What do we talk about when we talk about podcasting?
December 18, 2014 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Nick Quah of Hot Pod briefly interviews Jesse Thorn about how the rest of the media world reports on podcasting. "The recent boom in podcast coverage that we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks, while wonderful, has also tended to gravitate around a few shows: Serial, Radiolab, Marc Maron, Comedy Bang Bang, etc. That coverage has also exhibited a tendency to frame podcasting as experiencing something of a renaissance, or revival. [But] this isn’t the case. Podcasts have been steadily and quietly growing for the past decade [...] So why has the revival narrative stuck?"
posted by ocherdraco (68 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Don't call it a comeback, cuz I've been here for years. Momma said pod you out."
posted by ian1977 at 1:39 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Spoiler alert: Journalism is a big silly
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:40 PM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


That links to this longer essay (from a tech podcast perspective) about why podcasts are suddenly hot. I don't think it's been posted to Mefi yet and it's interesting tho a tad sour grapey.

"Midroll, a big podcast ad broker, talks to the press a lot and has grown well recently. Selling podcast ads is a pain in the ass, producers love the idea of someone else taking care of it, there are very few ad brokers, and Midroll is probably the biggest. But that doesn’t mean there are suddenly far more listeners — it’s just easier to put ads in shows."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I admit I don't follow coverage of the podcasting world, but I've never seen anything anywhere about a podcasting "renaissance." Mainstream coverage is all about "breakout" podcasts, with no indication that there was ever a Golden Age that Serial or Maron is somehow returning us to.
posted by Etrigan at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Guys, we can't mention Jesse Thorn right now, Christmas has eaten up all my budget for clothing.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


MeFi's own, no less!
posted by iNeas at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2014


The Golden Age was around 2005 when a bunch of tech journalists predicted it would break terrestrial radio within 6 months and Libsyn founders would all own private islands so VCs threw a little money at various podcasting services and then that didn't happens.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:49 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


There was a piece on Pop Culture Happy Hour recently about the supposed explosion of podcasting, and one of the comments they made was that the technology is really here to make it easy to get, manage, and stream them.

You don't need an iPod or iTunes, you don't need to download to your computer and then connect your iPod. Heck, you don't need to connect anything. You can stream on your smartphone through your bluetooth-enabled car speakers, instead of having to wear headphones or listen off your computer.

The technology to listen to podcasts has finally caught up with the technology to produce them, and has democratized the experience.
posted by suelac at 1:56 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Admittedly, I'm speaking as a journalist… but I do get annoyed when people who are deeply enmeshed in a given world assume that they're better judges of its position in the wider culture than non-experts; there's plenty of reason to believe they're among the worst people to judge. Whether or not there's been a podcasting renaissance isn't really the kind of claim about which you can legitimately make a simple statement like "this isn't the case". In my life, there certainly has been. In the mainstream media, there certainly has been. I'm not surprised that from where Jesse Thorn's standing, he doesn't see one.
posted by oliverburkeman at 1:57 PM on December 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


This part seemed like the real meat of the matter to me, and it's an interesting subtopic of the broader question how Internet-based publishing in general hasn't exactly led to the prophesied "long tail" explosion of heterogeneous cultural production, or at least that story has ended up being a major oversimplification:
Then there’s cultural biases. I think for the most part that the shows which get the attention are, without putting too fine a point on it, pretty culturally homogenous and, you know, the kind of thing a feature writer at a big newspaper would be into. There are whole parts of the industry – the business and self-help stuff, the African-American stuff, the informational stuff, the comedy that doesn’t feature people who are famous for something else – that are pretty much ignored.

The stuff that’s featured also tend to have built-in micronarratives (Marc’s comedy career and personal beefs, Carolla’s exit from radio and the end of radio, the crime hook of Serial and association with TAL) and famous people involved.
Tangentially, too, I think there's still a pretty big age/generation gap in podcast listening. Or at least I'm surprised how many of my older relatives I still end up having the "you do a pod-what? what's that, how do I listen to it" conversation with.
posted by RogerB at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2014


Because everything must be interpreted as being new and novel when it's been around for ages. Somewhat how online dating was new and novel when people had been meeting and getting married after conversing over the telegraph.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:10 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The number of times that I start a conversation with "I heard something interesting on a podcast recently" is definitely on the rise.

It's been more of a tipping point than a renaissance or revival. There have been a few good podcasts for a while, but it's only recently that I've been able to find enough quality podcasts to fill up all of my commute time.
posted by diogenes at 2:27 PM on December 18, 2014


I listen to the Startup podcast, which is a podcast about someone forming a startup to make podcasts. (Really.) When he was pitching to VCs, someone pointed out that podcasting is really still so primitive -- downloading audio files from an RSS feed? Really? It doesn't embrace the interactivity of a phone at all. It's still firmly rooted in the public radio mindset, where all you have is the audio.

