Don’t let the news coverage of premium podcasting fool you. The bulk of podcasting — from production to consumption — will be done by hobbyists. But that doesn’t mean this “free” space is safe from future changes.
Yesterday I freaked you out by telling you that the short head of podcasting will be dominated by premium content and that you’ll have to pay to listen to the most popular and in-demand shows.
Today I bring you the other side of that coin. Because if there’s a short head, there will be a long tail. And with podcasting, the long tail will remain the breeding ground of hobbyist-generated, free content that anybody can enjoy. In fact, if you add up all of the podcast content — counting either by number of episodes produced or number of downloads generated — and split them up by premium or free, free will have the lion’s share of both. And most the free shows will be made by hobbyists.
We can’t all make blockbuster hits. We can’t all make podcasts that are consumed by tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands, and certainly not millions) of people. That’s just reality. A few get big. Most will not.
But that’s OK. That leaves hobbyists with plenty of room on that long tail to do amazing stuff with their podcasts. If you have no designs on making a premium podcast, relax. The future is ready for you too.
However, that doesn’t mean that you and your podcast designs are safe from changes brought about by the future. The continued rise of premium podcasting will impact you and your show as well.
Were just in the early stages of premium podcasting. And… it kinda sucks. But once it hits its stride, we’ll see a seismic shift that ripples all the way through the industry. Yes, all the way down to those of us who make our content freely available just for fun.
In short, we’re going to have to up our game.
If we want to. No one is forcing anyone to do anything, and you don’t have to change a thing if you don’t want to.
However, I would like to remind you that as more listeners enter our space with high-quality shows as their entry point, their expectations are significantly higher than they are today. We either respond to that or we choose to ignore it.
We are all in control of the content we make. What we’re not in control of is what people choose to do — or choose not to do — with our content.
Now, maybe you’re comfortable with your show’s current situation. Maybe you’ve got a few hundred listeners. I think most people would be very excited if they had a few hundred people showing up to watch (or listen) as they did their hobby, right?
But what if you’re not satisfied with that? How do you make growth happen when you’re a hobbyist podcaster playing in a world where the short head is dominated by premium content? Well, you have to change.
That may mean that fundamental changes to your show’s format and construction are in order. And that’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. A lot of people don’t want to make those sorts of changes.
There’s also going to be pressure for you to make sure your show is distributed in places you may not think of as podcast distribution points. We already live in a fractured media landscape where consumption happens where the audience wants to consume their content. In the future that fracturing will continue. Because entropy. So if you, the hobbyist podcaster, want to feed a new audience of listeners, you’re going to have to invest time in making sure your content can live in those other places.
Hopefully, the future will come equipped with some service providers to help us ensure our content can properly live in all these different places where new podcast listeners are finding and consuming content. No, I’m not talking about marketing tools to drip some “awareness nuggets” in a Quixotic attempt to “drive listener behavior”. I mean new tech that makes it much easier to distribute our content — our entire content — across different mediums where new people are consuming content.
So while hobbyists will dominate the long tail, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all those hobbyist podcasts stay free. I think many of the hobbyist podcasters will choose to dabble in the premium model space. Yes, I think you should dabble with that as well. It’s already a lot easier to start experimenting with a mix of free and premium right now. If you want to. If you understand the economics and you have an audience where a mix of free and premium makes sense, then go for it!
Or it might make the most sense for you and yours to keep doing the free thing forever. But notice I didn’t say keep doing the free thing the same way you’re doing it right now forever.
I’m a future positive guy. I love change. But I know that many of you are not quite as future-crazy and change-ready as I am. I get it. So I say again, you don’t have to change. But if you want to take advantage of this new future, you are going to have to change. But you can still be a hobbyist after those changes too.
This is part two of a 10-part miniseries made up of my predictions of the future of podcasting. Tomorrow, I’m getting into the questionable future of RSS feeds. Yes, that’ll ruffle a few feathers!
Since you got this far, how about mashing that 👏 button a few dozen times to let me know you dig the written-word version of my thoughts on these podcasting topics? I’d sure appreciate it!
This article started life as a podcast episode. The 220th 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 Productions, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.