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Can Podcasting Meet the Challenge for Creators of Color

Shaun Spalding

More often than not, creators and hosts of podcasts don’t control or fully own the content they spend hours making. That is particularly true for content creators of color.

In a recent article by Kameel Stanley published on Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, California Western’s New Media Rights Assistant Director, Shaun Spalding discusses why this long struggle has burst once more into public view, amid a nationwide reckoning about race in just about every aspect of American society.

Among a number of experts interviewed by Stanley, Anjali Vats, Associate Professor of Communication and African Diaspora Studies at Boston College, commented, “As a nation, we lack the imagination to really understand people of color as bona fide creators. What would happen if we started to imagine intellectual property ownership not as individualistic in the way people in the U.S. tend to do, but as a collaborative effort that is shared? So that no one person owns it.”

In response to that comment, Spalding said that it is not far off what is needed if the industry is going to make things more fair and sustainable for creators of color in particular.

“BuzzFeed’s tussle with Another Round is likely a harbinger—and it’s inevitable companies will face more public callouts and scandals in the future,” said Spalding,

“People don’t like it when they believe that artists are being taken advantage of,” he said. “So I would say that you should build in the fact that public backlash is realistic.”

But, writes Stanley, Spalding also notes that it would be unrealistic to expect media companies to suddenly give every creator complete and exclusive ownership of their intellectual property. “This is not how this works,” he said. “All large content creation business models revolve around: Can we make 50 guesses? And then 49 of them don’t pan out. And now we try to milk that IP that we own for all it’s worth.”

In other words, explains Spalding, large content creation businesses (like major record labels, major movie studios, etc.) have a business model around “blockbusters.” Many musical acts lose more money than the money invested in them. Many film projects being developed don't actually become movies and cost a lot more money to put together than they make. As a result, these businesses have to rely on the handful of “superstar” projects that breakeven and make so much more money that they subsidize the failures.

Spalding tells Stanley that fundamental change boils down to two things: creators flexing business muscle, and the industry giving up more of the pie.

Podcast companies could lean hard into establishing micro-labels, networks, and imprints, borrowing from the comic and music industry, Spalding continued, with some type of creator-ownership options.

“Producers should figure out how much they value ownership, control, and compensation—ideally, before they agree to work for or with a company,” said Spalding.

“Many creators don't have access to legal services, but should be encouraged to look for alternative and pro bono services like the kind that Californian Western’s New Media Rights program provides.”

To read Kameel Stanley’s complete article on Nieman Journalism Lab, click here.