So I wouldn't be surprised if the real breakout is someone who makes an app that makes podcasts better, and then starts attracting podcasts to it.
posted by smackfu at 2:30 PM on December 18, 2014


Podcasting isn't new. What is new is that the scales are starting to tip toward audio that is only on podcast not on radio, and is really really really good. This is brand new. And really exciting.

Add to that a bunch of people trying to resolve all the technical hurdles that keep people from getting into podcasts in the first place and you have a podcasting Renaissance. It's real. It's new. It's super super exciting.
posted by Alex Goldman at 2:30 PM on December 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


I am also a podcaster, so standard disclaimers apply.
posted by Alex Goldman at 2:30 PM on December 18, 2014


I thought it was being talked about as a revival of audio as a form, not a revival of podcasts. As in, not since the heyday of radio, and storytelling radio in particular.
posted by macross city flaneur at 2:33 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Damn Alex Goldman, do you have secret internet powers? You entered the conversation within seconds of someone mentioning Startup.

(If you don't know, Alex's podcast is the first podcast to come out of the business described in Startup.)
posted by diogenes at 2:38 PM on December 18, 2014


I'm like Neo from the Matrix. Or I'm always on metafilter. One or the other.
posted by Alex Goldman at 2:44 PM on December 18, 2014 [10 favorites]


All I know is that Serial seems popular enough that there are Twitter jokes about it, I guess people haven't listened to other podcasts are warming up to it because it seems like they've never heard a MailChimp ad before.

FWIW, I've been listening to podcasts for years now, and had one of my own back in '10-'11 with punkey, so podcasting-wise, get off my lawn. But I will say that having a smartphone with Podkicker is a lot easier than using a standalone program on my PC to transfer them to my old MP3 player, or the standalone browser downloads I did before that, so I can see whey they're increasing in popularity.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:51 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


So I wouldn't be surprised if the real breakout is someone who makes an app that makes podcasts better, and then starts attracting podcasts to it.

What exactly do you mean by this? Podcasts aren't app-specific; certainly Apple's built-into-iOS app is many people's "default" option but it's not like my use of Overcast locks me out of anything. Sure, it's an MP3 file delivered over RSS, but none of that - certainly not the RSS part - is really exposed to the average user in a meaningful way. My nontechnical friends listen to podcasts without knowing what RSS is, just as they can watch Netflix without commenting on buffered chunks over TCP port 80.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:56 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Another thing that happened in my personal life as a podcast listener, now I think about it, is that I transferred most of my other listening to my phone, but became furious at every podcasts app I downloaded, so ended up listening far less – until finally a few months ago discovered Pocket Casts which works how my brain works, and makes the whole experience much more fun.
posted by oliverburkeman at 2:58 PM on December 18, 2014


podcasting is really still so primitive -- downloading audio files from an RSS feed?

Yes, really. An open format that is client agnostic, as simple as it can be.

the real breakout is someone who makes an app that makes podcasts better, and then starts attracting podcasts to it

Oh great, a proprietary version of podcasts that segregates the community into the free version and the enhanced version. Yes, that's exactly what we need, so that someone can get VC funding.
posted by sophist at 3:03 PM on December 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


Revivalism has stuck because of where a podcast could go. Jesse Thorn is the wrong person to discuss this with because he epitomises not the podcaster model, but the pubcaster model: large investment package lead to a podcast lead to PRI national syndication lead to a comedy team lead to a fashion blog/TV show, while keeping fingers in all pies.

Podcasting for podcasting's sake, where spoken word is not tied to any other outlet (like a public radio station or an academic department) can be said to be revivalist because these often form discussion of niche interests.

It would be smarter to look at podcasting like the contemporary art market where agency leads to some profit. However right Bourdieu was about the art business of the 1950s, the liberalisation of technology, bartering and sharing for social capital purposes have all meant that podcasting may grow but it will not be more than a social capital generator except to those who find agency after the point of production. Producers of today have to invest more than ever before, ironically, to find an audience large enough to encourage agency opportunity.
posted by parmanparman at 3:10 PM on December 18, 2014


I do get annoyed when people who are deeply enmeshed in a given world assume that they're better judges of its position in the wider culture than non-experts

