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(By Matty Staudt) Many people are talking about the most recent in a string of articles about the “demise of the podcast industry,” especially this recent one from The New York Times.
The article focused on big company mega deals for podcasts, the types of deals made by Spotify, Sirius/XM, and iHeart with big-ticket celebrity talent. Those deals were questionable when they were made, and anyone who could do the math could tell you those shows had a minimal or zero chance of recouping the money spent on them. The companies are not to blame as those deals were also done to bring more listeners to the space, and they truly did accomplish this, but the strategy would never work long-term financially and is not indicative of the larger podcast industry landscape.
One recently squashed deal highlighted in the article was James Van Der Bek’s podcast with Stitcher. “According to a person familiar with Stitcher’s side of the talks, who discussed confidential negotiations on the condition of anonymity, the publisher got cold feet about the program, for which it would have paid Van Der Beek a minimum of $700,000 and 50 percent of net ad revenue after several of its podcasts missed income projections.” Numbers like that hurt my head as I know numerous independent studios could make and promote several excellent podcasts with that kind of money. Sorry Dawson, but you are not worth that much as a podcaster.
Deals like that lead to the drying up of funds that could be invested in independent creators and perspectives to grow new formats. They could also help fund the promotion of existing shows as well as new analytics and data insights to help advertisers feel more comfortable with podcast advertising. Podcast tech has always fuelled listenership, and by investing less in it, we hurt our chances for natural growth. AI, contextual targeting, and better search tools are here and are very exciting for our industry and its growth.
Another quote that, although presented as a bad thing, is accurate: “The name of the game has been to ‘do less with less,’” said a producer at NPR, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.” YES, welcome to the world of independent podcasters and networks. We have always done more with less. It’s gotten us to a place where we can still make amazing shows with smaller staff and budgets. I am sorry, but comparing how staffed an NPR show is with what the rest of us have is comparing apples to bricks.
Another fact that this article and others have pointed out is that fewer podcasts are being made. That is a good thing. We don’t need more podcasters. We need more listeners, and if our industry focused more on that than getting everyone and their mother to podcast, spending their money on equipment, services, and growth hacks, and giving them hope for the very slim chance they will make a living from it, we would be in better shape. Better podcasts and more cross-platform shows are what advertisers and we need, not more podcasts.
Articles like this and others are telling one side of the story, and by focusing on the “dumb money,” as my friend Eric Nuzum was quoted as saying, they tell a story that is simply not true. I can speak from experience; articles like this take our industry back as they are read by advertisers and investors who are now backing off investing in the industry. We need to keep telling our story, the story of an industry that has not only brought benefits to podcasters and advertisers but has changed people’s lives and daily habits.
The podcast landscape is diverse, dynamic, and constantly evolving, with various voices, perspectives, and monetization models. Independent podcasters are doing amazing things with limited funds. Podcasts give what I call The Three E’s…Empathy, Education, and Entertainment: They are an escape in a short attention span society. By spending more “smart money” on independent shows and producers than “dumb money” on big names and splashy headlines, we will continue to grow and thrive.
Matty Staudt is the President of Jam Street Media. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com