Skyrocketing inflation. Rekindled assaults on personal freedoms. Even crypto is tanking. All the signs are pointing to a coming recession. How much more can podcasting take? Or to just ask the question outright: can podcasting survive the coming storm? (I'm going to torture the hell out of that metaphor. Just so you are aware.)
Yes, I think that it will. But that doesn't mean I think podcasting is too big to fail. It isn't podcasting's size that will save it. The good news for all of us is that podcasting is too diverse to fail.
But let me temper the coming bad news with some Very Good news. By now, you've probably heard the news that Tom Webster is joining us over at Sounds Profitable. Which, come think of it... did you know I'm working with Sounds Profitable in an official capacity now? Well, I am. And what we'll be announcing in the coming weeks will be very cool. Both Tom and Bryan share in my commitment to make podcasting better, and with the help of some amazing people also involved, we're going to put that concept into action. You're going to love it.
OK, enough of the good news. Let's get back to the apparent doom and gloom just outside the window. Because, as mentioned, things are...bad. Objectively bad. And I don't think any serious person assumes that podcasting will escape the fallout from whatever is to come.
But I also don't think that fallout will kill podcasting or us podcasters. Unless it's actual, literal fallout, which is an unfortunate possible reality I haven't had to think about since the end of the cold war.
But this isn't about politics. Or rather, it's not only about politics. It's about... everything. Everything that's keeping us up at night. Everything that's making us wonder if we're the only one who feels this way? Or is everyone in podcasting feeling this way?
Good news (sort of): everyone in podcasting feels this way.
They may have more or less dread than you. They may not be anxiously tweeting about it. They may not be terribly worried because they have contingency plans in place tol let them ride out the coming storm.
But I don't know a single serious podcaster who isn't looking at the world around them and wondering just how their world will change in the coming months. So no, you're not alone.
But back to why I chose "too diverse to fail" instead of "too big to fail." My decision is tied to the fact that I don't see podcasting, or even podcasters, as a monolithic group. Spotify and iHeart may be hit by the same wave because they're both in the same boat to keep the tortured storm metaphor going. But the scrappy independent podcaster isn't in the same boat as the host who sold their show and is now supported by a big production house, so the wave hits them with a different direction and amplitude. One may be hurt by that wave more than the other.
To take it a bit further, I won't be surprised if "big podcasting" faces the brunt of the onslaught. I fully expect to see casualties in the aftermath, with some staples of "big podcasting" today either cutting their losses or ceasing operations altogether. I don't celebrate this fact. I'm not trying to bring that future into existence. I talk about it because all podcasters—of any size—need to be prepared for rocky and lean times ahead.
Don't Take Economic Advice From Me
This should go without saying, but I am not an economist. I'm sure I've already used incorrect terminology as I've toss around recession, depression, and market downturn like I understand the nuances between them all. I don't. And there's no need to send me articles that explain the nuances of those terms, because I will not read those articles.
Whatever the right phrase is, I've made it through many already. I was just starting my second career during the recession of the early 90s, the boom that followed, and all the way through the dot com bubble bursting. I was a four-year veteran of podcasting during the global financial crisis of 2008. And like other podcasters who survived the global pandemic...I survived the global pandemic.
But none of those lived experiences qualify me to give you financial advice. If I'm qualified to do anything, it's to pontificate on podcasting today and tomorrow. I have no predictions for you. Just some perspective, hopefully.
Faced with financial pressures, businesses start cutting costs. And one of the first line items to be cut is always advertising and marketing. We saw some of this during the early months of the pandemic. And while there certainly were many sectors that cut way back, podcast advertising and marketing budgets, on the whole, weren't negatively impacted.
But they very well could be this time.
If you're getting paid to run ads on your show, know that you may see an interruption as one or more of your advertisers pulls back. If you have a direct relationship with your advertisers, start having conversations with those advertisers now. If you rely on an agency or third party to directly sell your show on your behalf, start talking to your agency rep. Be flexible and creative. If you rely on programmatic ads or other hands-off options...good luck. Low-effort campaigns require low-effort to turn off, too.
If you've been running paid campaigns to grow your show and those campaigns are working for you, with a solid ROAS (return on ad spend), then keep on keepin' on if that makes sense for you. But think about having conversations with the shows, sites, and services you advertise on to see what their plans are. If you're using bid-based, self-service, or automated solutions, keep your eye on changing bids, impression volume, or any performance metrics. And be prepared to make some quick changes.
If you're selling podcast production services to companies or individuals, you may want to reconfirm your clients' commitments to the shows you produce on their behalf. I just had a client put on hold a couple of big projects we were still in the early stages of until next year. This means the revenue I thought was coming in this year now isn't. A call from you could help assuage their fears. And if you get the impression that their commitment is wavering, at least you know ahead of time, right?
If you work for a company in the business of podcasting, start talking to your bosses. Many companies are reluctant to discuss finances. But more forward-thinking companies are being more open with their staff. And you asking the question will show the people in charge that you're concerned with the company's financial health even if your motivations are strongly self-preservative. Don't expect the CFO to lay everything out on the table for you, but it never hurts to ask. Gently, though.
None of us know how this is going to play out. But it will play out, one way or another. Keep your eyes open. Plan for the worst but hope for the best. The coming recession won't kill podcasting, and I hope you, your show, or your services make it through to the other side.
With that, I shall be back next week with yet another Podcast Pontifications.