I agree. I admit a little double take when Thorn referred to podcasting as an "industry." As an audiogeek who's always loved and listen to audio storytelling and nonfiction for years - whatever the broadcast mechanism - I think of all this as "audio." Podcasting, for me, is not an "industry," exactly, in and of itself; that's like newspapers defining themselves as the "newsprint industry." Podcasting one medium within a far more broadly defined broadcasting industry. I also agree that the tools to make this both mobile and easy have matured, meaning that content has migrated to the new platforms and is taking advantage of the flexibility those platforms offer. But that doesn't make it a special new thing. It's broadcasting content in a packaged audio format, and it's okay to cover it like that. I agree that it's not new, but it's also not distinct from its own history.
posted by Miko at 3:12 PM on December 18, 2014


What exactly do you mean by this? Podcasts aren't app-specific;

I mean that if they were app-specific, the app could do more than just play an audio file. For instance, just a few ideas:

1) Skippable ads for paid subscribers.
2) Unskippable ads.
3) Targeted demographic ads.
4) Tracking which episodes and parts of episodes you actually listen to.
5) Display ads in the show notes.
6) Easily sell generic ads across shows, like on TV.

I mean, those all sound awful to me as a listener, but I bet the podcaster revenue would go way up. And people tend to go where the money is.
posted by smackfu at 3:12 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Don't forget: the app would need integrated chat rooms, discussion boards, wikis, etc.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:14 PM on December 18, 2014


True, live podcasts are definitely underserved by the current clients. Just don't fit in the RSS / download model.
posted by smackfu at 3:16 PM on December 18, 2014


I wonder what will happen to the podcasting industry when Squarespace stop giving them money.
posted by Grangousier at 3:37 PM on December 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


It does seem to be a very small set of ad buyers, but there are a few besides Squarespace. I can think of these off the top of my head as sponsoring multiple episodes of multiple shows: Backblaze, Igloo, lynda.com, Hover, MailChimp. And I did use Hover to buy a domain, so I guess the ads work.
posted by smackfu at 3:42 PM on December 18, 2014


1) Skippable ads for paid subscribers.

Like Hulu? Ha! Everyone sees ads. There's no escape.

2) Unskippable ads.

They're already pretty much unskippable since they're embedded in the main podcast. It's easier to listen to it rather than scrub to where you guess it end.

3) Targeted demographic ads.

Useful, but it comes at its own cost. Not sure if the ROI justifies it. Google's audio ad product died for a reason.

4) Tracking which episodes and parts of episodes you actually listen to.

Analytics would be useful. The video ad industry tracks views obsessively. They know which quartle of an ad you've viewed.

5) Display ads in the show notes.

No joke, a multi-part ad is a great idea. Surprising no one is all over this yet. Existing ad servers could deliver audio ads with display companions easily.

6) Easily sell generic ads across shows, like on TV.

Basically an ad exchange. This has a bunch of pros and cons, mostly that they're easy for publishers to deal with. But the yield is usually lower - think AdSense versus direct-sold ads. But a Federated Media of audio ads would be good.
posted by GuyZero at 3:59 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


large investment package lead to a podcast

I have no idea what you mean by this in the context of Jesse Thorn. His backstory is college radio show led to podcast when he moved away from the town where the radio station was. There was no large investment package at any point.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:02 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was trying to copy Miko's comment to reply, but my iPad is not cooperating. So.

I became very interested in podcasting when Adam Curry started making news with his (long defunct) iPodder software way back in 2004. For me, an academic with a background in both public radio and radio drama, it did in fact seem like a renaissance of sorts for audio, especially because the early players were not, by and large, traditional broadcast organizations, but rather independents. There was a lot of early buzz about podcasting, and much of that was actually coming from the blogging community, not broadcasters. The broadcasters, along with lots of other mainstream media outlets , did eventually catch on, but they were not really the pioneers.

I can sympathize with Miko's perspective as a contemporary listener, but based on my research into independent podcasting, I tend to see podcasting much more as a long tail, narrowcasting medium than fitting the broadcast model. But this also requires thinking about podcasting in two ways: in one way it is simply a delivery service, getting audio to you via RSS. In the other, though, podcasting is more of a media form or genre. Independent podcasts do frequently borrow from establish audio tropes, because that is the cultural model in which they reside, but they are almost always a much more niche targeted program. I think that it is in this second understanding of podcasting that I sympathize with Jesse's frustration at the popular media coverage of podcasting, because this is decidedly not new.

Anyway, I have a couple of papers on the topic if anyone is interested in more long-winded academic rambling on the subject. Feel free to memail me.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 4:05 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think Serial got buzz in a way that caught the attention of people to podcasts. I first heard of them through Made of Fail and the Savage Lovecast, but it took me getting a smartphone where I could subscribe to them for me to hop on board with a broad range of podcasts, and that was two years ago. I'd imagine other late adopters like me have similar trends.

