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If you haven't listened to podcast fiction yet, you are really missing out. I am a huge fan of podcast fiction. Yes. I listen to news programs, sports programs, some comedy podcasts, interview shows, solo presenters, and in-depth investigative journalism. I sample the full buffet which podcasting provides.
But podcast fiction is probably my favorite genre.
If you're thinking today’s podcast fiction is simply a resurgence of audio drama 1930s radio, you have the wrong assumption. While podcast fiction certainly can replicate that style, today’s podcast fiction scene is much more broad and rich than that.
Amazing soundscapes transport you to a new world. Well-placed sound effects put you in the middle of the scene. Really talented voice actors make characters come alive. Solo storytellers show you their world as they intended you to hear it. Large-casts and small casts work together to weave incredibly complex and compelling tales.
Yes, the space is heavily dominated by science fiction and fantasy. But there's every kind of podcast fiction imaginable, from general-interest fiction to niche productions of interest to the LGBTQ community, and more!
No matter what kind of fiction you like, there’s probably a podcast fiction production out there for you. I encourage you to go find it and have a listen. It is wonderful entertainment. Even if you don’t read fiction, you probably watch fiction on TV or at the movies. If that’s you, try out some podcast fiction. You’ll love it.
But things aren’t perfect in the world of podcast fiction. The genre is oftentimes misunderstood (or underestimated) by other podcasters and those who cover podcasting alike. It’s that last group that’s been a constant problem: a journalist is assigned to write about podcast fiction because their editor tells them to. Neither of them really understand the space, but they’ve a deadline to meet. So they do a cursory glance, regurgitate incorrect assumptions made by others, and put a half-assed piece out to the world that perpetuates the problem. Boo.
Inside the larger podcasting community, producers of podcast fiction constantly struggle to have their voices heard and gain acceptance. Not out of malice, but usually out of ignorance. Podcast fiction is so different than the rest of podcasting, it’s easiest for many to focus in on what seems familiar and ignore what seems weird and alien. (Sometimes literally!)
That's why I'm taking a full episode of Podcast Pontifications to elevate the profile of podcast fiction to you, the working podcaster, who might not have been exposed to it yet. No, I’m not a producer of podcast fiction. I have, however, played a role in helping podcast fiction spread since… well, the beginning of my tenure in podcasting, which goes back nearly 16 years.
However, there are some problems and challenges in the world of podcast fiction. There are many issues that plague podcast fiction that contributes to its ongoing ostracization. Let me detail a few of them:
Some podcast fiction sucks
An oft-cited problem with podcast fiction has to do with issues of quality. If you randomly sample a piece of podcast fiction, there’s a non-zero chance that your encounter will be with something that’s decidedly not-great. While very good works of podcast fiction do exist, that can’t be said of all podcast fiction.
But why is that surprising to you? Examine any creative endeavor, and you’ll find the same thing. Sturgeon’s Law always applies to everything. Ask a friend who’s in a creative writing group and (if they’re honest) they’ll admit that some stories shared oftentimes aren't great. My wife won’t let me go to open mic nights where musicians hop up on stage and play for the crowd, because of the constant cringing I can’t keep off my face. Nor can I go to a local comedy club because I’m turned-off of the entire night if I don’t find a single act all that funny.
But that's just me and my asshole-like qualities that make me an impatient consumer of content. That writing group is packed with people -- often the same people -- every single week. People on stage at open mic night are met with encouraging crowds who sing along and clap at the end. And the local comedy club is packed with people laughing and having a lovely night out.
I may not find the content to my liking, but that doesn't invalidate the entire system. It just means I’m a picky bastard.
Podcast fiction is overlooked by advertisers
As ad revenue continues to pour into podcasting, producers of podcast fiction are often locked out. There are a number of reasons given for this behavior, but I think it all boils down to this: The people who sell advertising on podcasts don't know about podcast fiction. Or if they do, they don't understand the different listening behavior of fans of podcast fiction vs those who listen to “normal” podcasts.
But those ad salespeople need to get over that, as they're missing a golden opportunity. What makes podcast advertising a better buy than other forms of media? The live host read. And who better to do a live host read than people who make fiction come to life! When actors and writers incorporate the ad into the story, it ceases to become an ad and just becomes content.
Podcast fiction is hard to make
Like, really hard. And it starts with the writing stage. Writing content that is to be consumed via ears-only is very different than writing content that will be consumed either on-screen or on the page. Those giant paragraphs that make an author sound really smart in a book or article don't work as well in the audio-only world. The clever dialog that a screenwriter knows will work on-screen thanks to a talented director of photography isn’t really an option when the audience isn’t using their eyes to assist with the audio.
Then there's the process of actually making those words come alive in audio. Finding talented actors. Working with sound engineers. Applying the right scoring. It's a giant amount of work at every step of the process of making great podcast fiction. I’m amazed people even try.
So what can podcasters who do not do podcast fiction learn from the podcast fiction community? I think there's a lot we can learn about the process of and work behind making great audio, sure. But I think our biggest takeaway should be comradery.
If you spend any time with the people who make podcast fiction, at a podcast conference, in a local group, or even online, you’ll realize that these people genuinely love each other. They are incredibly supportive, lifting each other up when they deserve (and need) to be lifted. They are as tight-knit of a community as I have seen in podcasting. If fact, I’d say they are the most tight-knit community in all genres of podcasting.
So even if you are not making podcast fiction, I highly recommend trying to spend some time with makers of podcast fiction. Go to their meetups. Sit in the audience of their panels and talks at podcast conferences. And pay close attention to the community around them to see that comradery in action.
And no, I’m not ending on a “What can the podcast fiction community learn from us?” note. Because I'm pretty sure that one less old white man telling the podcast fiction creator community what they should be doing would be a good thing.
Instead, I’ll ask you and your own circle of podcasting friends to check out some great podcast fiction. I maintain a list of podcast fiction productions that I really enjoy on Podchaser called Evo-licious Podcast Fiction. Rest assured that the quality of each show on my list is top-notch. And yes, you can send me your recommendations of other podcast fiction shows I should try out and consider adding to my shared list.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.