The Read’s Crissle West on Making a Living with Podcasting

Co-hosting the enormously popular podcast The Read is making Crissle West a go-to authority on the topics of race, gender, celebrity, and podcasting. Since starting the show she has been on panels at the American Studies Association conference, the Next New York Conversation, and WNYC’s Werk It women’s podcasting festival, and has appeared on Bravo TV’s Watch What Happens Live and MTV’s Decoded.

The show is also making her a living.

Crissle is the guest on episode 83 of The Wolf Den, hosted by Midroll CEO Adam Sachs.

She explains to Adam that hosting The Read, “definitely has changed the way I am able to live. It’s a combination of doing the ads, and also touring and doing the live shows (that) is the one-two financial punch.” She continues, “It’s the kind of field where you can make money and do well.”

A common refrain heard from critics of podcasting is that there isn’t much money in it, and that the hosts who do well come to the medium already with an audience or some degree of fame. The examples of Crissle and her co-host Kid Fury punch holes in that critique.

The two first met on Twitter at the end of 2012, and then each moved to New York City shortly thereafter. Neither had large social media followings at the time nor any significant mainstream media exposure. Not long later after arriving in the city, Loud Speakers Network head Chris Morrow approached Fury about doing a show, and he agreed, provided he could do it with his friend Crissle. The show took off, quickly attracting a feverishly loyal and engaged audience.

Crissle observes that their success comes from the fact that, “for our audience, it’s the first time they’ve heard people with a media platform saying the things we say. We’re two youngish gay black people who have strong opinions on the social justice issues that affect this country–racism and police brutality, particularly–and we don’t shy away from those topics.”

Listeners also weren’t used to hearing in mass media their take on popular culture, including icons like Mariah Carey and Beyoncé, even though these are the kinds of conversations that the audience might have at home with friends and family. All together, Crissle says their approach to the podcast makes listeners think, “Oh, these guys are out here putting out a show I can actually relate to. This sounds like my life and sounds like my experiences.”

Bringing fresh perspectives to podcasting, combined with Crissle and Kid Fury’s obvious passion and frank honesty, has resulted in both a growing audience and accolades. The Read was featured on iTunes’ Best of 2013 and was selected as an iTunes editors’ choice in 2014. Slate highlighted an episode of the show as one of the “Best 25 podcast episodes of all time,” and it was named best podcast at the 2014 Black Weblog Awards.

According to Adam, The Read is a hit with advertisers, too. (He should know, Midroll sells ads for the show.) He says that’s because Crissle and Kid Fury, “do great ad reads,” and, crucially, because their audience trusts them.

That bond and trust is evident in how, as Crissle recalls, “when we first started doing the ads they (listeners) were so excited for us… People are very engaged with us. When they buy something from (advertiser) Nature Box they’ll take pictures of what they receive. They like to share what they got from the ads. It’s all part of the experience.”

Listen to the whole episode to hear Crissle’s take on what it’s like to go from “being a regular person to having thousands of persons tell you how much they love you.” She also shares her advice for new podcasters getting started in the medium.

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