I use Downcast, which is a pretty bare bones podcast utility but one I like. My favorite ads are the ones which are funny. Isometric had a couple awesome Squarespace ones related to their starting Fanda.com and selling handturkeys.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:07 PM on December 18, 2014


I heard a lot of stories at PRNDI that he got some private backing on the move from UCSC to LA. If it's apocryphal, I apologize. Jesse could clarify. I do not think you can underestimate the importance of having proper equipment and marketing. Public radio programmes cost an average of $4,200 per broadcast hour to produce. Podcasting is only less expensive if you are equipped and sufficiently able to work for low wages or free.
posted by parmanparman at 4:09 PM on December 18, 2014


SMS messages are just small bits of text attached to the packets of data your phone company sends anyway to keep your phone connected, but they're a business worth billions of dollars.

Not sure why "cool shit you can listen to on a device when you want to" is too simple to make money.

As for a rebirth of podcasts, a lot of us have been waiting for everybody to catch up.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:25 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I do not think you can underestimate the importance of having proper equipment and marketing

Based on my own research, most independent podcasters, i.e. people who are not affiliated with a radio station or other media organization, basically start out with a microphone and a computer. Very few of them make any, let alone much, money at podcasting, and usually any money that is made is reinvested in equipment upgrades, hosting fees, etc.

You can actually be a podcaster with a fairly minimal initial setup. It's not going to sound like a highly polished radio program obviously, but you can get content out.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 4:27 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The start-up costs for a podcast are pretty low right now. I managed to get my wife and my's Outlander podcast set up with the proceeds of a single Amazon gift card and some credit card reward points. Sure, according to libsyn we've only had like 140 downloads, but still, it's a fun thing to do every couple of weeks. If for some reason we wanted to sink more cash into it, we could. Do we have great sound? Probably not, but it's better than the glitchy-Skype recorded stuff that you hear on similar sized chaffcasts like ours.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:30 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The start-up costs for a podcast are pretty low right now.

Yes, they are. But to produce a public radio show, even to attempt the transition to public radio, requires anywhere between $1,000 and $60,000, usually more. That is because the economics of satellite feeds are so expensive. If you get onto the PRI or NPR feeds you are saving a lot of cost but many independent public radio producers cover the cost of satellite transmission themselves. Only a small number of stations will ever download a wav or an mp4 from a website every week, because it can't be automated. Independent shows also cannot fund raise on the air.

Maximum Fun is a podcast, a public radio show, a comedy group, a fashion magazine, an annual event. I admit he's empowered a lot of people to produce shows for public radio but that is (one of) his market(s). You have to look at how podcasting develops for the producer to understand the intent. Most podcasts don't carry on long enough to gain traction to Step 2 unless they have financial backing in multiples of thousands of dollars.

I was a public and student radio broadcaster in college and produced a syndicated public radio show for two years. I now work as a fundraising trainer for creative professional groups.
posted by parmanparman at 4:59 PM on December 18, 2014


All I know is that Serial seems popular enough that there are Twitter jokes about it, I guess people haven't listened to other podcasts are warming up to it because it seems like they've never heard a MailChimp ad before.
Not only are there Twitter jokes about Serial, somebody made a song sampling the MailChimp commercial.
posted by coolname at 5:02 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Serial is not produced like a podcast, it is backed by a major pubcaster looking for the opportunity of syndication of the format. How many straight up podcasts does Ira Glass advise?
posted by parmanparman at 5:04 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Only a small number of stations will ever download a wav or an mp4 from a website every week, because it can't be automated.


uuuhhhhh... I know the internet-oriented technical know-how at radio stations can be on the low side, but this can be automated.
posted by GuyZero at 5:05 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


It probably could to some degree, but it is in the hands of the operator. Good luck creating the MVP for this to the stations that run predominantly free-to-air public radio shows.
posted by parmanparman at 5:16 PM on December 18, 2014


The mistake is thinking that most podcasters actually have radio broadcasting as their goal. This is where I think Jesse Thorn is actually different from a lot of independent podcasters. His goal has always very explicitly been to be on public radio, and podcasting was his means to get there (and he worked hard for a long time before he got there). He has used US public radio as his model from the start. But I have survey data from 2008/09 and 2012, and in both of those surveys the majority of respondents are looking at podcasting as an alternative to radio. Now I can't say if in the last two years there have been a lot more people getting into podcasting in order to parly that into public radio careers; I don't have that data. But if podcasting-->public radio something you want to do, good luck. It's a lot of work.

I think it goes back again to why it's a little annoying that podcasting keeps getting rediscovered by mainstream media, because it seems like those podcasts that are more compatible with traditional broadcast models are the ones that get noticed, but I really don't think they are representative of podcasting as a whole. There are a lot more folks out there like robocop is bleeding, doing podcasting for fun, and maybe for a little bit of money.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 5:27 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


When he was pitching to VCs, someone pointed out that podcasting is really still so primitive -- downloading audio files from an RSS feed? Really? It doesn't embrace the interactivity of a phone at all.

