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Podcasting 101 Part 4: Can You Afford to Podcast?

Can you afford to podcast?

So.  We’ve talked about what a podcast is.  We’ve discussed the motivations that might drive you to start your own podcast and about the time commitment involved with producing your own podcast – but what about the cost?

Podcasting ain’t free.  There’s a lot of different costs involved and I wanted to go through them with you.  Not all will apply to your unique situation, but some of them will.  Because I an long winded, I will once again be splitting this into a couple of posts.  Let’s go down the list for today:

  • Domain Name
  • Web Hosting
  • Bandwidth

Domain Registration

In my day job, I’m a marketing guy.  Once upon a time, I owned a web-hosting company so I really am knowledgeable about this particular topic.  Part of what I do these days includes dealing with domains/websites and web hosting for various clients on the side and for the company where I work and the sales people I work with.  Domains, URL’s and ‘Websites’ are easily one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Internet so I wanted to clarify something here from the get go – your domain name and your website are two separate things.

Your domain name is what people type into a browser so they can visit your website, which is a collection of files – they can be html files, php, asp, for example – hosted on a computer somewhere, which is called a server.  My domain name is www.atfmb.com and exists inside a Registrar’s database.  The files that make up the website you see when you type that domain name into a browser exist separately and live on a server at a web hosting company probably located in some former Russian province or Eastern Block country (where such things live cheaply).

Confused yet?


When you visit a Registrar – take GoDaddy.com, for example, they will sell you a domain name for anywhere between $7 and $40 depending on what you want, how long you buy it for and whether or not you buy any other names at the same time (we call these ‘bulk discounts’).  A lot of people purchase their domain name for one year and then have to renew that domain name the following year.  You can also (sometimes) get discounts if you purchase your domain for multiple years up front.  If you do purchase a domain name for just one year, don’t forget to renew it when the time comes or your email, websites and anything else attached to that domain will go offline.  If you let your domain expire and let it remain expired for too long, the cost of renewing it can become very expensive.  I always recommend selecting to automatically renew a domain and tying it to a credit card that isn’t going to expire any time soon – that way, your domain is renewed and your sites and email never go down.

Note: I can’t imagine the average person ever needing to purchase a domain name for $40.  Usually this type of pricing comes from companies like NetworkSolutions who offer all sorts of extremely tech heavy services tied to that high dollar price tag.  If you want a blog or a podcast or even a vlog, a discount Registrar such as GoDaddy should be more than enough for your needs.

Once you have your domain, you will want an actual website to appear when someone types your domain name into the browser window and that costs extra – we call this ‘web hosting’.

Webhosting

Web hosting comes in all kinds of flavors.  Discount webhosting is what most people purchase – these are places where they can sell you space on their server(s) fairly cheap because they make it up in bulk sales (and usually host the physical machines – the servers – in other countries where electricity, labor, space, taxes, are dirt cheap).  When you host your site with a discount web host, you are sharing space on a machine – sometimes you are even sharing an IP address (a binary, 32-bit number that identifies a location/address for a website/computer/server).  (I don’t recommend IP address sharing, btw.  If you share an IP address with a spammer, for example, your site could get blocked/blacklisted – always pay a little extra for a dedicated IP.)

Discount hosting starts at free and works it’s way up to around $15 a month.  After that, you are looking for bells and whistles (root access, dedicated database (not shared), dedicated static IPs, special configurations, flexible bandwidth) that the average user doesn’t want/knows how to mess with or really needs in the long run.  When you sign up with discount web hosting, you agree to their terms of service and to a set amount of hard drive space, bandwidth, IP addresses, email addresses and domains/subdomains, among other options.

Example: I use Web Hosting Buzz for my website hosting.  My plan includes:

  • 750 GB Disk Space
  • 15000 GB Bandwidth
  • Free domain
  • Addon Domains: Unlimited
  • Free Setup
  • Control Panel: cPanel

This sounds like a lot, and like a good deal.  It’s an okay deal.  Couple of points – never accept the free domain registration.  It’s crap.  If you register your domain through the discount web host, they control the domain.  If you decide to leave them for whatever reason, it can be very difficult to wrest control of your domain away from them.  They get especially unhelpful when you call up and want to leave them and take your domain to a different registrar and web host.

The power of having your domain separate from your webhosting is incredibly important.  You can always move to a new host if bad things start to happen (which they can/do) at the current host.  Example: Your sites are down a lot, your sites are slow, your databases are down/slow, your email isn’t coming through, etc.  When that happens, just export your site(s) to your local computer, start up a new account with a new web host and import your sites (it IS harder than that, but you get the gist).

