What is the state of podcasting? That is a very large question and one that is constantly discussed all over the internet. There are many considerations that go into a true picture of what is to come. Areas like location, genre, levels of production, and what listeners want to hear can be so sensitive to change. My goal is to try to discuss this in several parts and covering where it has been and where we are headed. Of course, this is an opinion piece and one that I am actually excited to write about.
Podcasting has been around for decades, however, the internet version took off in the early 2000’s but is not a unique medium. I can remember as a teenager that my mom would play Zig Ziglar tapes in the van as we took long trips around New England. He is an inspirational speaker that sold tapes of himself talking about all areas of selling and building confidence.
That certainly is the analog version of podcasting using cassette tapes. This medium has not just begun, but rather took on a digital format that allows us to listen to the audio playing in seconds on mobile or on a desktop instead of going to the mall to the music store.
I always try to take a long-view approach on things and see where history took us previously and where we are headed. With that in mind let’s talk about the future, and specifically 2017!
The Overall State
Podcasting is beyond popular and worldwide! No new surprises there since you can find countless articles on it and new episodes published daily. An overarching issue is that most content creators still don’t really know what to do with it. Most folks record, edit, and publish somewhere out there for people to listen. The majority have no website, social media presence, or an end goal for their show. End goals could be to create an action like visiting a place, following someone, or buying merchandise for their show. There is a lot to digest in all aspects of podcasting, but creators getting a proper start is one of the most important things out there.
Our audio world is fractured at so many levels between mobile, directories, services, countries, and many other unique facets. We all had iTunes to find new shows and then in a flash from 2012-2016 we saw Spreaker, Stitcher, Podbean, Google Play and a ton of others dive in and create a spot to find shows and help people listen to them. This royally sucks because not only do listeners have to find a show they love on a certain platform, but the creators now has to upload their show everywhere to make sure they are heard. This also means they have to engage on all of the platforms as well. I feel you if you just said yup and shook your head. To many places and not enough time.
While fractured, it’s still an important medium that continues to greet new creators and listeners. There are many platforms vying to be #1 for all things podcasting. Everyone knows iTunes but many are very familiar with other platforms like Spreaker that are competing for ears. Then you also have podcast networks competing for listeners too. There are going to be real struggles this year for many to keep pushing through in finding more listeners. There will be lots of new voices that will enjoy some success as other ones turn off the microphone and close the door behind them.
My goal is to try to give my thoughts on the coming year in the podcast world and how I think it will play out. I could be 100% wrong on all points, but I try to do my homework so my thoughts are well established. Even as I write this, I think about Medium.com letting go of about 50 people from their staff which is a third of their employees. Content creation is not always a lucrative venture. People expect everything to be free on the internet and for a while it was free. As much as I wish Medium the very best, I also wish the very best to many shows this year. Let’s move on to breaking down the “why’s” and the “what’s” that I have bouncing around inside my head.
Celebrities Are Building the Mote
Above any other area I discuss in this piece, this will be the most important to take note of. In the past few years this was a minor issue, but in 2017 it is looking grim for all of us non-celebrities to compete. There are waves of actors, actresses, comedians, fitness gurus, motivators and more that have turned to podcasting as a self marketing force. The internet broke down walls like we have never seen before in 2016 and I absolutely believe this is the year that is going to be a punch to the face for many newcomers starting their own show.
For example, why would I listen to episode 9 of a few friends in the garage telling jokes when I could be listening to Your Mom’s House with Christina Pazsitzky and Tom Segura? The answer is that I am not going to listen to you. If you want a quick lesson on getting popular and exploiting it correctly, then Google their show and notice what comes up. These mega comedians are everywhere now. In the past they just did a club circuit, recorded a special for Comedy Central, or released a CD. Now they are on Soundcloud, Libsyn, YouTube, their own website hosted on Squarespace and taking every inch they can get.
Wow! …so much to unpack in this post. I don’t even know where to begin commenting.
First, I concur with the majority of your observations and predictions. On one point specifically, it is refreshing to hear/read an opinion about podcasting conferences that mirrors my own. There is an incessant drumbeat in the podcasting space surrounding the mantra “you MUST attend” this conference or that….and that advice is rarely true.
Granted, there are podcasters (or service providers especially) that CAN benefit from attending. However, the average podcaster with limited funds can achieve a LOT more with that money by spending it elsewhere, as you point out.
As for your ‘mountain’ infographic, how did you change this from your prior version?
Do you see the point that I’m trying to make? If not, then I am trying to say that your podcast in the comedy section of iTunes can’t hang with these true comedians. I used comedy as an example as most new podcasters label their show as comedy, but they have fierce competition like all the other genres.
