Want to know how versatile MemberPress is? Check out a couple of its unique, fascinating, and creative clients—clients who don’t at first glance seem to fit the typical membership-site mold. Cameron Reilly, along with Ray Harris, Jr., hosts and produces the history podcast Life of Alexander the Great. And the entire project—from its origins and founders to the podcast itself—is pretty unique.
Though a pioneer in the history of podcasts, Reilly doesn’t consider himself an expert on history, but he’s a big fan and loves talking about it. And the podcasts are—well—fun, attested to by the fact that many of his listeners are people who aren’t normally interested in history shows. His podcasts are not your stereotypical long, dry history lectures. Reilly’s goal is to “make learning about history fun [and] as entertaining as possible.” Rather than being bombarded with a boring set of dates and details, with Reilly’s podcasts you get history mixed with colorful language, blue humor, and music. Definitely more entertaining than a brittle old history book (or a brittle old history professor).
Reilly began podcasting in November 2004 (which included the very first Australian podcast), and he cofounded the world’s first podcast production company, Podcast Network. He also produced the world’s first history podcast series in 2006, about Napoleon Bonaparte. The series documented Napoleon’s story over sixty hour-long episodes and was the first of its kind at the time. “People like to go on a journey,” Reilly states, regarding why he decided to produce the podcast as a series. “For over a decade I’ve been working on learning how to produce stories that can engage an audience.”
Over the course of that decade, Reilly has poured hours of his personal time into researching and producing podcasts that will draw others into his love of history. In the beginning, he ran advertisements on the shows to help offset the cost, but after the great recession and financial crisis of 2008, the advertisers disappeared and Reilly was, as he states, “left with a fairly high infrastructure cost and no revenue.” It was time to try a different approach: the subscription model.
Reilly admits that this was a “bold experiment” because podcasts were, and are, mostly free. However, he already had a following due to the podcast he was running at the time, Life of Caesar, and he hoped that some of his loyal listeners would be willing to pay for the new series, Life of Alexander the Great. He was influenced by Kevin Kelly’s (founding editor of Wired magazine) idea, “1000 True Fans,” and asked himself the following question: “Could we find 1000 fans willing to pay to listen to our show?” Not knowing whether the experiment would fail or not, he forged ahead.
Reilly partnered with Ray Harris, Jr. Both were members of a Facebook group for history podcasters and their fans. In 2013, they connected on a thread regarding what historical periods group members were most interested in producing. Reilly commented that he’d love to do one on Julius Caesar, and Harris replied that he too was interested in the topic. Harris happened to be a fan of Reilly’s Napoleon Bonaparte series and was also the producer of a successful podcast on World War II. Although they were half a world apart (Reilly in Australia and Harris in the United States), they connected on Skype and worked out the details of Caesar. They didn’t meet in person until January of 2016 at a fan convention in Las Vegas. After Caesar, they began to build the Life of Alexander podcast, a premium series consisting of an hour-long episode per week for a total of sixty weeks. It’s a lot of research and work, but Reilly loves what he does. He spends about twenty hours—on top of his day job—putting the show together. What subscribers are asked to pay for the series is a small price for that kind of work.
In building a site for subscribers, Reilly knew he needed a platform that would allow him to gate premium content. Surely someone has figured out how to do this already, Reilly thought. It should take me ten minutes to download something and configure it. It turned out that it was going to be a bit more complicated. Enter MemberPress! Actually, enter Reilly’s wife, who, upon returning to her hometown in Utah with their newborn baby to visit family, caught up with her cousin Blair Williams, creator of MemberPress. She told him about Reilly’s podcasts and his issues in setting up an effective gateway for premium content, and Williams told her MemberPress could help. It certainly did! Using MemberPress, PowerPress, and WordPress, Reilly was able put together a solid system.
Reilly says MemberPress changed his life. It helped him and Ray Harris “generate a substantial income from podcasting.” Reilly doesn’t know what they would have done without it. He especially appreciates MemberPress’s customer support, saying, it’s “fantastic, [and that] means a lot when you’re trying to run a business on a software product.” He’s loved the help documentation and how his questions are always answered in a quick and friendly way.
Reilly and Harris are excited to launch their new premium podcast series Cold War. While their podcasts are fun and entertaining, Reilly and Harris “take the history very seriously and want to do a first-class job. If people are paying for it, they deserve at least that much.” Reilly says, “I think of our subscribers like clients. They are paying me to work hard for them. Fortunately, I love my work.” And, as shown by his continued success, Reilly is good at what he does. Here’s some of his advice about selling content for all membership site owners, bloggers, and online businesses: “Start by working out what [you] are going to produce that is unique, and make people’s lives better in a way that they would miss you if you disappeared. I’m not saying our shows are the ultimate expression of that philosophy, but it’s what I strive for—to produce something wonderful.” MemberPress is lucky to be a part of that something wonderful.