Podcasting Has A Hub-and-Spoke Problem
Herding cats, corralling feral hogs… Pick your metaphor. But trying to force today's new crop of podcast listeners to behave the way you want them to behave as just kind of... dumb. Welcome to the new world order, podcaster.
I think that the hub-and-spoke model we've been using in podcasting is broken. I’ve long questioned the use of the traditional hub-and-spoke model in podcasting, though it tends to work well in other forms of media. But when I read Tom Webster’s Three Ways To Survive Podcasting’s Existential Crisis article, the extent of that brokenness became clear. And I want to make it clear to you too.
You already know that you and your episodes need to be in/on the places where these new “rookie” listeners are already consuming podcast content. And you know that “being there” isn’t enough, but that you need to have your content live there, since that’s where the rookie listeners are living. And there’s no reason not to do so, because you can make a version of your podcast episodes that can comfortably live there.
Today I want to wrap it all together and point out why the feral hog or herded cats metaphor is right. And to convince you that the hub-and-spoke model is broken for podcasting.
For the better part of 15 years, we podcasters have been operating under the assumption that our audio files or our RSS feed is the embodiment of our podcast, and that we must drive potential listeners away from where we’re telling them about our podcast to a different place where they can consume the podcast.
That's the way hub-and-spoke marketing works. You have a hub in the middle (your main content) and you have spokes radiating out and into places where people are, all with the intent of bringing those people back to the hub where the content lives.
But really… nobody likes to do that. And it’s dumb for podcasters because, as we've learned over the years from other industries, people want to consume and enjoy content right where they have chosen to be.
Viewed in this light, the entire concept of putting “marketing messages” out on these various places, each driving people away from where they live just to get our content -- content that can easily be consumed right there where they live -- is misguided at best.
Does this mean you should dump your website and just try to navigate untethered in the fractured web? No, of course not. If you meet somebody at a party and they are curious about your podcast, you won’t want to direct them to your YouTube channel or ask them to follow you on Twitter. That’s dumb, too. Yes, send that person to your website. Even better: Ask them to take out their phone, open their preferred listening app, and listen to an episode of your show right there. (Every person you have this conversation with will have at least one podcast listening app on their phone, I assure you.)
But in almost every other case, our best course of action is to make sure that we're letting discovery flow straight into consumption with zero friction. That’s not easy, which is why I (and Tom) say you need to learn to love this new world order.
Learn to love it because there are going to be problems that you will have to overcome. For one, your podcast’s stats are going to be wrong. Often times, you can’t get reliable view/play counts from these new places your podcast episodes will live. So no, you won’t be able to say with any degree of certainty exactly how many people your content is reaching.
Here's the solution: Stop caring about that.
Seriously. Stop caring about that. The fact is that you've never been able to track everything exactly. And that's ok. Embrace that reality and learn to love the fact that some of your hard-fought efforts may not be accurately “countable”.
And if you think you can convince listeners to only consume your episodes in a way that benefits your download numbers, then you haven't been paying attention. If that’s your North Star, you’ve already lost, because that’s neither practical nor possible.
The only people for whom this is a problem worthy of discussion are those who are selling ads against impressions of their episode. If you push out your podcast episodes somewhere that has an ad in it with no way to track that impression, you're not getting credit for it.
I understand your plight. I get it. I am sympathetic to your cause. But your cause doesn't matter in the larger scheme of things. I know you want as many trackable and monetizable impressions as possible, but you’ll never get everyone to always and only listen via your preferred, trackable methods, no matter how much you wish for it. It’s kind of like wishing for the hurricane to not make landfall.
The reality is that people want to listen, consume, watch, or read where they want to do those things We podcasters have to adapt to that.
But… how do we really adapt to that?
The tools that we have in place today in 2019 are insufficient. Sure, today’s tools make it easy to take one piece of content and spread it out in multiple places. But they don't make it easy to customize that content so that it lives properly and appropriately in each of those environments.
But someone is going to solve this problem, which is going to cause us to think differently about assembling episodes once we have software and services to help with this.
If you looking for the next cool opportunity in podcast tech; this is it! Enabling podcasters to create custom “edges” around the core of our episodes is needed badly so that the media files we share intentionally live natively and naturally on each platform, free of the lexicons and calls-to-actions that mean nothing in that environment.
But that’s not an easy problem to solve, and the processes we have to help distribute episodes in 2019 actively fight against that, encouraging us down the “one-size-fits-all” path.
This again makes my case that the future of podcasting is going to look quite different than the past of podcasting. Podcasters are in for some massive changes as we survive our way through podcasting’s existential crisis.
I would love to hear where you are watching/listening/reading this content. I put a lot of effort into making sure that all three of those things are possible with my episodes, and I would love to know where it is you found this particular episode and how good of a job I did at customizing it for the place you live. I know I can do much, much better, so be honest!
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Enjoy the weekend! I will be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.