I love a good distraction. A meander. A cool new thing—related to podcasting or not—that I can spin a few cycles on. For me, doing so helps keep my brain from getting gunked up and prevents me from getting stuck in a rut. Being on the bleeding edge keeps me energized. And I'm not gonna lie; knowing that people turn to me for ideas on "what's next" is pretty cool.
There are also tangible benefits from tinkering with the next new thing as soon as you can, like gaining early movers status. And remember, it's difficult to predict what is going to be and what is not going to be a hit. That's why I personally tend to dabble in new trends—if only for a short while—to see how they can further my own creativity as a podcaster.
So yes, I clearly love distractions. I think it's healthy for podcasters to explore new tools, technologies, and other nifty things that live on the periphery of podcasting.
But don't get too distracted.
Don't forget that what you're here for is your podcast.
Don't get so distracted that you start to spend more time with that thing on the periphery than you spend time with your podcast.
But let's get real for a moment: Not everyone who starts out podcasting stays a podcaster. Many podcasters dabble in a distraction on the edge of podcasting and then go all in, and what was a distraction becomes their full-time creative endeavor.
I personally know ex-podcasters who now write full-time. I personally know ex-podcasters who are killing it on YouTube and Instagram. I personally know ex-podcast service providers who found their initially-aimed-at-podcasters product gaining much more adoption in a completely different industry. So no, once a podcaster, always a podcaster isn't an unbreakable rule.
Yet for the most part, podcasting has proven to be a rather resilient medium. Many of podcasting's purported disruptors have either fizzled out or remain little more than a curiosity. And new ones crop up all the time. Most will follow that same cycle, leaving podcasting relatively unchanged after the initial "hey, that's cool" period has waned, and that thing is no longer the new hotness.
Here are just a few examples:
Enhanced Podcasting By Any Other Name...
For the uninitiated, enhanced podcasting hit the scene in 2006, enabling podcasters to add images to various points in their podcast episode. If the listener happened to be listening on a device that supported the format (and very few did), those images would display in a sort of "slideshow with audio" format.
Not surprisingly, that concept quickly fizzled out. But it didn't die. Today there are a dozen or so apps building on that initial concept and fighting to gain traction. Not just images, but these new services allow video clips, polls, and links to outside content to be added to "enhance" the audio file.
On the surface, it's a compelling idea. I'll even concede that some of the new features by some of today's app developers could indeed make some podcast episodes more interesting when they are enhanced.
But enhanced podcasting—or whatever a developer's marketing team is calling it—has thus far failed to become the dominant way podcasts are created or consumed. And while I never like to say never; it's never going to happen. The fact that listeners don't have to watch or engage with their devices as they enjoy a podcast episode is one of podcasting's strongest features. Removing that effectively removes a leg on a chair, and things get wobbly.
If you want to explore enhanced podcasting or whatever it's being called now, sure. Have fun. Heck, you might even have an excellent use case that really does "enhance" the listening experience of your audience. But that's always going to be an exception rather than the rule.
The Pivot To Video That Never Was
It's not hyperbole to say the "pivot to video" has always been podcasting's presumed replacement. Podcasting actually predates YouTube, and YouTube grew much faster than podcasting. And rolled out viable monetization abilities for creators right away. As much as I cringe when I say this, YouTube is still the second largest search engine.
So, quite naturally, some podcasters started making video versions of their show way back in 2005. Which lead to the inevitable "gold rush" of new services that enabled even more podcasters to publish their podcasts in video form. Which is what fed (and continues to feed) the never-ending media coverage of podcasting's eventual pivot to video. I've read the same breathless article at least a dozen times over the last 15 years. Yet audio remains the preferred way listeners consume podcasts.
I'm not ignoring the huge successes of video-empowering companies like YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, and others. Nor am I denying that those can and do command more minutes created or watched than we see in podcasting. Also, many podcasters create content for or maintain a presence on those platforms. And as I said earlier, I know some ex-podcasters who ditched their podcast in favor of one or more of those platforms.
But that's not the norm. And more importantly, the pivot to video for podcasting didn't happen. And likely won't happen.
Dropping Drop-in, Social Audio
Social audio—or drop-in audio—services make it easy to produce a live talk show right from an app on your mobile device. A show that's also consumed exclusively—at least the "live" bit—through that same app. The timing of social audio's entry onto the stage was rather fortuitous, coinciding with the first wave of the pandemic back in 2020. Having the entire world on lockdown had many craving some real-time human interaction. And social audio apps gave us that.
Podcasters, already skilled at making engaging audio content, flocked to social audio apps, with some going so far as to find ways to hook up their recording studio's sound to the drop-in social audio app, allowing them to sound fantastic when they were live. In fact, some podcasters have gone so far as to record their entire podcasts on those services. Some still do that today.
But most aren't. They aren't because producing a fun live call-in show and producing an engaging podcast episode are two very different things. Fans of one feel short-changed when a podcaster tries to do them both at the same time.
I will again concede that some podcasters have found innovative ways to use social audio to benefit their podcasts. Grow their audience. Getting feedback from their listeners. Even extending the concepts explored or to be explored on their podcast episodes with a live audience.
Yes, those things are happening. But the predicted mass migration away from podcasting to producing shows exclusively on social audio platforms never materialized over any of drop-in audio's ongoing iterations. And it likely won't.
Let's Get Actually Real About Virtual Reality
Virtual reality. Augmented reality. The metaverse... none of these concepts are new. Granted, there's new money pouring into the space. And advances in technology have given us faster processors, smaller components, all the other things necessary to make Second Life Part II a thing. I watch enough scifi to know that eventually, yes, I do think it will be a thing.
But as much as I'd love to have a heads-up display projected onto my iris or be able to check out for a few hours in the middle of the day to a virtual beach in the tropics... none of that is going to replace podcasting. Not anytime soon.
So yes, enjoy the bleeding edge, podcaster. Get out there and explore. Just don't make such a big bet on any of those distractions that you lose sight of your podcast. Podcasting has resilience. Don't lose it.
I shall be back directly with yet another Podcast Pontifications.