Evo’s note: There was an attempted coup to overthrow the government of the United States of America last night. So you're checking this out years later... well, now you know why this episode seems a bit off.
Why are podcasters so hard to organize? All indications are that The Podcast Academy is having an existential crisis. Chairperson of TPA and friend of mine Rob Greenlee from Libsyn is stepping down from the position and has noted that the board is electing brand new officers. This comes on the heels of the announcement that Hernan Lopez would be leaving Wondery post-acquisition to focus on his own foundation unrelated to The Podcast Acadamy as well as some outstanding legal challenges.
So while it’s not dead yet, there’s a very good chance that TPA will fizzle out after a year. And that’s a shame, I think. But it’s also not surprising. Nor is it the first time an organization attempting to… well, organize podcasters has failed.
Do Podcasters Share Anything Other Than A Name?
It used to be that saying “I’m a podcaster” meant you had lots of things in common with another person using the same moniker. You had shared experiences, shared goals, and a shared lexicon. That was true in the very early days of podcasting. But the natural drift of such an open medium occurred, and how we’re different. Like, weirdly and vastly different.
For years now, the only thing podcasters most assuredly had in common was distributing audio files via RSS feeds. But today, even that’s in question.
And I’m OK with that. I'm not arguing that we need to put more clearly defined boundaries around what is and what isn’t podcasting. That’s silly and very much not the point I’m trying to make.
Imagine the struggle of trying to make an association that catered to the needs of painters. All painters. Like, literally everyone who applies color to a surface in a method that might be considered painting. Commercial house painters. Electrostatic metal painters working on assembly lines. Now throw in fine arts painters who work in oils. Don’t forget those who work in acrylics. Or the watercolor painters who dabble on the weekends, or the five-year-olds who love to fingerpaint. Oh, and the paint-by-number “artists”. Wait! We forgot the people who paint cars for a living, graffiti artists, city officials marking the hidden equipment and lines underground. Even tattoo artists.
There may be commonalities and shared needs amongst some of those, but the further apart they get, the less they have shared interests. And the more futile it is to try and serve all of their needs.
Niche Podcast Associations Are Better
Every working podcaster knows that if you try to make a show for everyone, you end up targeting no one. Associations and interest groups for podcasters are no different.
That’s why I applaud the efforts to organize—unionize—those who work in podcasting. Both the Writers Guild of America and the Communication Workers of America are making early inroads, using the power of collective bargaining to better those with actual jobs working in podcasting.
Interestingly, a niche-focus was what had me excited about The Podcast Academy last year, with a focus on the behind-the-scenes people who aren’t on-mic, from writers to producers sound designers. But maybe that in itself was too broad and led to their demise.
But there other groups forming, working, and even making progress. Like the Open Podcast Analytic Working Group—OPAWG—dedicated to coming up with standards for podcast analytics that are better and more approachable than provided by the IAB.
The Podcast Taxonomy Consortium is trying to wrangle all the disparate titles and positions within podcasting, defining the differences between a producer and editor, for example.
There's the Podcast Index and their drive to create better namespaces that extend the usefulness of RSS feeds beyond the way they’ve been since 2004. (Only Apple have been successful in gaining widespread adoption of new RSS tags, which is insane.)
Those organizations are the kinds of organizations that will benefit podcasting—all of podcasting, without focusing on serving all the needs of all podcasters.
When we try to hold on to the principle of “let’s build an association that all podcasters can benefit from”, we end up making too many compromises so that it winds up being beneficial to no podcasters.
Having said that, I hope The Podcast Academy survives. My membership dues are paid up, and I’d like to re-up later this year. But we’ll see what happens. I encourage you to check out some of the associations I’ve listed above and try them out. And if you’re thinking of starting your own association or organization to support podcasters, niche it down.
If you thought this article was helpful, head to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and toss a couple of bucks my way.
But more importantly, please tell a friend about Podcast Pontifications. I’m taking my own advice and am fine-tuning the focus to the “podcasters in the middle”—Those of us underneath the bell curve who aren’t brand new but also aren’t (yet) making gazillions of dollars with our podcasts. Those of us who are trying to evolve and improve, making our own podcasts and therefore all of podcasting better.
Enjoy your weekend, if at all possible. I’m sure the ramifications of yesterday’s failed attempt to thwart the will of a majority of Americans will be ongoing. With luck, I shall be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.