How Do We Fund Digital History Communications Projects? Or, Ben Franklin's World Starts Crowdfunding

MonetizeHow do we fund digital history communications projects? This question has occupied my mind for quite some time.

Many historians appreciate how Ben Franklin’s World provides history lovers with access to the world of scholarly history. They see the value in generating and stimulating interest in professional historians’ work. However, few have ideas about how to fund and institutionalize projects like Ben Franklin’s World.

Digital history communication is seen as necessary, but non-traditional scholarship. Presently, there is no place for it within either academic or public history institutions.

Those of us who work in digital history communication and communications perform work that everyone wants done, but no one wants to pay for. This has to change.

Engaging the public will be what rescues history and other humanities fields from their present period of crisis.

So how do we raise funds to do our work until we have the proof institutions need to support our scholarship?

In this post, you will discover the four traditional methods for monetizing a digital communications project. I will also reveal why I have chosen to begin funding Ben Franklin’s World with crowdfunding.


4 Methods of Monetizing a Digital Media Project

There are four, proven methods for monetizing digital communications projects.

1. Pre-sell ad space: You approach potential advertisers and pre-sell ad space on your project.

This method works well if you have an established reputation for producing high-quality media.

2. Advertisements: You sell space on your program to people who want to sell something to your audience.

In general, advertisers purchase ad space on audio and video podcasts using the CPM (Cost Per Mille/Thousand) model. For every one thousand downloads or views your podcast garners an advertiser will pay you $2-$50 per thousand.

The amount an advertiser pays depends upon whether their ad will be native (read by the host) and where it will be placed. There are three options for ad placement: Pre-roll: before the main program content; Mid-roll: in the middle of the program; Post-roll: at the end of the program.

Unless you have a program that generates millions of downloads or views, you can’t make a living or support a project using this model. This is why some podcasters supplement the CPM model by including clickable advertisements on their websites. This strategy works well if you have a high-traffic website.

Other podcasters avoid the CPM model and craft their own advertisement deals. They create a media kit that lists their digital assets (podcast, social media followers, e-mail list subscribers, website traffic, poll data showing the demographics of their audience and how engaged it is) and present custom packages to potential advertisers. The presented packages have a set cost and advertisers often have several options to choose from as each package comes with different levels of ad placement, guaranteed social shares/promotion, affiliate opportunities and commissions.

3. Products and Services: Program hosts create products and services that audience members can purchase.

The most successful digital media producers offer products and services to their audience. Products and services include one-on-one or group consulting, webinars, eCourses, eBooks, private mastermind groups, affiliate products, and access to bonus or old content.

WTF host Marc Maron offers his latest 50 episodes for free and charges $3.99 per month for access to his older episodes.

4. Crowdfunding: Ask your audience for support.

Depositphotos_60823999_sYou set up a campaign and ask your audience to fund your work in exchange for continued high-quality content, swag, promises of no ads, bonus features, and access to you.

Sites like Patreon and Podbean offer content producers the infrastructure they need to ask audience members for regular, monthly contributions. Think Kickstarter but without a campaign time limit.

These sites make money by charging transaction fees and by taking a cut of what you make. For example, Patreon takes 5 percent of what you raise plus you pay another 4-6 percent in credit card transaction fees or a fee for payment transfers if a supporter opts to pay you via bank account transfer.

After considering these four options, I have decided to begin funding Ben Franklin’s World with crowdfunding.


Why Crowdfunding? Why Now?

Some people have a car payment, I have a podcast payment.

Producing and promoting a high-quality digital history communications project costs money.

When I started Ben Franklin’s World I made a promise to my partner Tim (the benefactor of my digital history projects), that if I succeeded in creating a successful platform, I would find a way to make it self-supporting.

Ben Franklin’s World has been successful and now it’s time to honor my promise.

My first option for monetizing Ben Franklin’s World has always been to ask my audience for support. They are the people who benefit most from my efforts, which means they also appreciate the value of my work.

I have launched the Ben Franklin’s World crowdfunding campaign, which I call the Ben Franklin’s World Movement. Ben Franklin’s World is part of the movement to help bring history back to the forefront of the public mind. The campaign asks my audience to participate in this movement in both financial and non-financial ways.


