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Luminary podcasting app debuts, blends free and subscription services

The Shure Model 55 Unidyne Dynamic Microphone has been in continuous production, essentially unchanged, since 1939. File photo. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

To be free or not to be free — that’s the question surrounding the Luminary podcasting app, which launched Tuesday with roots in Chicago.

Luminary has operations in New York and Chicago. Its co-founder and CEO is Matt Sacks, son of Chicago investor Michael Sacks, who is an investor in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The app is free and will provide access to publicly available ad-supported podcasts. But its real reason to exist is the premium, exclusive shows it promises to those willing to subscribe for $7.99 a month, after a one-month free trial.

The service has lined up such content creators as political strategist David Axelrod and comedian Trevor Noah. Axelrod will present “The Axe Files,” his interview series that airs on CNN, while Noah’s entry is called “On Second Thought.”

They will be among the 25 premium, ad-free podcasts Luminary is rolling out this week. It ultimately plans more than 40, including shows from Conan O’Brien and Lena Dunham.

Matt Sacks lined up a reported $100 million in venture capital funding to start Luminary. He has caused a buzz in the business by combining the free and subscription models in a standalone app, and to test the appeal of celebrities.

In an interview the New York Times published in March, Sacks said he wants Luminary to be to podcasting what Netflix is to streaming.

He posted an article Tuesday on Medium to herald his approach. “To some these two models may seem at odds,” he wrote. “We don’t think they are. In fact, we believe that by living together they enable podcasting to thrive.”

Sacks added: “While podcasters are passionate and love their craft, and many work only for that love, they deserve and are entitled to fair and proper resources and compensation. A subscription model can help podcasting achieve that.”