I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Slightly defending podcasting

Allen Pike, in The Fall and Rise of Podcasting, first recounts the podcast landscape around 2007:

…the bubble around podcasting popped. Without top-quality shows, serious advertisers, and loyal listeners, the hype died.

It’s important to clarify: podcasting never really “fell”. The mid-2000s hype around it certainly did, but it was mostly limited to a handful west-coast startups and investors in the first place. That hype, and its fall, never reached most podcast producers or fans — the medium has mostly grown slowly and steadily.

Back to present day, Allen describes the current (awesome) podcast landscape:

So the number of geek-oriented shows is definitely going through a boom. That’s great, but it’s driven me to wonder: is this is actually sustainable, or is it just another bubble of perception like Odeo was? …

Unlike advertising elsewhere, podcast advertising is dominated by a few players like Squarespace and Hover. Are these big advertisers going to burn out on podcasting ads, or do they know something other companies don’t know?

It does seem like, for instance, Squarespace dominates podcast sponsorships, but that’s mostly because they advertise so broadly and frequently. When you’re exposed to the same ad a lot, it sticks, while you more easily forget the others.

If you actually look at all of a show’s sponsorships over a few months, you’ll see that any one sponsor — even Squarespace — rarely buys more than about 20% of the inventory. It would hurt to lose all of the big sponsors, but no single sponsor is big enough to crush the industry if it left.

Podcast sponsorship can be very valuable, but like most forms of advertising, it brings a high customer-acquisition cost. If you’re selling a 99-cents-up-front app with no other revenue, it’s going to be hard for you to recoup your investment. But if you’re selling hosted services, or anything else in which the value of a customer up front or over time is more than a few dollars, podcast ads can be extremely effective and profitable for you — especially when targeted to a focused, profitable market like tech geeks or software developers.

I believe it’s reasonably sustainable.

With all this growth, what improvements are we seeing in the tools? As of this writing, a horde of developers are building podcast listening apps. Podcast recording apps, on the other hand?

Well, more about that soon.

I’m glad to see people realizing that podcast production tools are mostly awful, and at best, not especially optimized for podcasting.

But I’m not a believer that everyone should podcast, or that podcasting should be as easy as blogging. There’s actually a pretty strong benefit to it requiring a lot of effort: fewer bad shows get made, and the work that goes into a good show is so clear and obvious that the effort is almost always rewarded.

People can go through a lot of bad text to get to the good stuff, and they’ll read a lot of bad sites for the occasional good post. Audio and video, on the other hand, have a time dimension and aren’t easily skimmable. Podcasts need to be consistently good to keep an audience around, and the biggest long-term limitation to podcast growth is simply how much time people have to listen. We already have a huge oversupply of great podcasts in many genres — most podcast fans wish they had more time to get to them all.

Anyone willing and able to make a good podcast should have access to usable, affordable tools to do so. But nobody’s going to be able to dump out a great podcast with little effort, just as nobody’s able to produce great video quickly and easily. Making a good podcast will never be as easy as writing text, and if you’re a podcast listener, that’s probably for the best.