Interview with Anonymous Luminary Insider (edited for length and clarity)
What do you think Luminary's biggest challenges are right now?
They need a hit show in order to legitimize their business and make it viable longterm. And by hit show, I mean a juggernaut....a Serial, a Slow Burn, a Joe Rogan. Nothing medium-sized will do. Anything else makes me feel like I can skip it and be fine. Podcasts are free, so they need to find a reason to make people pay for them and so far they're not making a strong enough argument. They're also not helped by the fact that we have 100 streaming services and so people have been trained to care less about all content that they can't consume. People just watch something on a network they already subscribe to and don't feel like they're missing out...this type of thinking transfers over to podcasts too. People just listen to something that's free and don't think twice about Luminary shows.
Do you think these challenges can be overcome?
Luminary is not the cool kid on the block, which sucks. I think that perception is unfair. Everyone in the industry publicly drags Luminary, but privately, they all want to work with them and sell them shows. So, perhaps they will make it work. I think someone will be able to make this business model work.
Are Luminary podcasts getting the kind of support and resources they expected when they signed on?
I don't think they yet know how to make a show a "hit" or properly promote shows to current subscribers. They have a few barriers: they need to convince you to sign up and then once that happens, they need to convince you to listen to other shows.
Can you describe Luminary’s company culture?
Startup, techy, seems like a rather great place to work.
What advice would you give a podcast team that’s considering working with Luminary?
I would ask if and how they're planning on growing the podcast. It is very challenging to grow an audience for a podcast anywhere. I believe it is nearly impossible to grow an audience for a show that is behind a paywall...unless you already have a built-in audience, but even then it's a challenge.
Obviously everyone is having to rethink budgets right now. Do you think Luminary will continue to cut corners?
I can't imagine Lena Dunham getting a million dollars for her show (I think that was the reported price) and then doing another season for half that. They know what their budget and money situation is, obviously, but I have to imagine the recent reports of company spending (four million/a month) vs what its bringing in ($500,000) have to be accelerating certain conversations.
Do you think Luminary will ultimately be successful? (And do Luminary employees believe the company will be successful?)
That is such a good question about what Luminary employees believe. I think the pandemic has done good and bad for them. The bad: investors will likely be looking to take fewer risks. The company will want to take fewer risks. The good: It has made the compnay's employees value their jobs like never before. I think that kind of fire could potentially be great fuel to have employees amp up their game to ensure that this company is a success purely so they'll be able to keep their jobs.
Is there anything else you think our readers should know about Luminary?
The industry is really hard on Luminary. The conversations can be snarky. I don't think that's fair. I think Luminary's potential success would be a big win for the industry. I can't help but think about Netflix here: they started as a DVD mailing company and stumbled into streaming. Luminary started as a premium podcast company...but what other kinds of business are they potentially going to stumble into?
One final thought?
Something that is harder for Luminary to have control of is the quality of the individual shows. This is a big problem longterm. I only listened to a few of the early episodes of Guy Raz's show (Wisdom from the Top), but I think it's the worst thing he's ever done. This is coming from a fan of his. It's boring. It sounded like he put zero effort into it and they recorded all of the episodes on the same day. It made me feel like Luminary got ripped off.