Radiotopia sets record for publishing and radio funding on Kickstarter

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This post has been updated.

The “Radiotopia” collective set a record of more than $600,000 when it closed its Kickstarter campaign Friday, Nov. 14, ranking as the most-funded Kickstarter project in the publishing and radio and podcast categories.

A project of award-winning nonprofit public media company PRXRadiotopia brings together story-driven shows that can all share “editorial, business and emotional resources.”  Launched in February, the collective includes shows with topics ranging from design to the people we meet to stories of ordinary life. Last year, Knight Foundation provided a $200,000 grant to Radiotopia for its first year. To keep the momentum going, the collective raised $620,412 on Kickstarter – crushing its $250,000 goal.

Radiotopia’s overwhelming success on the popular crowdfunding platform makes it the most-funded Kickstarter project in the radio and podcast category, as well as the publishing category, Shapiro said.

While captivating story-driven content is helping drive this success, there’s also a reemergence of awareness of the audio podcast.

Though audio storytelling has been around for centuries, the iPod popularized the digital podcast in the 2000s. Enter 2014, and the podcast has made a comeback: the “Serial” murder mystery podcast has become a viral sensation this fall; and “StartUp,” a podcast about starting a podcasting company, is renewing conversations around the business of audio storytelling.

PRX CEO Jake Shapiro calls this a “convergent moment” right now for audio storytelling. Shapiro says this includes the growth in distribution through smartphones, ease of use in accessing audio, increasing audience expectation and understanding of on-demand media (the “Netflix effect,” he calls it), and a talented pool of story-driven audio and journalism producers.

Shapiro also observes that podcasts have become more a part of mainstream vernacular. On “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” for example, famed “This American Life” host Ira Glass recently talked about breaking the barrier for realizing how easy it is to listen to a podcast. In a video, Glass shows the ease with which his elderly neighbor, who is “on the dark side of 85,” can listen to podcasts.

Because Radiotopia’s Kickstarter funding reached the stretch goal of $600,000, the collective is planning to create a pilot development fund that will help find “new voices to pilot programs that tackle subjects not well covered in traditional public media.” In the way Knight-supported startup accelerator Matter has been launching mission-driven media entrepreneurs, Radiotopia is also propelling radio storytelling talent, Shapiro said.

“[It’s] also a platform for entrepreneurial podcast producers to figure out their product – which would be their show – understand how to build their audience, and become viable and sustainable,” he said.

The proof is in the numbers. Radiotopia says its network has increased downloads by 165 percent since launch; and two of the shows have more than quadrupled audiences. The goal with raising thousands of dollars on Kickstarter is to grow the shows’ financial sustainability by boosting the amount of gear, staff, branding and promotion. Backers can still contribute to the campaign until it closes at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday.

The second season of Radiotopia is expected to kick off in February.

Vignesh Ramachandran is a regular contributor to Knight Blog.

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