So I wouldn't be surprised if the real breakout is someone who makes an app that makes podcasts better, and then starts attracting podcasts to it.

The VC is an ass, but he's not wrong. The problem isn't that RSS is primitive, the problem is that RSS isn't flashy or easy.

Entering an XML feed URL into a feed reader is too complex and obscure for the masses. I don't think it's a coincidence that RSS readers fell into decline as Facebook and Twitter emerged, because they made opt-in syndication really easy - just click the button and get updates on your screen automatically.

I think the current problem that needs to be solved in podcasting is fragmentation. There isn't a good podcast search engine, because the casts are all clustered around different hosting and application platforms and it's difficult to index it all. There's Stitcher, iTunes, SoundCloud, EarWolf, 5x5, Podbean, YouTube and tons of little independent islands hosted on Libsyn, etc. We need a service that discovers, indexes, and facilitates the steaming of casts. RSS would work, and I use it, but RSS is in decline in everything.

What we need is Really Sexy Syndication. Something so easy to use, a caveperson could do it on their iphone.
posted by chillyvanilly at 6:35 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


podcasting is more of a media form or genre. Independent podcasts do frequently borrow from establish audio tropes, because that is the cultural model in which they reside, but they are almost always a much more niche targeted program.

I would be more inclined to agree if the history of radio weren't also full of independent, niche, targeted programs. Yes, there are monster megaliths of public radio and commercial radio, but if you really take in all of radio history, there have also always (since radio's inception as a broadcast medium) been hyperlocal broadcasts, niche broadcasts, translocal listener communities, low-power FM stations, college stations, stations ginned up on the battlefield or in protest takeovers, shows playing obscure content or focusing on obscure talk topcis, people seeking stations to tune into in the middle of the night, building specialized antennas to try to "pull in" Chicago or Nashville, weird graveyard shift overnight DJs, theatre, art, storytelling, music, news, politics, talk, free-form, monologic, interview, polemic, variety...and that's not even dealing with the powers of shortwave. In short, I think we have an ease now that makes more people able to broadcast, and to broadcast a wider variety of things than the 90s/oughts narrowing of the radio waves were willing to allow, much the way the internet makes more people able to publish text; but that it's a difference of ease, cost, simpler equipment, and degree - not of kind. The artificial valley created by 20-30 years of narrowing content on the radio waves - after several decades of wildly expanding content were choked down by deregulation and consolidation - creates the sense that podcasts diverge from the history of audio broadcasting, when they are in fact a continuation of its major strains. Podcasters are still broadcasting. They're organizing and presenting audio content for an audience, whether big or small, local or global.
posted by Miko at 8:04 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


GuyZero: "Useful, but it comes at its own cost. Not sure if the ROI justifies it. Google's audio ad product died for a reason."

I figure the core problem podcasts have is context. When I do a Google search on something, I'm actively signaling both my interest, and in some cases, my intent to purchase a product or service. Even a highly targeted podcast ad will get low "click through" because it turns out that the context precludes it: driving a car home is incompatible with buying something. At best, you get targeted brand recognition, and that's a much harder thing to quantify versus "number of people who clicked on your ad."

chillyvanilly: "I think the current problem that needs to be solved in podcasting is fragmentation. There isn't a good podcast search engine, because the casts are all clustered around different hosting and application platforms and it's difficult to index it all. There's Stitcher, iTunes, SoundCloud, EarWolf, 5x5, Podbean, YouTube and tons of little independent islands hosted on Libsyn, etc. We need a service that discovers, indexes, and facilitates the steaming of casts. RSS would work, and I use it, but RSS is in decline in everything."

There are search engines and directories. gpodder is used by open source podcast apps, for example. The challenge is that YouTube and iTunes have no incentive to make themselves amenable to any standardized format, or even searchable via third parties. Even if you could throw together some kind of awesome podcast registration system, getting Google and Apple to cooperate on that front seems unlikely at best. And there's quite a few podcasts only found on iTunes, and quite a few shows only available via YouTube.

Realistically, the fact that iTunes and YouTube have such large shares is a sign of consolidation not fragmentation, and it's that very consolidation that makes them able to eschew more open policies.
posted by pwnguin at 8:20 PM on December 18, 2014


Yeah, consolidation is what killed just about everything interesting on the broadcast air radio spectrum, so be wary of it if you like podcast diversity.
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I look forward to this podcast revival. Imagine a world with millions of podcasts. Each funded by MailChimp.
posted by triage_lazarus at 9:39 PM on December 18, 2014


You mean Mayil...himp?
posted by argybarg at 10:47 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


podcast addict on android does a pretty good job of searching and subscribing to different podcast broadcasters, though admittedly I've never tried to find something without already knowing about it.

