Aaron Lammer doesn’t consider himself an expert in cryptocurrency, and while he does trade in some of the various digital assets that have taken the financial world by storm, he hasn’t dumped his entire life savings into Bitcoin, nor does he upload ostentatious videos of Lamborghinis he bought with the currency to YouTube.
In fact, it’s just the kind of Bitcoin Bro I describe above that Lammer is likely to make fun of on Coin Talk, the podcast he co-hosts with journalist Jay Caspian Kang. Launched earlier this year in partnership with Medium, the hour-long show covers cryptocurrency with tongue planted firmly in cheek. While the two are certainly fascinated with cryptocurrency and take it seriously, they don’t approach the topic with the kind of blind optimism that makes some within the crypto community so easy to parody. “We’re definitely not as wide eyed about certain things,” Lammer said in an interview. “We do trade. We are into it. But we’re also, I’d say, fairly cynical about it. The kind of community we’ve attracted is this weird cross section of people who are really interested in cryptocurrency yet simultaneously think it’s kind of bullshit.”
In a recent episode, for instance, the two discuss Bitcointopia, a planned community in Nevada that would be completely funded by Bitcoin. At one point, they ponder what the murder rate would be in Bitcointopia. “Well, I assume there’s going to be a lot of guns in Bitcointopia,” jokes Lammer, referencing the libertarian streak that often pervades the community. “I would expect there would be a lot of murder.”
The two met in 2013 when Lammer interviewed Kang, a magazine journalist and correspondent for Vice News Tonight, for Longform, a popular podcast Lammer co-founded several years ago. Flash forward a few years, and Lammer found himself growing increasingly obsessed with Bitcoin. With Kang sharing his obsession, the two found themselves chatting for hours about the latest developments in the crypto world. They eventually realized that these chats would make for a good podcast. “There’s a constant news cycle,” said Lammer. “There’s a lot of drama. It’s kind of funny. It’s what makes sports an ideal topic; there’s a lot of overlap between crypto and fantasy sports in the way that people approach them.”
The two started by taping several demo episodes. “We probably worked two or three months taping every week,” said Lammer. “Not airing them, just trying to get a good format and good feel for what’s entertaining and what wasn’t.” He knew some of the folks at Medium and that the blogging platform has a fairly prolific crypto community that posts dozens of articles on the topic every day, so he struck up discussions about a potential partnership.
Medium launched a paid membership model last year, and in addition to getting access to premium content, members also can listen to audio versions of many paywalled stories. When Lammer and Kang discussed partnering with Medium on Coin Talk, there was talk of locking the audio behind the member paywall, but Lammer insisted that it be free. “That was important to me,” he said. “It’s a podcast and people need to be able to listen to it on podcast apps.” Both parties settled on producing a transcript for each episode that exists behind the member paywall.
Coin Talk launched in January, and it was swiftly embraced by the crypto community. Lammer couldn’t give specific audience numbers, but he said it debuted within the top 10 on the iTunes rankings for tech podcasts, and it’s remained in the top 100 ever since. “It’s growing faster than any other podcast I’ve done,” he said.
But what’s perhaps more interesting than the audience growth is how engaged that audience is. “We have a crazy amount of user mail,” said Lammer. “The Longform podcast has a much bigger audience than Coin Talk and has been running for six full years. And I usually get two or three pieces of mail per week for the Longform podcast. I’ll sometimes get a dozen for Coin Talk.”
And that’s just the people who take the time to email. The cryptocurrency community is incredibly active across YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter, with some of the most influential pundits boasting hundreds of thousands of followers. One could say that an entire media ecosystem has sprouted up around the community, with millions of enthusiasts worldwide who are eager to both consume and debate coverage of Bitcoin and other currencies. “I think Twitter is probably the most concentrated,” said Lammer. “Even the Reddit stuff is often just people posting tweets. To me, Twitter feels like the epicenter.”
With so much heated passion flying back and forth over developments in the crypto space, Lammer and Kay stand out for their aloofness, their ability to not take the subject — or themselves — too seriously. Because of this, they can make fun of certain factions of the community without completely alienating it.
Recently, they ran a segment in which they poked fun at fans of Ripple, one of the largest Bitcoin rivals. “[Ripple fans] were kind of complaining about it on Twitter,” recalled Lammer. “And I was like oh, you’re right, I’m sure there are reasonable people in the community. One of you should come on and represent the Ripple community.” In a recent episode, they interviewed one of the people who tweeted at them, a Ripple investor named Kieran Kelly.
Lammer compared the cryptocurrency beat to sports talk radio; both are obsessed over because people are putting real money on the line. In the case of the latter, it’s through sports gambling, and with the former it’s investments in various currencies and/or blockchain-based products. And with so much money on the line, the cryptocurrency beat has attracted plenty of snake oil salesmen who are eager to create a mad rush for a particular currency, triggering a price spike that would allow them to quickly cash out.
The situation has gotten so bad that several major platforms, including Facebook and Google, have banned all crypto-related advertisements. This has created a potential business opportunity for media properties like Coin Talk, what with hundreds of crypto-based companies needing to market themselves in a platform environment that’s hostile to their ability to do so.
Lammer told me that Coin Talk hasn’t yet carried ads for any companies other than Medium, but he’s been in talks with potential sponsors. I asked him what a hypothetical sponsor would look like. “Probably the most obvious one would be initial coin offerings,” he said, referring to a type of crowdfunding that involves the creation of new cryptocurrencies, “new tokens that are having a sale and need to get the word out about it. That’s a fraught world because it has certain scammier elements … so we’d look at that on a case by case basis.”
There are also hundreds of companies that service various components of the cryptocurrency world, companies like Coinbase, a digital currency exchange, and Ledger, a hardware wallet. “There are a lot of companies that are making money somewhere in this ecosystem,” said Lammer. “… The biggest limitation has been my time going out and selling them.”
Lammer didn’t seem like he was in a hurry, however, to maximize revenue. Right now, he’s content with the Medium partnership (he and Kang retain full rights to the podcast and can walk away with it at any point) and focused on growing the audience. “The nice thing about a podcast is you can get it off the ground without a huge production budget.” he said. “I already have all the equipment, I have the studio.”
Sure, he hasn’t made enough money from the podcast to buy his first Lamborghini yet, but if there’s one skill that every crypto pundit tries to drive home to their audience, it’s patience.