Podcasts are on the wrong platform. iTunes, the dominant provider of podcasts to listeners, does very little for the creators that provide it with content. I constantly wonder why podcast creators continue to be beholden to a platform that is basically a black box. There’s so much discussion about how to make audio go viral, how to make money with podcasts, how to measure audiences, and so on. But the creative solutions we have now are stopgaps on the way to the real solution: A large podcast platform that is equipped to address all of those issues.
A few months ago, Emily White wrote an article that gave voice to the technological frustrations of listeners, “Where is the Instagram for Audio?” From the creator’s perspective, I ask, “Where is the YouTube for Podcasts?”
I’m not about to argue that a direct translation of YouTube is the solution to the podcast platform problem. There are a lot of problems with YouTube’s model. But a comparison between audio and video platforms is useful in highlighting how far podcast platforms are behind other digital mediums.
1. Simple Monetization
- Podcasters have to decide on a business model, and put significant effort into managing it. Sponsorships, donations, live events, premium content, Kickstarting, merchandising. If you want advertisers, the “industry standard” is 20k downloads per episode. That’s a high bar.
- Youtubers — regardless of audience size — click a link if they want YouTube to put ads on their videos. Voila, a revenue stream has been opened. Also, it is free to post a video on YouTube. Podcasters pay for their hosting, and it’s harder to create revenue. Seems a little unfair.
- There’s a healthy debate about the ethics of sponsorships, which comes from public radio. I believe there is a strong argument to be made for the advantage of podcasters maintaining control of a relationship with sponsors. But surely there is a middle-of-the-road solution — podcasters having the option to reject potential sponsors. It’s also worth noting that a significant portion of podcast creators do not come from public radio, and do not have the same editorial concerns that public radio producers do.
2. Actionable Data
- Data about podcast listenership is locked up in whatever platform the listener chooses, and data availability varies depending on the server that hosts the podcast. There’s no standard for measuring audience size (listeners? downloads? listens?). iTunes does not provide any solid data about subscribers. Podcasters are left to guess at this number.
- YouTube offers a portal to detailed and actionable data on audience demographics, traffic sources, minutes watched, overall performance, and more.
- Across all mediums, data analytics are a huge advantage in building audiences and increasing engagement. But podcasters don’t have easy access to it. This is truly unacceptable.
3. Content Discovery
a. Easy Sharing
- Soundcloud is regarded as the best option for sharing. But many podcasts are not on Soundcloud, and they remain hard to share. Not having a single platform puts audio at a disadvantage.
- All YouTube videos are easily embedded, and the interface is intuitive to users at this point.
b. Reliable Search
- Search on iTunes is not good. (Audiosear.ch is working on a solution.)
- When you search YouTube or Google for specific content (say you’re a science teacher looking for multimedia for a class), you can be relatively confident that the results are showing you what’s out there.
c. Related Content
- Podcast discovery is difficult. It’s why people are so eager to get podcast recommendations from friends, listicles, and newsletters. While iTunes shows related content, there is no indicator of the quality.
- On YouTube, you are automatically shown related content — more of what you’ve been watching and other channels that might interest you. You can get some idea of the quality from the view count. (Obviously this is not a perfect system.)
4. Direct Engagement with Audience
- Successful YouTubers know that a responsive relationship with their audience is key. They ask for direct feedback, and viewers can easily respond and interact with each other in the comments below the video. (Again, not saying that YouTube comments are all good comments. But they do allow for feedback.)
- Podcast comments are not a thing. Unless the podcaster connects with their audience on another platform or begs hard enough for reviews, they rarely get direct feedback. And unless the podcaster provides another platform for community, their audience does not have the opportunity to connect with each other. Each listener has an isolated experience, in a world that increasingly values shared experiences.
Podcasting is a place of constant innovation. Every other week it seems there’s a new podcast newsletter, a new podcast network, a new forum to connect podcasters to fans, a new app. But what we are creating is like an patchwork quilt with patches missing in the middle. We keep stitching on to the quilt, but the holes are still there, and getting bigger. This is what a comprehensive podcast platform should be doing:
- Helping creators make money.
- Providing actionable data.
- Helping users discover new content.
- Allowing creators and audiences to connect to each other.
Note: I know SoundCloud claimed the moniker “YouTube for audio,” but they’re still a long way from being the comprehensive provider that YouTube is for video.
I’m not an expert on the podcasting business, but I am a producer and recently launched the Tumble Podcast, a science podcast for kids. I’m also hungry for any and all articles, opinion, and discussion on the future of podcasting. I’m on Twitter at @_lindsayp — I would love to hear thoughts on this topic.