The How-To of the Ben Franklin’s World Movement Campaign

My campaign includes a video, non-financial support requests, and packages that ask for monthly, annual, or name-your-own financial support.

I am hosting the campaign on the Ben Franklin’s World website using a customizable LeadPages LeadPage; LeadPages is marketing software I purchased so I could offer a text-to-opt-in option for my listeners (text BFWORLD to 33444 to receive the show notes for each podcast episode in your inbox).[1]

LeadPages connects with PayPal, which will process funders' payments. I created custom PayPal buttons for each sponsorship package linked in my LeadPage. These buttons will place the correct amounts in my funders’ carts.

I am keeping track of donors by using MailChimp’s integration with PayPal. MailChimp will automatically log each new donor on a separate email list and send them a thank you note.

I chose to bypass sites like Patreon because I wanted to host the campaign on my website and I did not want to pay the 5 percent monthly and additional transaction fees.

As Patreon and like sites process payments through PayPal, my campaign strategy cuts out the middleman. Without the “middleman,” I maximize the amount I receive from my listeners’ donations. This is important to me as I have plans to expand the educational resources offered by Ben Franklin’s World and I ideas for other digital history communications projects.

Patreon Funds Counter

Circumventing sites like Patreon has two drawbacks: First, sites like Patreon make it easy to set-up a campaign.

My desire to save 5 percent per month, plus additional transaction fees, required me to invest time into thinking about how I could recreate their campaign system with services I already pay for.

Second, my bypass means my campaign lacks a few crowdfunding specific options, like a total amount raised widget.

As I want to be transparent about the monies I raise, I will start issuing monthly earnings reports in November. I will place these reports on the BFWorld website and I may also send these reports to my funders via e-mail.



Will crowdfunding fully fund my digital history project?

I don’t know. I am hopeful it will cover my production costs.

I look forward to posting more about how the campaign works as a funding model for digital history projects when I have data to report.

[1] Please note that the LeadPages link is an affiliate link. I purchased the LeadPages template I am using for my campaign. LeadPages offers many free templates. I had to purchase a template that included the video, package, and button options I wanted because I adapted the software to fit an unintended purpose.

How Do We Monetize Digital History Projects?

MonetizeHow do we monetize digital history projects? This question preoccupies my mind. I am in a position where I need to seriously consider how I can make Ben Franklin’s World both self-supporting and a job that pays me for the time I put into the show.

In this post, you will discover how Ben Franklin's World has fared six months since its launch and six ideas for how history communicators might monetize their projects to earn the financial support they need for their work.


State of Ben Franklin’s World: 6 Months Since Launch

Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History launched just over 6 months ago. To date, it has 36 episodes and has received over 185,000 downloads.

Podcast Statistics

Statistically, Ben Franklin’s World has done exceptionally well.

Podcast hosting service Libsyn released statistics for January 2015. Libsyn hosts approximately 18,000 podcasts. In January 2015, new podcast episodes averaged 195 downloads within the first month of release. On average, each podcast experienced 1,921 total downloads over their entire catalog for the month.

New episodes of Ben Franklin’s World receive around 2,000 downloads within their first week of release and the entire catalog averages over 25,000 downloads per month.

Measurable Impact

Listeners engage with me to tell me how much they enjoy the show and specific episodes. Guest historians have told me that they have seen sales spikes in books after their interview aired. Recently, Mental Floss featured Ben Franklin's World in its list of “19 History Podcasts that will Delight Your Brain."

By all measures Ben Franklin’s World is a success. The podcast is realizing the goal I set out to achieve: create wide public awareness about early American history and the work of professional historians.


Financial Realities

I love producing Ben Franklin’s World and being a part of its success, but what started as a side project and hobby has become my full-time, unpaid job. In fact, I pay the podcast to keep it going.

Each episode costs $90 to produce. This cost includes website and audio hosting services, the discounted fees of my professional audio engineer, and the fees associated with the tools I need to promote each episode and help grow the audience.

Time and Money concept image. us currency and a pocket watch portray time and money.Business concept.This fee does not include any of my start-up costs: recording equipment and software, graphic design, website theme, educational resources, and professionally produced segment bumpers (the Ben Franklin’s World intro, outro, and in-show music and voiceovers). Nor does $90 per episode include my time.

