Case study by Tim Dawson
The Outdoors Station, whose podcasts have been downloaded more than 2 million times, was born out of Bob Cartwright’s frustration with shop assistants. Searching for specialist equipment for backpacking, he found that retail staff rarely knew the products they were selling and could offer little by way of specialist advice.
“I had become interested in special, ultra-light weight equipment that was available in the USA and Japan, but not over here”, he explains. “I decided to start importing equipment and quickly realised that to sell the stuff it would be necessary to provide a lot more information for consumers”.
With a background in broadcast media production, the answer seemed obvious. So, in October 2005 he started producing podcasts and videos reviewing and explaining products at the level of detail in which he himself was interested. Initially these were posted on his etailing site backpackinglight.co.uk.
“Quite quickly we found that there was an appetite for reviews of lines beyond those that we stocked ourselves, so I set up a parallel operation theoutdoorsation.co.uk on which we posted a more general backpacking and outdoors podcast”. As well as equipment reviews, the podcast includes interviews and more general pieces – although many of these also include consideration of equipment used in the field.
“It is absolutely critical for us to maintain high professional and journalistic standards. Lots of equipment manufactures now send out products to bloggers for review – but it quickly backfires on them because most bloggers have little or no credibility. What distinguishes us is the quality of our output – listeners are always telling us how much they appreciate it”, says Cartwright. He and his wife do most of the work, with a handful of friends also contributing to the site, unpaid.
With 85,000 downloads of the podcasts a month, he clearly reaches a large audience. How effectively that turns into income, however, is harder to say, however. The general podcast site clearly builds audience and credibility for the sales site. The business, which supports Cartwright, and his wife sells around 1,000 items a month and sales of any given line generally jump by around 20% when the are mentioned on the general podcast.
“My priority has to be making an income and sometimes that has meant concentrating on the etail site before the broadcasting, but the ideal is that they can cross-promote one another. With every sale, we give away a CD of past episodes, and we know that lots of customers come and listen to the podcasts and then decide to buy”.
Other initiatives have included a tie up with a publishing house to profile some of their authors and an imminent review of book and walking trail on Gurnsey.
For the future, Cartwright is optimistic. “I am convinced that we can grow the business to at least four times the size in terms of sales. There are also enormous opportunities for good journalism. The days of commissioning people to write things, per se, may be over, but there are opportunities when a package of sponsorship and tie ins can be created.”
A substantial redesign of the Ourdoors Station site is underway, as are plans to take feeds from elsewhere and hopefully to make the site a hub for all who are interested in self-powered transport in general.