Looking back over the last 16+ years that podcasting has been a thing, it’s clear that we've made some rather huge accomplishments. We've minted a few millionaires. We’ve collectively created more than 2 million shows available to listeners. Some of us have built solid production houses and other podcasting-specific firms that gainfully employ dozens and sometimes more than a hundred people.
There’s no doubt that we have, indeed, build a real economy out of podcasting. And I’m thankful for that, as podcasting is my only job!
But some things about the podcasting economy we’ve built are still dumb. And I hope it doesn't take us another 16 years to stop doing some of those dumb things.
Smart Speakers Still Suck For Listening To Podcasts
While there’s little doubt that consumption of podcasts on Smart Speakers is on the rise, it’s still a rotten experience. I have six AI-powered speakers from the same provider strategically placed throughout my two-bedroom condo. I listen to an obscene number of podcasts. Yet I never, ever listen to podcasts on any of those devices. Because it’s a rotten experience.
I lay a lot of the blame at the non-existent feet of voice-powered AI in its current state. Most of us are used to using our voice as the primary way we interface with other humans. But all of that comes crashing down when we’re just trying to tell our AI to shut off the lights in the master bedroom and have forgotten the highly specific incantation to achieve that bit of magic.
But back to podcasting. Not only can the AI rarely find the show I want to listen to, but it also can’t easily pipe an episode to me as I move from room to room. Nor is it smart enough to pause playing when I’m interrupted by a phone call or by something my wife wants to speak with me about.
Podcasting Data Is Still Untrustworthy And Obfuscated
Forget “accuracy” for a moment. The problem with podcasting statistics is an issue of trust. A few days ago, podcast hosting company Buzzsprout claimed in a Tweet:
“For the first time ever, Spotify accounted for more downloads than Apple Podcasts across the Buzzsprout platform.”
Trouble is, no other hosting company can back up that claim. And chances are, you looked at your podcast hosting company’s stats page and wondered where all your Spotify listeners are, because you’re probably seeing between 10–20% of your downloads attributable to Spotify.
That leaves us with two possibilities: Either Buzzsprout is wrong, or every other podcast hosting company is wrong. Which is it? Well, since very few podcast hosting companies share aggregate data and even fewer are clear as to their counting methodology, all download numbers are treated with suspicion.
But we’re not absolved of blame, podcasters. Generally speaking, and I’m sure you don’t do this, podcasters tend to falsely report the size of their audiences. Some of that (and I’d wager most of that) is simply posturing; exaggerating numbers to make our shows seem like they are more widely listened to than they really are. But a fair amount comes down to ignorance. Podcast hosting platforms uniformly do a rotten job of answering the simple question every podcaster wants to know: “How many people are listening to my show?” So it’s not surprising that podcasters just grab the biggest number they can find in their dashboard and shout about that.
RSS Feeds Still Suck
Before you start pelting me with rotten leftover eggs from last weekend, I will acknowledge that RSS feeds for podcasting have changed and improved over where we started. Furthermore, Podcastindex.org is having some early success gaining adoption for their new crowd-sourced tags, which will further improve the functionality of RSS feeds, which remain the lifeblood of podcasting distribution.
But RSS feeds still suck and are forcing silly limitations on podcasts. Why can't we yet name a season? Why are we stuck with “Season 1”? Why can’t we include credits much as we see at the end of TV shows and movies? Why can’t we reference other episodes to encourage threaded listening, rather than forcing listeners to follow a linear path? We can't do any of those sorts of connections because we’re using RSS feeds to do more than they were intended to do, that’s why.
Podcasting Is Still Terribly Under-monetized
It's great news that podcasting is projected to break 1 billion in ad revenues in 2021. That was supposed to happen last year. Thanks, COVID-19.
But a billion dollars is still tiny when compared to other ad-supported mediums. And while I know that some of the biggest advertisers are slow to pivot into new spaces, I also know what a giant pain in the ass it is to successfully advertise on podcasts.
It’s hard to buy at scale. It’s hard to see returns at scale. Hats off to Better Health for investing more in podcast advertising so far in 2021 than any other form of advertising they fund. But they’re the exception. The bulk of advertisers still look at podcasting and give it a pass.
Evo’s Still Cranky
Not really cranky (OK, maybe a little cranky). But definitely realistic. And as a realist, I have to point out that every issue raised above is solvable. More to the point, I think all of those issues will be solved. And I don’t think it’ll take another 16 years.
That’s exciting to me. Because once we get those issues resolved, or at least edge them closer to perfection, podcasting will be made better.
If you found this more eye-opening than cranky, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and slide virtual coffee my way.
And you know someone in the podcasting space needs to hear this harsh bit of reality but with a slice of hope, then please forward this article to them. I would greatly appreciate that.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.