Like many digital history projects, Ben Franklin’s World has become a very expensive hobby. As an historian without institutional support, my family funds my podcast. This needs to change.

I want to keep Ben Franklin’s World going, but I need to find a way to make the show self-funding. Ideally, I would find a way to earn enough money so that Ben Franklin’s World could start paying me for my time too.

I would also love to generate enough revenue to hire people to help with the show so I can produce more episodes, shows, and historic event podcast series (i.e. 10 episodes on the American Revolution, Civil War, Native American History, etc.) and add educational resources to each episode.

This leaves me with the quandary: How do we monetize digital history projects?


Ideas for Monetizing Digital History Projects

Presently, I have six ideas for how I and others with expensive, but worthy digital history projects might earn revenue to help support our work.


1. Advertising

Website Advertising: Google Adwords offers the easiest way to place ads on your website. However, unless you have a high-traffic website, you most likely won't earn enough income from Google Adwords to cover your website hosting costs.

The most profitable way to earn money through website advertisements is to seek out partners who want to reach your specific audience.

Podcast Episode Advertising: Many podcasters offer ads in their episodes. Some have national sponsors like MailChimp, Squarespace,, and Others have more local sponsors that are unique to their audience or they advertise their own products and services.

Podcasters present sponsor ads by reading a blurb about their sponsor or by talking about their experiences with the sponsor and their product or service. These ads might be heard at the beginning, middle, or end of the show.

Podcasters need to consider sponsor advertising carefully. When podcasters read or discuss a sponsor they provide an implicit endorsement of their sponsor.


2. Consulting

People who start digital projects often attract the interest of others who would like to start a similar project. History communicators might consider charging for the times we offer more full-length advice on how someone else can do what we do.


dollar-sign3. Grants

Most digital history projects should be eligible for state, federal, and private grants.

Most often this model provides only temporary support. Many public historians refer to grants as "soft money" because they offer a pre-determined amount of support for a pre-determined period of time.

With that said, I noticed at NCPH 2015 that there are many historical consultants who make a living income by pursuing “soft money” opportunities.


4. Institutional Backing

Similar to a sponsor, historians with digital history projects could seek institutional support.

There are several history organizations as well as university initiatives that have mandates or missions to support public outreach and/or digital humanities work. There is a potential that one of these organizations might be interested in bringing in a proven digital history project to help bolster their goals.

I imagine that such a partnership would require public recognition on the digital history project, consulting work to help others in the program get their projects up and running, as well as use of the proven project to help launch new, organizational digital history or humanities projects.


5. Charge Admission

Charge visitors for use of our projects.

Historians with digital history magazines, databases, podcasts, or exhibits could follow the model established by The New York Times and other digital media outlets by offering some content for free while charging for other content.

Some podcasters provide free access to their most recent episodes and charge listeners for access to their back catalogs.

I am not a fan of this option, but it does exist.


Depositphotos_60823999_s6. Crowdfunding

Sites like Kickstarter and Patreon make it possible to fund digital history projects through crowdfunding. Patreon provides a particularly attractive model.

Patreon allows content producers (bloggers, vloggers, podcast producers, writers, etc.) to ask their friends, family, and followers to become their patrons. In exchange for a monthly donation or some other reward, support for your work comes from those who consume it.

Some content producers have created four- and five-figure monthly incomes by using the service, although most content producers earn significantly less.

(See: Loug Mongello of WDW Radio and Kinda Funny Games.)



Digital history projects offer historians an awesome opportunity to reach out to and interact with the history-loving public.

These projects have played, and will continue to play, a large role in historians’ work to bring history back to the forefront of the public mind.

Unfortunately, all of these projects come at a cost of time and money and few academic or public history institutions have the resources to support them. This means many digital history projects will continue to be bootstrapped and exist in a precarious state until we find ways to support them.

I don’t know how I will make Ben Franklin’s World self-supporting. But, I will choose a method that ensures that all of its valuable content will continue to be available free of charge to anyone who wants to access it. This is a goal that is important to me.


ThoughtfulManWhat Do You Think?

Do you have ideas about how we might fund digital history projects?

Are you or your organization interested in sponsoring or forming a partnership with Ben Franklin’s World?

Let’s keep this conversation going! Leave a comment, tweet, or send me an e-mail.