Podcasters, at least those of us who release content in an episodic form, we treat our past episodes like their water under the bridge, as if they’ll be heard the day or week we release them, never to be listened to again in the future.
In large part, that is true. Episodic podcasts don’t require the listener to back up to the beginning to get caught up. The most recent episode is sufficient, and even someone does take an immediate shine to your content, they might go back and pick up two or three of your prior episodes. It's not all that common where people download your entire catalog.
Or is it?
Looking at not only my show but also the shows I produce on behalf of business-first clients all around the world, occasionally we'll see spikes where someone chooses to download the entire archive.
And some episodic shows (like this one, perhaps?) that provide shorter-form evergreen content are a more natural fit for listening to the entire archive. It’s the listeners’ choice, after all. Last week a brand new podcaster sent me a note to explain while he didn’t download all 267 episodes, he did download and listen to all of the episodes I’ve produced since the beginning of the year.
And so that's great. You and I love it when people react so strongly to our content that they have to grab the full catalog.
But… what if some of the comments we made in those old episodes aren’t perfect? I’m not worried terribly about “perfect” from an audio-quality standpoint. The person made the choice to download old episodes. They should understand that the further back in the catalog they go, it's likely that they’ll encounter less-than-perfect audio. Especially if they go back to the beginning.
My bigger concerns when people back and listen to everything ever produced by me are twofold.
1. Dealing with evolved best practices.
Are the things you said in an episode from 2007 still current? Is was considered “good advice” at the time run counter to best practices today?
2. Dealing with evolved cultural norms.
When I started podcasting back in 2004, I leaned heavily into the more argumentative and (if I’m being honest) asshole-ish tendencies of my personality. Not really for shock value as much as it was to get my co-hosts and guests to laugh. I’m no trained comedian, and I’ll admit that some of the jokes I made were pretty cheap shots that I'm embarrassed by today. (Fortunately, most of the insensitive and downright offensive comments were made on shows that have been purged from the internet. I hope. Let’s just say I won’t be running for office anytime soon to put that theory to the test.)
I am deep in the process of fixing some poor decisions I made when I started this show back in 2018. In short, I’m (finally) combining everything into a single property instead of relying on various disparate systems to present the show and episodes. The hard work is the boring part where I copy and paste content from various platforms to the new platforms. As I do it, I'm seeing some things that I'm not sure should be out there anymore.
So far, nothing has been completely and totally wrong. In the context of history, they’ve been fine. Mostly. More than one has caused me consternation. What do I do if one episode, say whatever I said on episode 117 (which is a made-up number and why I’m not linking to episode 117 which is probably fine) is now flat out wrong. It was right at the time, but the world has changed and now that’s bad advice.
Can I trust a listener will know that advice has been updated? I don’t think I can. I don't mention the date during the recording. And podcast listening apps don’t go out of their way to show the date when a show was recorded. And I don’t really want them to, as I’m working hard to make evergreen content that is discovered by search engines, so I don’t want someone turned off by thinking the content is old and outdated. Except sometimes it is outdated! Agh! The angst is real.
Should I remove the episode from my feed and website? Will it look odd to have episode 116 followed by 118? Will I have to explain to people repeatedly what happened to 117? Should I go back and rerecord episode 117 so that I update the out-of-date things that I said? And just how slippery is that slope? That sounds like a huge challenge for my 267 episodes. What about the podcasters who have 700 or 1100 episodes under their belts. Should they go back?
Should a podcast be held responsible for what they said 10 years ago? Or should the responsibility fall on the listener to examine publishing date so that they take the contents with the context of time? That just sounds weasely as I type it!
I don't know the right answer to this question. I want you to think about it. I think everybody has to come up with their own right answer. So far in my process, I haven't seen anything that is so terrible I have to get rid of it. But I've seen a few things that are making me wonder what to do.
What are you going to do? What's your plan with all of this? Maybe you should have this conversation with another podcaster to find out what their plan is. I think these kinds of decisions are best made when we discuss them together. So talk with other podcasts at the next meetup, online chat, or when you go to Facebook or Reddit to see what the various forums have to say. Ask your fellow podcasts how are they dealing with the skeletons in their podcasting closet.
And of course, you can tell them it was an episode of Podcast Pontifications that sparked the question. Yes, this is me asking you to tell someone to listen to this particular episode (and the whole show) because it’s helpful for any working podcaster, right? I mean, that's why you listen.
If you want to tell me what you're doing to address your podcasting skeletons, email me at evo@PodcastLaunch.pro. I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.