I like Jesse Thorn, but I think he might be too far into the scene to see that this really is the first time a lot of people have actually gone to search out a podcast, instead of it just being something people vaguely know exists. I'm a big audiobook/podcast person because I work alone, and since Serial has become a cultural phenomenon I've had a few people ask me "You listen to podcast things right? How do I get one?" so it really is a bit of a renaissance for the mass public.

two words: free snacks.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:54 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


It does seem to be a very small set of ad buyers, but there are a few besides Squarespace. I can think of these off the top of my head as sponsoring multiple episodes of multiple shows: Backblaze, Igloo, lynda.com, Hover, MailChimp. And I did use Hover to buy a domain, so I guess the ads work.

Audible and NatureBox are the two big podcast advertisers I get other than Squarespace. Might be my particular selection of favorite podcasts though.

My favorite podcast ad of all time is still the My Brother My Brother and Me Candlenights Extreme Restraints ad. (Context: MBMBAM often runs blue, but its holiday episode every year is promised to be all ages friendly. One year, that episode coincided with their sponsorship by an adult toys store.)
posted by kmz at 12:33 AM on December 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


So are there directories I should be adding our podcast to? We've just been linking it from our blog and tweeting, but we admit that we fail at self promotion.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:58 AM on December 19, 2014


I think iTunes is still the biggie for iOS. Most of the third-party iOS podcast clients use it as a data source.
posted by smackfu at 6:02 AM on December 19, 2014


...since Serial has become a cultural phenomenon I've had a few people ask me "You listen to podcast things right? How do I get one?" so it really is a bit of a renaissance for the mass public.

Yeah, sometimes I feel like I am on the late-adoption side with this stuff because late 30s is practically elderly when it comes to technological things ("no email until you were in college?!") but I have been listening to the MaxFun network for years. Not until Serial, though, did I have to teach my mom how to download podcasts. It really has made a whole new group of people aware that the medium exists.
posted by something something at 7:02 AM on December 19, 2014


I would be more inclined to agree if the history of radio weren't also full of independent, niche, targeted programs. Yes, there are monster megaliths of public radio and commercial radio, but if you really take in all of radio history,

I think maybe you misunderstood me a little. I'm not at all denying the history of radio and the variety of forms it has taken over the years. My research has been focused on what podcasters themselves say about their motivations, and by and large they do not slot themselves into that history. There have been some people in my studies who had a background in college radio, for example, or other media, but far more of them got into podcasting because they love Topic X, and wanted to talk about Topic X, and thought podcasting would be a good way to do that. They seem to identify themselves equally with blogging as with podcasting.

I will also admit to taking a pedantic view of the term broadcasting, in that technically it really only applies to using radio waves. Obviously people use the term broadcasting to refer to all sorts of things that aren't, technically, broadcast, but I do think it's important distinction to keep in mind with regards to podcasters, because at least some of the people I heard from explicitly reject "broadcasting" because they didn't want to have to deal with FCC regulations, or they didn't want to have to worry about being commercially viable.

As an aside, as a scholar I have always been a bit sad that so few people have taken up podcasting as a subject for study. It seems like academics studying new media went from studying blogs to social network sites, and now they're all onto big data. Podcasting has never been sexy. So maybe the popular press interest in podcasting will translate to more research. It's really pretty under-studied and under-theorized.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:19 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh and if anybody is interested in the audience sizes for podcasting in general, Edison Media Research has some free reports available. They estimate 30% of the total 12 and older population (in the US) has ever listened to a podcast, and about 15% have listened to a podcast in the last month. Close to 2% of all time listening to audio is spent on podcasts, but podcast listeners spend about 26% of their listening time on podcasts. They do find that mobile device listening jumped considerably from their 2013 to 2014 studies, so I wonder if that is contributing to the greater awareness of podcasting generally.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:33 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


The one thing I miss more than anything else about Terrestrial Radio is call-in shows. Especially the Don and Mike style: "let weirdos call in and berate them". Only Call Chelsea Peretti has the same edge. Figure that technology out and you've got yourself a stew going baby.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:39 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I heard a lot of stories at PRNDI that he got some private backing on the move from UCSC to LA. If it's apocryphal, I apologize. Jesse could clarify. I do not think you can underestimate the importance of having proper equipment and marketing. Public radio programmes cost an average of $4,200 per broadcast hour to produce. Podcasting is only less expensive if you are equipped and sufficiently able to work for low wages or free.

parmanparman, I have no idea from whom you heard that, but it's completely erroneous. For one thing, it wasn't a move from UCSC to LA. The show started at UCSC, I moved to San Francisco, the show moved to the local NPR station in Santa Cruz (KUSP), I moved to LA, got on WNYC, and eventually got picked up by PRI.

