What’s Wrong With Podcasting Lately?

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(by Rob Walch) Sometimes it seems the only thing people like more than jumping on a bandwagon is trying to be the first to say something is wrong with that bandwagon. There have been a few articles recently stating the podcasting bubble is popping or bursting or, well, wondering if there was even a bubble to start with.


Let’s be clear: in podcasting the only bubble has been in the media coverage of the space. There has been no bubble in audience size or number of shows or even ad-spend. What there has been for the past 14 years is steady growth in all those areas.

Those in the bubble-is-bursting camp point to a few recent news items and observations as proof something is wrong in Podcast Land:
– Buzzfeed recently killed off their audio podcasts to “focus on Video.”
– Panoply killed off their original content team and support for baked-in ad sales.
– Audible killed off something that people once thought was somehow “kinda sorta podcast related.”
– Apple reports >550,000 podcasts in their directory — but closer examination shows <25% of those podcasts have been updated in the last 90 days.

With a few companies getting out of podcast content creation it does not mean there is anything wrong with podcasting, but rather that those companies expectations for podcasting were never close to  reality. Buzzfeed management said, “The decision to discontinue the podcasts was driven by difficulty finding a big audience, not a decision that was driven by a financial calculation.” A company that is not fully in on podcasting to start with, that then closes down a podcasting division because — surprise! — they find out that building an audience is hard, is not something that should put podcasting in a negative light. But rather, negativity should go to the company that jumped on the bandwagon and
did not know much or anything about said bandwagon. Some of these shows we not meant for universal appeal — they had very targeted niches. And while podcasting is still very much at its best when addressing a niche, that also means building “a big audience” has to be kept in the perspective of the niche. Podcasting is not radio — it is not a broadcast. It is a “nichecast.” It is more like a magazine than radio in its targeting of audiences. You are not going to get huge audiences from a show focused on a niche. But a show done well can get a good percentage of that niche.

I did talk to the host of one of the shows getting cut at Buzzfeed, and he is committed to taking the show solo and independent, which I think is an important point here. It took Buzzfeed an entire team to produce said show, going forward it will be one person doing it. Reality is that the show did not and will not need Buzzfeed to continue on with the same size audience. And while the audience size of the show in Buzzfeed’s minds was not large, it still has a decent-sized audience, and one that, for a solo producer, can be profitable.

There is a misguided narrative that you need a large production team to create a podcast. However, there are many top podcasts with teams of one or two people. LORE, WTF with Marc Maron, Waking up with Sam Harris, and HardCore History to name a few. There is no reason to have a team of 10 people, for example, to create a podcast that looks at and samples other podcasts, or one that figures out how tall an actor is and answers other mysterious questions. Keep your podcast team as small as possible (if no one is complaining about a lack of sleep, then your team is probably too big).

There will be more companies that exit podcasting because they simply had the wrong expectations on what the audience size for their podcast could be. In these cases, it is not podcasting that has an issue or a bubble bursting, it is just Darwinism at work in our space.

Rob Walch is The Vice President of Podcaster Relations at Libsyn and can be reached at rob@libsyn.com


1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you, Rob. I feel seen! (Although, may I gently pick on your use of “Darwinism” outside of the context of biology, even though it made a great last sentence and a great point?) I hadn’t thought about how people were jumping on a bandwagon and might jump off when the returns did not meet expectations. Maybe because I’m a longtime listener, when I started podcasting, I went into it knowing it would be lots of work (probably more than I expected), both to make the podcast and to find and build an audience. I wanted to do it anyway. I figured the best way to sustain the podcast, as a solo podcaster, was if the actual experience of podcasting was its own reward. Because other rewards, if there were to be any, would be a long time coming. I recently skimmed an article about podcasting in a major media publication, an article that I found to be cynical and not representative of all podcasts and podcasters, despite having a title that suggested to me that it was. It left me irritated and frustrated. But I am most definitely biased. I love podcasting and I love listening to podcasts. So it’s good to read articles–both critical and supportive of the industry–by people who sincerely feel the same.

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