In what feels like a split second in time, all of the main players with massive name brand, in every niche said, “Fuck it, I am going to podcast too”. That just changed my infographic I did in 2012 by a lot! (The mountain image to your left)
Each day or episode, if you would prefer, the mote and the castle walls become bigger as many more of the well-leveraged celebrities go into the recording booth. A quick three hours of a Joe Rogan’s podcast quickly removes 3-6 other shows that I could have listened to instead. Have you experienced this yet?
The best advice I could give someone that is trying to get as close to the summit as possible, is to just look at what the celebrities are doing. They have their entire game plan in the open if you review the sites they are on, what is attracting ears, and how they package their show for mass appeal. This is really the easiest and fastest way to “up your game” or at least study what is working for them right now. Sure, you might not be able to do what they are doing because of limited resource or knowledge, but you might be able to do more than you think. This is partly why I think that 2017 will be a year that more shows than ever before fade away. Patience is not a trait many people have.
The silver lining here is that the strategies that others are employing is in plain site. Take a moment and find your niche leaders and detail what they are doing so you can add it into your own playbook. There was a small mote and some short walls that 2016 introduced to us, but you can still get in if you try hard enough. This is a year of gritting through the automatic fame that your competition enjoys and convincing their listeners to become one of yours will be a steep trek ahead.
Money, Advertising & Funding
The podcasting medium does have advertiser money available, but only for the top .01%. Not many make a living solely off of podcasting, if any at all. Money comes from additional revenue streams like selling merchandise or ads on the show’s website. The problem here is that advertisers don’t know how to get the right shows sponsored because a central hub of shows to choose from simply doesn’t exist.
You can’t just index audio like you can text. You can’t just go to Google Adwords and buy a spot on a podcast either. Advertisers need to know about the podcast and it’s audience in order to make some deals happen. This can be challenging and why the question about finding advertisers for someone’s podcast is a normal one asked all the time in communities. Mostly, shows have to reach out to potential sponsors instead of them finding the show. We see people flocking to sites like Squarespace and Patreon to beg for money in exchange for a free promo in hopes to nab a couple dollars or donations.
The state of podcasting in terms of advertiser money is dismal for most content creators. Shows that have less than 50,000 downloads per episode struggle to find interests in sponsorship. Instead, they lean on affiliate ads and it’s why you can’t stop hearing about saving 10% on your first month with Squarespace or enter another company’s name. In 2017, we will see more affiliate promos and the past direct sponsorship will decline. Businesses want results and only to pay for when that result happens.
Just for the record, Squarespace sucks, and don’t build your house on someone else’s land.
Proper Studio Funding
The low “cost-to-entry” means that so many new shows will continue to flood the niche and will cause the rising numbers of failures to swoll. Most creators hope to work from home with a microphone and after a while of small download numbers the sad reality creeps in. The expectations of a fast growth begins the dismal outlook within months of publishing the first episode. Even after buying that useless course on “How to Podcast” for $500, most couldn’t gain more than a couple thousand downloads and eventually fade away to go do something else in life.
Note: If you are releasing episodes 1x/month or longer then you probably will never make it. People want to hear a show daily or at least weekly.
Throw the courses, master mind groups, books, and what not away for a moment. Funding a proper studio matters today and certainly going forward. People buying $10 microphones from Wal-Mart and gaining a huge audience fast is near impossible. You must invest into your show before it begins. You have to show up on day 1 with a reasonably good microphone, a mixer (if needed), high-quality editing, music or an intro if desired.
Beyond the equipment is investing in your brand. Do you have a website? Logo? Branding on social media? Most shows don’t and they think of it when it is too late to matter anyways. You have to put in a lot of overtime in the marketing area and the equipment area. For myself, it means having audio editing outsourced and having a graphic designer to pitch in. Outsourcing certainly helps but it costs money too. This entire medium costs money and it’s only going to get harder in 2017 for shoestring startups.
Sure, you can skate by a little but not much if you plan on attracting a reasonably sized audience. You need money to podcast.
If 2016 was an insight into what is to come, then a lot of newcomers probably aren’t going to enjoy 2017. Sure, most people can do it and it’s a “low bar to entry” for anyone with something to record their voice and share it with listeners. This will always be the case and new shows aren’t simply going to stop because of the quality situation.We will hear all types of quality, but the terrible quality will be drowned out quicker this year.
The quality of production, sharing, and branding in 2016 was incredible for many. Everyone was taking their vocal cords to YouTube, Soundcloud, Blab (R.I.P. for now sweet prince), and many other outlets. These shows leveraged Patreon and direct fundraising too. There is a new wave that really washed over so many ears and filled their listener’s brains with information, unique stories, or top-notch humor. I truly think 2016 was the biggest year for podcasting by a lot of measures. I can’t point to one specific event that created this riff, but it was obvious.
