As we ring in what will be our 3rd full year of releasing episodes of Straight From The Cutter’s Mouth: A Retina Podcast, I would like to start by taking a moment to thank a few people who make possible our weekly episodes releases.
First, Dr. Louie Cai is our webmaster extraordinaire, incredible producer, and technological Swiss army knife who keeps our endeavor a well-oiled machine. It is not hyperbole to say that he is one of the most important people to ever enter my life. Angela Chang is an audio editing machine who is quiet and unassuming and deserves major credit for taking our moderate quality recordings and turning them into the polished product hitting your phone every week. Mike Venincasa handles our social media distribution on Facebook and is our main contributor to the blog, where he has started a new project with our latest recruit, Amy Kloosterboer. Many of our episodes would be impossible without frequent contributors like my colleagues Dr. Ajay Kuriyan (podcast MVP three years running), Dr. Daniel Chao, Dr. M. Ali Khan, Dr. Will Parke, and the others who I bother week after week to join me on conference calls at odd hours built around multiple busy retinal surgeon schedules. Finally, it may sound corny every time I state this at the end of each episode, but all of the people who listen and tell their friends, colleagues, and trainees to listen make this experience special. It is the ideas and thoughts of listeners that continue to keep us fresh and motivated with new and thoughtful episode ideas.
Listeners and others ask frequent questions about our podcast, and I will use this blog post to both answer some frequently asked questions (FAQs) and transparently address some of the recent changes surrounding our project:
Why did you start the podcast?
We have addressed this in a few of our ‘state of the podcast’ episodes, but to summarize: leaving fellowship I anticipated joining a job that involved significant commuting, as many surgical retina jobs do. As a newly minted podcast consumer in other disciplines, I searched for a retina resource that could be educational on the go and came up mostly empty. One of my faculty mentors suggested that I pursue such a project myself, but it was not until months later when my friend Dr. Will Parke suggested that I pursue it as a solo venture that we got started. I spent a week reading about podcasting and audio recording on the Internet, obtained the necessary equipment, website, and software, figured out how to release via iTunes and social media, and then released the first episode on November 1st, 2016. It became immediately apparent that a completely solo venture would be impossible as my clinical and academic obligations continued to evolve, and within two weeks Louie Cai was on board running the website and producing the episodes. The rest is history as both our team and listener base have grown steadily over two plus years.
What about money? Who pays you to do the podcast?
Nobody. Making money off the podcast is a concept many friends and colleagues have asked me about, but it was never a primary motivation. Our team has discussed this issue multiple times, and to this point we unanimously have agreed to keep the podcast focused on a different goal: releasing useful, educational, consumable, permanent content that can be both a current resource and a repository of retina knowledge for years to come.
What about your costs?
Maintaining the website is roughly $100/year, software/audio licenses another approximate $250/year, and equipment averages $500/year to this point. Recently we have added legal protections with costs of about $3000. There are certainly major times costs to what we do as well. I have independently covered these costs through the end of 2018.
What about Retinal Physician, ASRS, and AAO? How are they supporting you?
We have been extremely grateful to these organizations for their support, but to answer a common question, none of that support has been or will be financial. Retinal Physician provides us their article proofs in advance so we can record periodic episodes that are different than our normal journal club episodes in allowing our contributors to take discussion in different and more creative directions. The American Society of Retinal Specialists (ASRS) generously offered to upload our episodes in a special podcast section of their website for members as a resource. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is uploading and posting our episodes on their website as a free resource as well, with the upcoming added benefit of continuing medical education (CME) credits for certain episodes.
When will the CME be available? What about financial disclosures?
Probably early in 2019. The team at AAO has worked tremendously hard to obtain CME not only for the new episodes but for past episodes that qualify. As soon as we have details we will post prominently on the website and mention in the episodes themselves.
In preparation for the CME transition we are now including financial disclosures for all contributors to each podcast episode. Even if this was not required by CME, we were moving in this direction, as transparency in this day and age is paramount.
How do you plan to cover your costs going forward?
We are initiating a few new ventures. First, similar to Wikipedia and other free online resources we will soon be placing buttons on the website for people to contribute small dollar amounts either one time or monthly to support the podcast. Second, we are investigating making and selling podcast ‘swag’ including T-shirts and other apparel for the loyal supporters who have asked. Third, we will be rolling out limited advertisements before and after episodes, although I have an extremely strong preference to avoid ‘mid-roll’ advertisements that disrupt the flow of the episode/conversation.
What about these future advertisements? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?
Industry is critical to the development and advancement of our field, and myself and many others who contribute on the podcast have industry ties and disclosures. That being said, we have and still will continue to try and avoid any industry (pharmaceutical or surgical device) advertisements on our program. One of the things that makes doing the podcast so enjoyable is the freedom of discussion and we think staying industry-free helps maintain that environment.
We will be rolling out our first ever paid episode advertisement in Episodes 148-151 on behalf of a retina-only private practice looking for a new associate on partnership track. The practice approached us with the idea and I accepted. I felt comfortable with this decision for a couple of reasons. First, a job recruiting advertisement has no effect or influence on the resulting discussion. Second, the practice has a positive reputation and may actually represent a great opportunity for one of our listeners. Will we pursue similar advertisements in the future? Probably and hopefully, but I think that those decisions will be made on a case by case basis.
What if your new revenue streams exceed your costs? Who pockets the surplus?
Nobody. Surplus revenue will be directed towards either improving or adding to our recording equipment to allow us for more creative episodes (for example, high quality group interviews at major meetings) or future travel grants/scholarship opportunities for residents and fellows to attend major meetings.
So how many people listen now? What other podcast-related activities are you pursuing?
We have tremendously fortunate to see a steady and ascending base that listens to our episodes consistently. For the first few episodes we averaged 50-100 unique listeners/episode. At the end of 2017 it was closer to 300 listeners/episode. But now at the end of 2018 we are up to about 1000 listeners/episode. Given how niche and specialized our program is, that is a tremendous number! More encouraging is that if we examine the statistics for ‘old’ episodes unique listeners keep going back and listening, meaning we are achieving our goal of releasing content that is current but still useful months to years later.
We have written a couple of upcoming papers on our podcast data and a survey we collected last year. We will also be collecting a larger survey this year and will be presenting research at major meetings such as the AAO annual meeting and AUPO annual meeting (Mike Venincasa), the Innovations in Medical Education conference (myself), and others pending acceptance (Louie Cai, Angela Chang). We believe that our experience has reinforced what other medical specialties had discovered before us: podcasts and mobile audio learning are the present, not the future. Our research is designed to emphasize that.
My co-resident loves your podcast but is going into glaucoma. Will you do a podcast about glaucoma? What about cornea?
I have been asked this multiple times and am always honest that my relative knowledge base would limit my ability to host a topical and interesting show and ask guests the right questions. We are investigating the possibility of a producing a ‘sister’ anterior segment show, but it has to have the right host, environment, and consistency to not dilute from what we are doing on the retina side. TBD!
Hopefully that answers many of the questions that have come up and will come up going forward. Happy new year and thank you!