“Serial,” a podcast from the producers of the public radio show “This American Life,” is a runaway hit. That’s awesome. What’s not awesome is the leap of logic people are taking that this means it’s a boom for all kinds of podcasting. It’s not. And here is why I feel that way.
A DVR for Radio: The Hit is Coming From Mainstream Media
Some marketers love to hook on to the value of podcasting, and hope for the listenership. The truth is, podcast popularity is probably higher than critics would like to think, as suggested by this data from Edison Research (the lead: 2% of all audio listening is to podcasting. That is small but yet significant). Why do we need a podcast from the producers of an established public radio entity (“This American Life”) to suddenly declare that podcasting is here? We don’t. The publicity is nice, but it doesn’t have much to do with podcasts for marketing. It has to do with time-shifting commercial (ok, non-commercial, but mainstream in this case) programs, much as we use DVRs for television programs. While Serial is a “podcast-only” program, my focus group of one (me) frequently prefers to listen to several public radio shows available on-air as podcasts/radio DVR rather than being a slave to air times.
Do People Differentiate Podcasts From Other Programs?
Do people really think of listening to podcasts as a separate activity? Separating this from the mainstream media podcasts, it means more, perhaps, when thinking about listening to an industry or corporate podcast. It’s a good question that, as I tackled this post, I’m not sure I have the answer to. When podcasting was introduced, people didn’t necessarily know what that meant. Nor did they necessarily associate “pod”casts with the i”Pod” especially as Apple tended to treat podcasts as a second-class (e.g non-revenue stream) citizen, at least early on. In the end, podcasts are audio. In my earbuds, they compete with music for my aural attention (and some of you listen to audio books; how different are they from podcasts?), and to me it’s that simple.
ETA: Barbara Kolbe Baker, on Facebook, articulated a point I failed to make in the original draft of this post: It’s “about the content, not delivery method.”
Podcasting is Hard (Kind of)
It’s easier to write than it is to produce a listenable 20 to 30-minute podcast. It’s not really that hard to record, edit and publish, but there is at least a small amount of know-how involved in making a listenable podcast (form both content and technical points of view) over simply doing written material.
The same could be said for video, but the allure of the moving image helps people get over that barrier (or sloppily crash through it, webcam in hand) more readily. Will podcasting as a business tool really take off as a primary medium? Only if people are willing to do the work; those who are will lead that category, whatever size it becomes.
Business Podcasting Never Lost Effectiveness
People just got lazy. Business podcasts are great, and there are no shortage of pretty good marketing and technology podcasts out there that I enjoy listening to weekly. These include the For Immediate Release family of podcasts, the TWiT family of shows and, in an example of one podcast-only show that truly is successful on a few levels, Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.
As an early podcaster, I get the temptation to cheerlead for the medium at every potential positive sign. But rather than build theme parks around hallucinations, it’s better to just go to work and build something you believe in, that serves your audience well; that’s what will ultimately be successful.
Final Word (and Pictures)
Variety has its own take on why “Serial” isn’t really as big a deal as some people are making it out to be. It’s a good read.
And for business podcasting nerds like me, here’s some cheerleading from Jay Baer that’s more grounded in fact, and the reasons why podcasting does work and why it is successful. Note that he doesn’t mention “Serial” anywhere in this lengthy assault of images (I really do have a problem saying unvarnished nice things about infographics, don’t I? Deal with it).