For this webhosting, I pay $30 a quarter or $10 a month.  So, sort of in the mid-range for discount webhosting.  If I wanted to pay for a full year in advance, they’d knock that down to around $8 a month.  Pay for a couple years and I could get it for $6 a month.  I don’t do that – pay so far in advance – because I have had some nightmarish experiences with web hosting companies (this is like my 5th in 10 years, I think) and I like to keep my options open, so, quarterly works just fine for now.

I do, however, purchase my domains for multiple years, which brings the price down.  So let’s say you decided right now to go buy a domain for three years at GoDaddy.com – $12 per year.  You could shave that down to $10ish for 3-5 years so let’s just say you want it for 2 years and are willing to pay $25 after taxes and you sign up for $30 a quarter in webhosting.

Your total upfront cost is $25 plus $10 per month.

Bandwidth

When you signed up for web hosting, you agreed to their terms of service which includes things like:

  • You agree not to engage in unacceptable use of any of (Web Hosts) products and/or services
  • It is a violation for anyone to employ posts or programs which consume excessive CPU time or storage space
  • You are responsible for ensuring that there is no excessive overloading of (Web Hosts) DNS system or servers
  • You agree to follow generally accepted rules of “Netiquette” when sending e-mail messages or posting to newsgroups
  • You affirm that you are not a spammer
  • You affirm that you will not host or distribute any material that, to a reasonable person may be abusive, obscene, pornographic, defamatory, harassing, grossly offensive, vulgar, threatening or malicious;
  • You affirm that you will not host, distribute, disseminate or transmit files, graphics, software or other material, data or work that actually or potentially infringes the copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret or other intellectual property right of any person
  • If You elect to sell or resell advertising or web space to a third party then You will be responsible for the contents of that advertising and the actions of that third party (and you affirm it won’t be porn)
  • In the event that You exceed Your allotted bandwidth and thereby overload (Web Hosts) DNS or servers, You shall be assessed any and all fees, costs and penalties associated with such overloading

I point this out because a podcast takes up:

  • A lot of space on the server and
  • A lot of bandwidth as people download the file or stream it from your website.

Bandwidth is tricksy.  Different people and different companies use the term for different things (your cell provider, for example, uses it in regards to your smartphone, your cable company uses it in regards to your high speed Internet).  In the context of web hosting, bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data transfer in a month.  Every time someone visits your website, they impact your bandwidth for the month.  The more people who visit, the more bandwidth is used.  For a normal website with normal traffic and normal content, this is usually not a problem.  For a website with a lot of multimedia content, it can quickly become a problem.

Example: John Anealio, singer/songwriter and my cohost on the Functional Nerds podcast, wrote a song called ‘George R. R. Martin is Not Your Bitch‘ and to his delight, a link to that song was tweeted by author Neil Gaiman.  Down went his site.  He received so much traffic in a matter of minutes, that his site went down – he’d hit his bandwidth limit.  I have seen Felicia Day tweet a link to a website quickly followed by another tweet apologizing for crashing that site – this is because your normal website cannot handle such a volume of traffic all at once.

So, unless you find yourself with a host that specifically deals with flexible bandwidth (e.g. they scale as needed based on incoming traffic), you have the potential to hit your bandwidth limit if your podcast becomes popular or if a big name person suddenly directs people to your site for an episode of the podcast.

How the Functional Nerds handles this is with another service called Box.net.  Box is a service offering cloud content management.  From the site:

Box acts as an online, virtual file server. You can use it to store all your…audio and video – if you can store it on your computer, you can store it on Box. Upload files one at a time (up to 2 GB each for Business and Enterprise customers) or drag and drop multiple files all at once.

We use box to host all of our podcasts, then we link from our blog to the file.  The bandwidth is handled by Box.net rather than through our webhost – they are independent of each other.

Box.net starts at free then moves to free+ (around $10 a month – sign up for ‘free’, then ‘upgrade’ but not to ‘Business’ or you’ll find yourself with a $45 per month bill…), then into Business for $15 per user, minimum of 3 users ($45/month).

Your total upfront cost is $25 for your domain, $20 per month for webhosting and for a box.net Free+ account.

(There are other services out there that do things similar to Box.net.  Do look around.)

That’s it for this part of the ‘what does podcasting cost’ post.  Next time I will talk about Software, Equipment and Extra bits.

~P