Toward the end of 2021, House of Pod founder Cat Jaffee sent a plain, plaintive message to podcasting proponents and the Denver Media Center: It might have to shut down. Revenue was down, slowed by market and global developments during COVID. It was a harsh reality, given that HoP productions were doing well; prizes were won and word of mouth was strong. Jaffee and company were building a positive reputation in a relatively new landscape.
Now, less than three months later, Jaffee has announced the survival – and ongoing plans to thrive – for House of Pod.
“I learned a lot,” says Jaffee, “and had some very interesting and strange conversations. This process gave me the opportunity to understand the podcasting industry from the inside even more than before. It was really helpful.
The solution? First, HoP sublet some of its space to Kitcaster, a podcast booking agency, to help cover costs.
“We’ve kept the studio,” Jaffee explains, “and we’re keeping rates super affordable for former members.” But the old ways of doing HoP business are over.
“There are no more memberships, there are no more key codes, there are no more processes that were in place before – people can book the studio for the day or just by the hour “, she says. “We’re always going to raise marginalized voices, tell all those deeply thoughtful stories that need and deserve to be told. We’re just going to focus on fewer of them so those we accept have the chance to reach a audience. We can focus on creating great content while being more targeted.”
The new approach, says Jaffee, means House of Pod isn’t going away; it evolves. “And there was an opportunity not to evolve. Someone also made an offer to buy House of Pod. It was a good offer. We could have continued exactly as we had been, more or less.
What potential buyers proposed was a commercially oriented podcasting hub that would do branding work and also be open during its “free” time for low-cost public use. “I was like…no,” Jaffee says. “I’ve constantly encouraged people to believe in themselves and invest in themselves because their ideas are good enough. I had to practice this myself.
Once Jaffee decided not to sell, she was faced with a new question: “What do I need to do to give myself the creative freedom to go out and produce original content – unique Colorado stories that are also a method to connect people? How can I make this happen? The answer to that, says Jaffee, is how she arrived at HoP’s new business model.
This move isn’t just about Jaffee’s own creative pursuits; she is convinced that it is also about the shows that have been, are and will be produced with House of Pod.
“We’ve created tons and tons of podcasts — over 300 so far,” she says. (Check out this Spotify list of some of the many HoP deals.) “Sometimes they get the press and sometimes they don’t. A lot of it has been amazing work. But if you don’t have an established way to get people to come finding your best job is almost as if that job never happened.
Example: the podcast Love sick.
“It was the first month of the pandemic,” recalls Jaffee. “Paul Karolyi [HoP’s then-editorial director] would set people up on virtual blind dates. We would welcome people doing an online scavenger hunt at the Frida Kahlo house in Mexico. Things like that. It was hot.”
People loved it: Over 300 people from thirty US states and several other countries had already signed up to appear on the show when it was only a month old.
“But we were doing it on such a small scale,” adds Jaffee. “We couldn’t keep funding it. So it ended after only a few episodes. Fast forward to last month: a podcast titled It’s a meeting – exactly the same show, exactly the same premise – is in the New York Times. That was what Paul and I started, but because we were so stretched, personally funding these creative endeavors…we didn’t give ourselves the chance to really get any traction.
None of this means that House of Pod ignores its past and where it all began.
“Even though House of Pod is changing,” says Jaffee, “we’re still here. We’re still here doing the work that we started out doing. When you’re sitting in the studio and recording there, I almost feel like I can hear all the voices of all these other shows that have been there before me. We can still do all the good work that we want to do; we just can’t do all the work that he there is to do. And in the end, it’s the story first.
For more information on House of Pod, including how to rent your own podcasting space, visit the HoP website.