Commoditization happens in all industries. There’s an argument that even podcasting has become a commodity, and I‘m not sure that I agree. But maybe I’m wrong.
Let’s explore that by using the metaphor of making a podcast versus making a can of beans.
If you need a can of pinto beans, you go to the store. You may have a favorite brand of pinto beans that you buy, but probably not. By and large, a can of pinto beans is a can of pinto beans — the same with any kind of beans you can think of.
If you went to the store to buy a can of beans, and you see nine different brands, you just pick one. Or you pick the cheapest one, or you pick the organic one, but it doesn’t matter much. If the brand of beans you went in to buy wasn’t there, you’d just pick another can of beans.
This is why I don’t think that podcasting is quite the same thing because if the podcast you listen to is not available, you wouldn’t just pick another at random. (Then again, you wouldn’t just grab a can of corn if the grocery store was out of beans. You’d go to another store. But I digress…)
As my mind continues down this train of thought of making a podcast versus a can of beans, as far as commodities goes, I’m struck with the fact that there are a few ways to make sure that you’re not making a commodity out of your podcast.
The first way is to do something so quality, so bespoke, so specific… that your podcast can never be commoditized.
You can probably point to several podcasts that, if it weren’t for that host, with those guests, doing that topic, or if it weren’t for that production company putting that amount of effort into it… it just wouldn’t work. No one can commoditize that particular show. There are some podcasts out there that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate.
Sure, you can do the deep dive route, putting hundreds of thousands of hours (and dollars) into making sure that your show is not copyable, but the reality is most podcasts don’t do that. Most podcasts — to quote Sturgeon’s Law — suck.
Most podcasts are quite easy to replicate, especially the “interview-style” show where with only a handful of variables — the quality of the host, the quality of the guests, the quality of the content, and then the quality of the production itself. Those are fairly easy to replicate.
The important distinction is this: nobody can replicate the same experiences a host or a guest has.
You might be able to cover the same topics, find similar guests, and copy the style. But you still cannot clone the person and their experiences.
Case in point: There’s nothing stopping someone from starting a daily,10-minute show where they pontificate about podcasting, just like I’ doing. But I bring almost 15 years of podcasting experience, and decades of real-world business operations experience. That’s harder for someone to replicate.
Are you making a podcast or are you making a can of beans? Well, today in Podcasting Land, from the outside looking in, it may look a little like a can of beans. So how do you make a can of beans (a metaphor for your podcast) special? Quality can be commoditized too. If the store is out of the Del Monte brand, the Kroger beans will do just as well. Beans is beans, after all.
Here’s one defense: Add in elements that are difficult for other people to replicate. In beans, that might be adding some weird spices. You can do that with your podcast to fight commoditization, by putting something special that only you or only your show can bring to the table.
Your experience can be a large part of that. It could be your expansive Rolodex of people you know (if you are releasing an interview-based show). And if you are, how are you choosing your guests? Are you carefully vetting them to make sure that they’re knowledgeable and can speak intelligently about the topic?
If you and your experiences are the special piece, how much research have you done on the topic of your episode? Of the entire premise of your soon-to-be-launched show? I love playing frisbee golf, but I don’t have the specific knowledge base to be a true expert. Just because I find it interesting, it doesn’t mean I’m going to make a great podcast about disc golf. The same holds true for you interests. Not to put too fine a point on it: Are you just interested, or are you willing to be come a true expert?
Another way you can combat commoditization is to make sure your show sounds good. I mentioned earlier that most podcasts suck. They do — for a lot of reasons. But one of the big reasons is that all too many podcasts take a Blue Yeti microphone, sit it in the middle of the room, and shout towards it. That’s not going to create great audio quality.
Ultimately, you have to make sure there’s something special about your show. When you talk about your show, do you say, “Well, I interview entrepreneurs”?
Great. So do a thousand other shows. Next!
You must find what sets you apart, what you bring to the table, or which niche you fit in. If you have a set of questions that you got from somebody else’s show that was popular, then you might already be producing a commodity. If your show is interchangeable with every other show that also talked to the same guests or deals with the same topics you do… that’s not enough. You’ve likely built a commodity. Unfortunately, the reason businesses get into the commodity game is because they can do things more cheaply, more efficiently, and that makes them lots of money even at razor thin margins. There are no margins in podcasting. Not like that. Or not yet.
You must find a way to make your podcast special. What are you an expert on? What can you do that no one else can?
I know you maybe new to the idea of podcasting. And I know you’re not completely sure what you want to do with your podcast. But you need to make sure your end-product isn’t something that’s easily replaced by the next person. Or it’s just a can of beans.