeners into. And so we can't wait to partner Seymour. And thank you so much for being on the podcast. We're gonna have you on other times in the future. So looking forward to talking some more. Same here. Thanks for having me. Thank you. Thank you so much for listening to verbal voices. Your podcast lover. Head over to verbal dot com. That's you R E l dot com and crews are growing This podcast reviews. If you're an audio creator, reach out to me directly at Paul at verbal dot com or tweet at us at get verbal until next time.