Thoughts on Podcasts

I’m sure that like many of you coming from the generation that grew up with radio, the recent Podcast boom is very welcome indeed.

I listened regularly to and a lot, to the radio in my youth, music, news — all sorts to be honest. I particularly enjoyed the local pirate radios stations that played the stuff the big stations wouldn’t. I was lucky, there were many available where we lived. We could pickup stations from miles and miles away. The independence of those stations always attracted me. The idea to do and say pretty much anything, but always with the direct feedback that it was either working or not — listeners phoned in when they were not happy.

Which makes me think of the state of Podcasts today.

They’re essentially like local independent (pirate) radio stations — albeit on a global scale — discussing whatever they like. If you have a niche interest, there’s almost certainly a podcast for you out there. If you’re trying to learn a new language they can be an excellent resource to help you.

For the last few years I’ve been treated to shows ranging from the essentially amateur, but interesting, to the seriously well-produced professional shows like This American Life and, of course, Serial. All this totally free. Fire up your podcast app of choice, punch in the show name, subscribe and off you go.

Ads or subscriptions?

Most of these shows are Ad-supported and frankly, that’s fair enough, but it seems the Ad revenue is drying up as the popularity increases. More podcasts, advertisers are more diluted or forced to chose which podcasts to support. Which in turn means more and more podcasters are having to search for revenue. Podcasting is not free. You need, at the very least, to host the data and accept the download charges involved if it becomes popular. That costs money. And even if those costs are getting reduced as time marches on, it will never get to zero. Someone has to pay.

So what have the podcasters decided to do about that? Subscriptions and memberships are where its at, apparently.

Unsustainable

I’ve paid for some and will likely continue, and probably pay for more in the future, but at some point this is even more unsustainable than the Ad-supported model. Why?

Well here’s the thing. Most people like to watch many TV channels, or read many books — podcasts are no different. My feed contains around 40 podcasts currently, and I’m not an extreme case.

The subscription model that complements the falling Ad revenue is going to have to increase and be more prevalent otherwise the podcasters are going out of business. They don’t do ‘just for fun’ ! Most of the ‘Membership’ models require around 5 to 10$ per month. If only half of my feed goes subscription that translates to around 100 to a 200$ per month, just to listen to a few Podcasts.

There’s just no way I’m going to pay 1200$ or more to listen to podcasts. My, very mediocre Satelite TV subscription isn’t even close to that price and offers around 100 channels,  practically 24 hours a day. Despite only 10 to 15 being watchable.

Consolidation and mutualisation

So, for me, the next logical step is consolidation of the podcast networks. We’re seeing some of this already — although its more of a natural phenomenon rather than revenue pressure — where quite a few Podcast Networks have sprung up. But further consolidation will be necessary in order to mutualise and benefit from the economies of scale. That may or may not have an effect of reducing overall quality, but I honestly doubt that, the producers are just too passionate currently.

I’m more concerned that we get back to the starting point of big corporations running ‘Podcasts’ and the small independent guys being squeezed out .

The question is; will the independents get big enough to fight off the corporations only to then become the new corporations ?

Photo by Matthew Cowen