2018-08-29 / Columns

Podcasting may finally be getting its due


I’ve been making a good chunk of my income from producing podcasts for the past 13 years now, and it’s heartening to learn from Edison Research (bit.ly/EdisonPods), the market research firm that does the most detailed data analysis of the topic, that nearly two-thirds of Americans now are familiar with the term “podcast.”

For those of you who don’t really know what a podcast is, let’s just describe it as a radio show distributed over the Internet. Podcasts got their name from the first successful digital music device, the Apple iPod.

As the podcast era approaches its bar/bat mitzvah, we are finally moving from explaining what it is, to conversations about the best kinds of podcasts and how to promote them.

But I think podcasts still have a bit of an identity problem. It seems like many people think a podcast is a solo piece of audio art where someone just talks about their life into a microphone.

You see this in cartoons about podcasting, and even in the first effort at a TV show about a podcaster, “Alex, Inc.,” the one where Zach Braff quits his day job and gets a ton of investor money to start a podcasting company, and there are scenes of him talking into a recorder in bed at night while his wife is sleeping alongside him. Yes, the show was unrealistic, and it got cancelled after one season.

There are millions of podcasts. The most successful ones are being produced by mainstream media companies that have multi-million dollar studios and teams of writers, editors, and professional news anchors and comedians who can create great quality shows. The only difference between these podcasts and broadcast radio is that the shows are not distributed over broadcast radio stations.

Homegrown podcasts have a different career path, and it’s harder for them to get a share of people’s ears.

According to Edison Research, weekly podcast listening has gone from essentially zero in 2006 to about 17 percent of those surveyed saying they listened to at least one podcast a week. Tom Webster, Edison’s vice president of strategy, spoke at the Podcast Movement conference in Philadelphia in August, and raised some critical questions about how to get podcast listenership to a level of 100 million weekly listeners from the current 48 million.

Surveying people who said they don’t listen to podcasts, Edison found that more than two thirds didn’t know where to start listening to them. About 80 percent said they didn’t think they had a podcast app on their phones, but generally, both Androids and iPhones have podcast apps already installed. Another apparent barrier to getting these never-listened folks to try podcasts is the language we use about podcasting.

The industry has used the word “subscribe” to mean the act of requesting notification when a new podcast episode is available in a series that you like. People seem to think that the word “subscribe” carries a financial cost, like subscribing to cable TV or a print magazine. It doesn’t. Webster of Edison Research suggests we stop using that word and use language like: “Follow my show to receive it every week.” Audiences will understand that better, and be more receptive to signing on for the long haul, he thinks.

There are also too many places to get podcasts. There’s Soundcloud, Stitcher, Google Play, iTunes, and so on. All a podcast listener really needs to know is where you put your podcast on your website. Don’t confuse them with multiple places, Webster argues.

Webster boils it down to a very simple call-to-action: “Listen to my show at myshow.com.” The frantic effort to chase likes and follows on social media sites is never going to be as effective as giving your audience a simple message like that.


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