Thoughts on the Business of Podcasting

If you haven’t guessed, I am fascinated with podcasts and podcasting.

The Podcasts page on this site is my ongoing experiment to make the perfect podcast player for me, and convince others that it might be close to the perfect podcast player for them. I feel a little closer to understanding what that is than I did when I started. On the podcasting side, I’ve done one. I’ve put together a publishing system that included live YouTube broadcasts, soundboards, phone calls, remote co-host, stingers, and a nicely edited podcast for listeners who couldn’t watch live.

There is plenty of professionally planned and produced audio content available for free listening. Yet, I’d rather spend hours a week with Cec Beaston, Travanti Jaramillo, or Dillon and Dutch than tune into whomever is filling hours on Fox Sports Radio. How strange is that? The media companies spend tons on money on listener metrics, capturing and maintaining attention, micromanaging and overevaluating on-air talent close to a point of paralysis, yet they often don’t interest me as much as some dude with a microphone and 21st century tape recorder. This is the magic of podcasting. Commercial radio leaves plenty of room for honesty and authenticity. Media companies have no way to measure it and maximize it, so they don’t.

What’s not terribly magic are the business models of podcasting. There are none. Yes, there are hosting companies collecting $10 to $40 per month from podcast publishers. There is Apple, which has made a nice directory for its iTunes customers. There is Google that just launched an abomination of a podcast service, which might be good for finding Marc Maron in a pinch. There are mobile app developers who get a few thousand people to drop a couple bucks on something they put a thousand hours into. There are performers connecting with fans, monetizing Amazon banners and getting listeners to come to their shows. Relatively few are making a living from independent podcasting and streaming.

Right now, I think the most value I can add to the world of podcasting is presentation. Phil Hendrie said it best in a call he made a couple of years ago to Lawrence Ross’s LRWS show and podcast. He noted that at the time, roughly 15% of American adults surveyed had listened to a podcast in the past month. This number hasn’t changed much in the time since. Phil also gave an explanation: it’s not easy to bring up a podcast in the car. I fully agree. Others have solved the problem of mounting a phone so it’s safe to (let me stress minimally) interact with while driving. Others have solved the problem of connecting the phone to your car’s speakers, through a wire or Bluetooth. But podcast player software is still too interactive to use while driving. “Tuning into” something interesting to listen to while driving is a big problem to solve.

-Brad Hutchings

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