Looking ahead with only the first week or so into 2017, I think we are going to continue this separation between “meh” and “I need more episodes!” from listeners. I firmly believe that in order to make it you will have to be skillful in editing, scripting, and everything that involves creation to propagation. If you are new to podcasting then you will need to come out with amazing stuff to compete. We now have a significant amount of professionals with the resources that are consuming the subscriptions, follows, and likes.
I know much of this can be said each year, but I truly think that a new podcast show that enters the market right now will have to have solid content that is at the top of it’s game. Also a solid branding effort and social presence is critical. A year ago I didn’t really think that this was a must have. Every comedian has a podcast so there isn’t going to be a whole lot of room for someone unknown to enter that space. If you are in the comedy category and haven’t seen growth after 10-20 episodes it’s because of this. People will listen to Bill Burr, Louis C.K. and all the popular ones before giving a new show a shot.
You will have to meet these minimum requirements to be noticed:
- A clean sounding microphone and setup.
- If you are solo then go USB and skip the mixer.
- If it’s a co-hosted show then you need nice microphones and a mixer.
- A logo, social media branding, and a fresh look that stands out.
- Good scripting with edits, plus the copy to market the episode and show with.
- A website to get seen. Solely being on Libsyn or Soundcloud isn’t enough.
- Building an email list may be the lynch pin in your reach.
- Pushing out mp3’s that are 128-bit or better with a scrubbed edit.
- A niche that isn’t already over saturated.
The point is that if you can’t invest upfront in your show then I am a firm believer that you are wasting your time. I have heard awful shows and they tend to die in 6-12 months because they just didn’t understand the resources needed. Budget for quality if you want a spot at the 2017 table. I know that this is a very negative outlook, but I base it off of what I have seen and looking back at the birth of the internet. A handful of companies adjusted to the market such as eBay, Reddit, Facebook and so on and are still around. Podcasting is comparable to those big name websites. First to market always has a huge benefit.
Knowing what you are up against is the first order of business. You should be tracking your demographic and putting a plan together anyways. Quality is truly a steep hill in 2017 and beyond.
Community & Networks
There are many podcasting communities. From podcast forums to social media communities like Google Plus, Facebook, and even subreddits. They weren’t busy in years past so much, but I can tell you that they are now. The problem is that most of the people that are in the communities are usually in all of them. So you get most of the same conversations, especially from the salesmen that feed off of would-be-podcast successes. These communities become havens of “podcast coaches” and useless banter.
Networks aren’t taking off and I don’t see that trend changing much due to the lack of advertising money and experience. Networks are difficult to manage and become something huge like Podcast One. I tried for a while to build my network and I already see it as dead in it’s current form coming into 2017. My best intuition is that networks are dead this year and beyond unless someone can truly create something amazing.
One area that I think really hurt communities and still continue to plague them are the introductions and self-promotion threads. Podcasters have always seemed to think that other podcasters are also in their demographics. This caused rapid spamming and nonsense being posted continuously. This was a big reason why I left all of the podcasting communities in 2016 because it was a huge distraction and time that I could have used building my small empire. My advice is to skip them unless they have something you really, really need.
Podcast Movement and Meetups
We had the creation of the Podcast Movement a few years ago and plenty of other meetups, but not nearly on the same level. I have not gone to any of them due to location and time, but I interview people after they come back. In 2017, we will see another event and it will be bigger because a lot of new podcasters will assume this is a necessity to break through the niche’s ceiling. In fact, it’s just a money grab for some and those that have self-anointed themselves as a podcast guru can sell their courses. My advice is always to save your money, buy better equipment, and enjoy all of the online communities.
I realize that it sounds like I have an axe to grind and to a degree I do. I have zero issues against the people who put this together or those who attend. After the annual show ends I am usually told by several attendees that it was too expensive and felt like an expo of people selling anything they can. Stay home, and start a local meetup instead of the giant trip to the Podcast Movement. If you go this year and have feedback to counter what I have been told please post it in the comments.
I realize that much of this is to meet and network with others, but I can’t really see so much value placed on that when the same folks are hosting Google Hangouts, Blab, and their own material published show after show. There is nothing new to learn that you can’t find on the internet already. Please tell me that I am wrong and Podcast Movement has value. I feel bad for those who shell out a lot of money and feel like they didn’t get their money’s worth.
There are so many parts to podcasting. I tried to briefly cover some without this turning into a book, but it’s a difficult challenge. I could talk about this for hours on a podcast, but really, we just need to be recording and pushing high-quality content that people want to listen to and share with others. The state of podcasting is really relative to one’s own scope. My subjective opinion will be completely different from another’s.
Podcasting is stronger, bolder, and becoming a normal thing to so many people. 2017 will be another year of improvements and refinement. Learn, record and release!