Two decades in & podcasting still draws ire from high-profile detractors whose broad brushes paint us in unflattering shades. But there’s truth in their criticism if only we’re brave enough to look.
There’s just no pleasing some people. A few days ago, Andrew Wilkinson (he’s the co-founder of Tiny Capital and an investor in several podcasting businesses like Castro, Supercast, and Ride Home Media) tweeted out the following:
A few weeks ago I removed podcasts from my phone.
Podcasts are mostly people repeating ideas you already agree with or talking about things that trigger anxiety (current events/problems triggers).
This has me reading audiobooks (net-new learning) 24/7.
10% happier, for sure.
- Andrew Wilkinson (@awilkinson) February 20, 2021
Well that’s not very nice, is it?
On Average, Half Of All Media Sucks
Clearly, Andrew is painting all podcasts with a very broad brush, which is a bit unfair. I could use that same broad brush to paint other forms of media, claiming “there’s nothing good on TV”, as I’ve exclaimed many a time for the decades the boob tube has been a part of my living rooms. I’m betting you too have “doomscrolled” through your TV’s interactive guide. And you probably also feel as if sometimes you spend at least as much time scrolling through Netflix looking for something interesting than actually watching something interesting.
You may be of the opinion that newspaper reporting is mostly done by hack journalists or is simply regurgitated stories published by the AP or other services. Radio’s airwaves may seem to you filled with angry armchair politicians or wacky morning DJs playing the same handful of songs on an infinite loop. I’ve made the same argument against books, thanks to a horrible few months trying to find something worth reading in my short-lived Kindle Unlimited subscription.
But you and I both watch great TV shows and recommend them to our friends. There are some exceptional radio programs broadcasting, some of which you may listen to as a podcast. And I’ve managed to get over my issue with finding great books because I still read a few chapters every single night.
No one likes being caught up in the baby’s bathwater. Me included. But that doesn’t mean we should discount Andrew’s tweet. It’s helpful evidence that lets us better understand why ~70% of the population have yet to pick up the podcasting habit.
Blindfolded Circle-Jerk, But With Microphones
Podcasting has a vicious cycle of over-optimization that leads to the “sameness” quality I picked up from Andrew’s tweet. It’s quite common to hear the same guest appear on different podcasts in the same niche. Sometimes over and over again. The questions from the host are largely the same, which means the answers from the guest are often the same.
Shows that cover current events often cover the same current events in the same style, either emulating broadcast news outlets or by spending way too much time adding way too pointless “hot take” commentary. Commentary that is often echoed almost verbatim by a dozen other news/current event podcasts. News breaks, and podcasters-dozens or hundreds-of them rush to their microphones to get an episode out right now while the news-and search traffic-is hot.
I don’t know if it’s from intention or from ignorance, but podcasters have a habit of not listening to other podcasts, in or out of their genre or niche. Some have told me that they don’t want their views to be tainted by the views of others. By purposely not listening, they feel they’re preserving the unique value their show brings to their audience.
Podcasting With The End In Mind
But more often than not, I think this non-listening behavior from podcasters is a side-effect of the fatigue of podcast listening illustrated in Andrew’s tweet. Hey, I’m as vulnerable to this as anyone. For the last month or so, I’ve stopped listening to most of the shows I used to consume on a regular basis. With the exception of Post Reports and Techmeme Ride Home, I’m almost exclusively listening to serialized podcasts.
Going back to Andrew’s commentary, he said he’s filling his time with audiobooks instead of podcasts. Well, serialized podcasts- a sub-format of podcasting that doesn’t get nearly enough love — have a common benefit with audiobooks.
Actually, they both have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They are (at least in the case of audiobooks) nicely packaged for easy consumption. And once the story-true or fiction-is complete, so is the experience. Turning the metaphorical page and reading “the end” is an incredibly satisfying sense of accomplishment.
Yes, I fully get the irony of what I’m saying, but episodic podcasts do not have an end, which means they cannot deliver that incredibly satisfying sense of accomplishment. With no defined end-point in sight, it’s up to the listener to quit when they’ve had enough. Or when you, the podcaster, have had enough and end the show. Or let it podfade.
Not that there aren’t benefits to episodic content. This show is episodic, with no end in sight. There are plenty of benefits people get from shows without an end in sight, so I’m not lobbying we all switch to making serialized content.
Though I do believe that if serialized content were better packaged in podcasting, we might be able to draw in more people to the podcasting space. So I’d encourage you to explore the serialized style of podcasting and see if it’s right for you.
Tips On Avoiding Sameness
I’m not suggesting you let that one frustrated tweet make you rethink your entire approach to podcasting. But I do think there are some lessons to be learned so that the podcast you make doesn’t fall into that trap.
- Fact-check your uniqueness. That means listening to other podcasts. Yes, podcasts that are similar to yours. But also podcasts that are not similar. And if you’re interviewing guests, spend time listening to that guest on other podcasts and ask them something different.
- Get off the SEO hamster wheel. Chasing keyword rankings or hitting the same trending topic is, for most, a losing game. Spend some time looking at what really is attracting new listeners to your site/show and double-down on developing your own voice.
Remember, you cannot please everyone with your podcast. So focus on what pleases the audience you have, the audience you want, and what pleases you. Stay focused on what is true and unique to your show and buck the trend of uniformity in podcasting.
If you’re not yet connected to other podcasters, do it! That’s the best way to make sure your show isn’t just a copy of someone else’s. Subscribe to a bunch of podcasts and when you find one you really like, send the host an email saying “hey, I make a similar show to yours and would like to chat about what both of us are doing.” I can’t promise they’ll reply, but feel free to send them a link to this article as the rationale for reaching out. Podcasters can do some pretty groovy things when they collaborate with other podcasters, I’ve found.
If this article sparked an idea with you, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra to show me your appreciation with a virtual coffee. I appreciate it.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Originally published at https://podcastpontifications.com, where it started life as an episode of my four-times-a-week short-form podcast called, oddly enough, Podcast Pontifications. It’s a podcast for working podcasters that’s focused on trends in our growing industry and ideas on ways to make podcasting not just easier, but better. Yes, you should listen. Here’s an easy way: 👇
Evo Terra (hey, that’s me!) has been podcasting since 2004, is the author of Podcasting For Dummies and Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, and is the CEO and founder of Simpler.Media, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.