For another, I've never had any "private backing." MaximumFun.org has been completely bootstrapped from day one. The only infusions of cash have been when I sold my car for $2600 at age 24 to buy a mic, mixer and phone hybrid, and when I put cost of the first MaxFunCon on five different credit cards.

I run a podcasting business. Our network has 19 podcast-only programs, and one that runs on the radio. The radio show is the only one that loses money. More accurately, it maybe just barely breaks even, assuming I don't get paid. Similarly, we created a public radio version of WTF, and over two seasons of episodes, each of us (me, two producers and Marc) made about $5000 each. There are ways to make public radio shows work, funding-wise, but they mostly involve either huge national audiences, stations or networks operating them as loss leaders or significant grant funding (ala On Being or Latino USA). None of those apply to my show.

As far as the cost of public radio shows, you're right, they're quite expensive. Ours is somewhat less expensive than you described, but that's because we economize in every way. I'm not sure what you're talking about with regard to satellite costs. I guess that's true if you're doing a live show, but there are very few national live shows left in public radio outside of the flagship news shows. For the kind of show that an independent is likely to create, PRX is nearly free.

Podcasting, though, takes a variety of forms, and most of them are not as expensive as the traditional public radio model. Making This American Life is expensive, making Rush Limbaugh isn't (outside of Limbaugh's paycheck).

As far as the debate above regarding whether podcasters are broadcasters or aspire to be or whether all audio is just audio... there are very big differences between content produced for podcast and radio. Serial, for example, would not work at all on radio. Radio is, on average, consumed in seven to ten minute pieces. Podcasts are designed to be listened to start-to-finish. Radio is a mass market service designed to keep you from changing the channel, podcasts are designed to excited the interests of specific groups of people.

Basically podcasting and radio are as different as magazines and books.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2014 [16 favorites]


YoungAmerican: did you receive any private backing to loudly guffaw on Conan during Jenny Slate's interview? Or maybe it was a blurt? Guffaw vs blurt is like podcasts vs radio?
posted by mullacc at 8:23 AM on December 19, 2014


Wait what's Serial? I thought we were all talking about podcasting because The Best Show started up again.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:40 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


And for a very popular and wonderful call-in show that podcasts, try Tom Scharpling's The Best Show.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:41 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


by and large they do not slot themselves into that history.

And yet that self-distinction doesn't mean they're not part of a historical phenomenon. Both can be true. Most of us are operating in response to historical forces we can't even perceive. It's fair to analyze podcasters as part of a larger history of broadcast communication (setting the term-of-art version of that aside, and just meaning "communicating transgeographically with a multiple/mass audience."

Radio is, on average, consumed in seven to ten minute pieces. Podcasts are designed to be listened to start-to-finish.

Hmm. And yet, radio formats vary so greatly, and so very many radio programs on a single topic are listened to start to finish by their fans - even four-hour-long shows. TAL is certainly one that has done extended shows - multi-part series as well as full-hour shows. Audio theatre, of course, is certainly meant to be listened to in hour-long or half-hour long chunks. State of the Reunion is an hour, occasional/episodic show that focuses on a single topic that coheres. Interview shows are often 20 or 50 minutes long, occupying most of their slot. Commercial radio and newsmagazine shows certainly might be thinking about 7 to 10-minute chunks, but even many Moth stories are well longer than that, and there is such greater variety of radio than just newsmagazines and yappy talk shows. I guess I don't really buy that Serial wouldn't work on radio. It would be great on radio. The only thing that wouldn't work about it is the uneven length of the episodes, which would make it hard to program around, but not to embed in a longer show. I will have trouble accepting any analysis of podcasting as unique from all radio history, as that seems to deny the tremendous variety and abundant evidence of precedent after precedent within radio history. It seems unfair to deny the wide range of experimentation that formed the platform constraining what is imaginable in internet audio 'broadcasting.'
posted by Miko at 9:22 AM on December 19, 2014


there are very big differences between content produced for podcast and radio.

...so, I'd like to hear more about this, because I do contest it. And I listen to a lot of podcasts - but I don't listen to them all "start to finish." I have a 10-minute walk to work; I listen in 10-minute chunks. On a long car ride, I might listen to 10 podcasts in a row, but I might also listen to 10 public radio show podcasts in a row, each full of 7-10 minute chunks. I don't think you have a real distinction there that makes podcasts different, so if you think there is a fundamental difference of kind (genre, format, structure) rather than degree (cheaper, greater ease of producing, easier to disseminate), I'd like to hear more about what that might be. In your analogy, I think both podcasting and radio can be both magazines and books.
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on December 19, 2014


I use Downcast, which is a pretty bare bones podcast utility but one I like.

