I make podcasts. I do it for living and I do it for a hobby. I behave like an addict, unable to stop myself from from taking on new podcasts, some of which serve to held me pay my bills, some of which serve that undefinable, flighty master, happiness.
I have been pumping podcasts into the ecosystem for years now, many of which have served their purpose, lived their lives and now exist only as static artefacts in the dead seas of the internet. Others are still swimming along, being updated on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis. They are all part of the nearly 1 million podcasts that exist, and have provided our ears with over 30 million episodes, enough content for a hundred, for a thousand lifetimes.
Stop making podcasts.
Almost every problem that continues to beset the podcast industry could be addressed (if not solved) if we just stopped making podcasts. The question of discoverability would be profoundly assisted if the marketplace were to desist in its exponential growth. The question of audience sizes would be aided by the lessening of the ever increasing plurality on offer. The question of monetisation would be better answered if advertisers and sponsors didn’t always have dozens of podcasters offering their souls for a crisp dollar bill. In short, we would all be better served if the podcast market stopped growing or, better still, started to shrink.
I am, of course, being facetious. I write mainly for people who make podcasts — not to mention all those podcasts that I myself make — so it would be rather counterproductive for me to genuinely argue in favour of downing tools. Instead, I will offer these suggestions:
– Stop Making Podcasts (Brands): I am sick and tired of corporate podcasts. They have great budgets and keep many independent podcasters in clover, but they are i) bad, ii) forcing podcasters into a parasitic relationship that is highly dependent on a) podcasts being trendy, and b) there not being a recession, iii) not ruled by normal market competition, i.e. audience figures, iv) taking up the increasingly valuable real estate in podcast discoverability mechanisms. I make branded/corporate content, and I do my best to make it feel editorially independent and engaging, but the importance of this work to the industry is not a sign of boom but of bust. It simply means that people cannot find capital to make content in the way that TV, film, radio, print/digital media to do.
– Start Marketing Partnerships: Working under the assumption that with more than 750,000 podcasts out there in the world already, we probably have enough podcasts (in sheer volume,) there are so many great ways to use your marketing spend. Instead of the How To Spend Your Money podcast by Insert Trendy FinTech Company, partner with Already Successful Money podcast and help create a product people actually want. The evidence for how to use podcast advertising isn’t there — we don’t know what works and what doesn’t, beyond anecdotal data — but equally it doesn’t inherently suffer from the pitfalls of print/digital media. What I can tell you is that most (not all) corporate podcasts are not a good use of marketing spend — and I fear what will happen to the industry as more and more places clock that.
– Dead Fish Need Graves: Apologies for the elliptical title. Podcasts that are off-air need to cease to be as easy to find as they currently are. This requires more curation all-round, not to mention possible deletion. A service offering ‘completed’ box-sets of podcasts in an area discrete from extant feeds would be hugely useful. Podcasts that have released fewer than 10 episodes and no new releases for over a year should, I think, be deleted from Apple and Spotify. This sounds brutal, but we need to keep some order to the ecosystem, especially whilst discoverability remains such a bastard of an issue.
– The Feed Marketplace: The reality is that podcasts have a life cycle. For whatever reason (be they editorial, financial or just forgetfulness) most podcasts come to an end. At the moment, your podcast ends and it just sits there, a dormant testament, like Mount Rushmore. I have said it before but will do so again: podcast feeds are important intellectual property, but we do not yet know, as an industry, how to profit from them. If there were a mechanism for selling the rights to a podcast to new management, to build and develop, then it would be a means of monetisation for production companies, an expeditious way for ambitious producers to grow an audience, and a way of streamlining the marketplace. Some people don’t like this idea because of data issues (though podcasts benefit from the subscription being controlled at the user end) but I maintain that it is essential to the continued professionalisation of the industry.
– Curated Walling: In the few years that I’ve been podcasting professionally, I’ve seen several companies announce themselves as ‘the Netflix of podcasting’. I’m yet to be convinced of any of these, not least because it’s very hard to make people en masse start paying for a medium that they have always got for free, but I do think there can be more curated walling. Previously, Spotify was quite selective about the podcasts that it published and that was, in some ways, to its benefit. As podcasting has become more central to its business model, it’s changed that, and it’s now quicker to get approval on Spotify than Apple Podcasts I’ve found. But both of the main pod providers are a free-for-all, offering no endorsement of quality, nor quotas for genre, geography or demographics. All of those things could be achieved by a free-access curated wall, something that artificially slims the podcast world for listeners but without forcing them to pay a subscription or insisting upon a menu of expensive originals. Interesting companies in this space like Overcast, Stitcher and Himalaya are the people I would look to for this service.
So, in short, don’t stop making podcasts if you’re an indie producer. Don’t go cold turkey if, like me, you find yourself basically unable to resist creating new podcasts. But do stop making podcasts if you’re someone who works in the marketing department of a bank, who wants to make a podcast only because “everyone has a podcast now”. If that’s you, stop and think. There are better, more exciting and interesting ways to spend your money. If you want to make a podcast that people will actually listen to — and therefore be able to engage with your brand — open up your podcast app and have a look around.
Your sponsored content already exists.
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