Me too. Downcast ftw.

You can customize skip back/ahead time buttons in Downcast, so ads can be skipped without scrubbing. I'll listen to some ads, but it depends. Scott Aukerman does a pretty good job making them entertaining on various Earwolf podcasts. Seth Morris does fake ads in character as Bob Ducca on his Affirmation Nation podcast, which is hilarious, both the fake ads and the main show.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:13 PM on December 19, 2014


Hey Jesse Thorn!

Love Maxfun's podcasts, especially Judge John Hodgman and Sawbones. Thanks for your hard work and the great audio that comes from it.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:24 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I host a long-form interview radio show. It is produced to be listened to in seven-to-ten minute chunks. We reset regularly, move from topic to topic, and so on with the presumption that if someone is listening on the radio they are checking in, listening for a few minutes, and checking out. That's the reality of how people listen to radio - there's extensive research.

In podcasting, there are very different opportunities. You have a sustained relationship that's very difficult to get in radio. You have the expectation that people are listening to most if not all of the content.

It's why Serial is called Serial: it is serial. There is effectively no serial content in radio because you simply can't presume that someone is following along, whereas in podcasting, you can.

And while "appointment programming" exists in radio - particularly on community radio - it's horribly ineffective at gaining listeners. Because that's not how people consume radio. Appealing to an interest group, unless it's a broad one (conservatives, local sports fans, people interested in local news) simply doesn't work in radio. But that's the lifeblood of podcasting.

Now it's true that an absolute best-in-class show can transcend this to some extent... TAL works on both podcast and radio, for example. Moth stories are sometimes more like 20 minutes than 10. Car Talk is theoretically about cars and works on radio. But generally, they are very different media.
posted by YoungAmerican at 1:31 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's the reality of how people listen to radio - there's extensive research.

Okay, well, first, it's not how I listen to radio. Second, can you share some of the extensive research? Also, since we're ostensibly talking about something "niche," does it matter what research on majority patterns shows? All I've been arguing is that there have always been departures from the most commercially digestible form, and there have always been niche audiences for long-form or obscure audio content.

I disagree both that people don't listen regularly and serially to radio (especially since so much of it is archived online, and since that was in essence the pattern for all narrative radio up through the 1960s), and I also disagree that podcasters can claim that they have serial listeners who follow long stories in order in a way that is different from a kid in the 50s listening to Little Orphan Annie. Apart from being able to listen asynchronously (not a difference of kind, a difference in widened access).

I aso disagree that "appealing to an interest group" doesn't work on radio. There are auction shows, old-time bluegrass shows, cooking shows, comedy shows, movie and pop culture review shows, celebrity interview shows, shows about religion, broadcasts of religious services, shows about pets and animals, shows about coming of age, shows about the real estate market, shows about local music, shows about acoustic music, shows about Ukrainian or Haitian music, shows about psychedelic music....I'm just listing shows I can receive terrestrially right now, sitting where I'm sitting. I mean, especially when you look into community, college, independent, early FM, LPFM, and pirate radio, you've had all this and more for a long time.

I see you throwing out a lot of assertions about "radio," and how "people" use radio, but that's not granular enough for me. There has been a great deal of diversity in radio over its hundred years or so. Audiences are segmented, and user patterns vary. You keep saying "they are very different media," but not really producing anything that is so far convincing me of podcasting's fundamental difference from radio. How are they different media? How are these differences of kind, not of degree?
posted by Miko at 6:28 PM on December 19, 2014


Also just remembered that the NPR newsmagazines offer a lot of series reporting embedded in the larger show, exploring topics, visiting one town many times over the course of an election or for economic check-ins, doing stuff like Kitchen Sisters, etc. The TAL Planet Money series is a serial, as are many of their multipart stories that have extended over more than one episode. One could argue that Garrison Kiellor's monologues are serial in that they all take place within a world in which users encounter repeating characters and settings and those characters have sometimes very lengthy narrative arcs.

I don't disagree with you that podcasting makes it easier for people to stay with a thread. It also makes it easier for them to consume an entire year's worth of Backstory or The Splendid Table in a weekend or so - because its major gift is asynchronous delivery. That's really the difference of degree I'm talking about - you don't have to set your clock to catch Guiding Light's latest installment at 6 PM any more. You can hear it (or whatever) when it's convenient for you. But the concept of a multipart unified story told over several episodes in regular release, in and of itself, is just definitely not new in the history of audio formats.
posted by Miko at 6:47 PM on December 19, 2014


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