Recently I tweeted my frustrations with a significant fraction of podcasters.
Luckily, that snarky post sparked a very healthy conversation where I was able to correct a few myths and incorrect assumptions, always a favorite thing of mine to do as I continue to work to make podcasting better.
My primary conceit is this: People who make serialized podcasts are doing a disservice to their listeners.
My secondary conceit is this: Many people are making serialized content without realizing it.
All podcasts break down into one of two categories: episodic or serial. Every podcast is either one or the other. Even if you’re the type of podcaster who hates labels and wants to rebel against this categorization—tough. Choosing to not make a choice means the default behavior takes over, and the default behavior is to treat the show as episodic. So make a choice, or leave it to Big Podcasting.
Your Podcast May Secretly Be A Serialized Podcast
If you dig into the stats of the ~two million podcast feeds available, you’ll find only around 10% of podcasts marked as serial. But I don’t accept that as a meaningful number. If the default behavior is to assume episodic and not force an informed choice, the data are garbage.
I’m convinced a good portion of podcasters are unaware of the distinction between the two types. The only choice they make is to choose to ignore that un-required setting in the hosting dashboard for their show. Most podcast hosting companies don’t do a good job of guiding new podcasters to make any of the choices for their show. But that’s a rant for another episode.
So what about your show? Is it secretly serialized? Well...
If you could print out the episodes of your podcast in order, do some light editing, and create a book that was intended to be read from cover to cover; you’re making a serialized podcast.
If your podcast is an adaptation of a book or a manuscript and you’re narrating those pages with some extra flourishes and anecdotes along the way; you’re making a serialized podcast.
If your podcast was originally written as a screenplay: you're making a serialized podcast.
If your podcast is a series of lectures, discussions, or interviews that build upon each other episode after episode; you’re making a serialized podcast.
If your podcast investigates a particular occurrence, either real or imaginary, over multiple episodes; you’re making a serialized podcast.
If your podcast follows a linear progression, from point A to point B and all the way to point Z for the conclusion; you’re making a serialized podcast.
If your podcast episodes start with “Previously on…” or “The story so far…”; you’re making a serialized podcast.
If any of those scenarios apply to your show, please go into your podcast hosting platform and look for that setting. Because you’re not making an episodic podcast. You’re making a serialized podcast. Please tag it so. It’ll make the listener experience—at least for some—so much better.
The Devil Is in The Episode Details
I’m perpetually disappointed by the lack of effort many podcasters put into the post-production written elements of their podcast. I just find it particularly irksome that far too many creators of serialized content half-ass this step.
However, I have to admit that not everyone is lazy, nor is everyone is weak-saucing their written materials just to piss me off. Some podcasters are under the misconception that podcast listening apps somehow “mess with” carefully crafted episode details. Therefore, if these are going to mangle, hide, or truncate their written text anyhow, what’s the point?
But that’s a myth.
The words you write and associate with your episode when you publish it via your hosting platform will display to your listeners in every meaningful podcast app.
Now, how well they display and how well the app preserves the formatting you placed on and around those words is a different matter. I won’t deny that.
Some apps—including Spotify until recently—strip out all line breaks, leaving a giant block of text thousands of characters long. Others—like Audible—do that and also un-link all of your hyperlinked text, displaying the URL in text alongside the hyperlinked word. That’s very dumb and light-years from helpful.
It’s also not your problem.
In all cases, the text you wrote was preserved. More importantly, it’s a snap for the app developers to fix their stupidity and start displaying your text with the formatting preserved. And even if they don’t, some of your listeners will see that you’re obviously trying to do the right thing and will bail on that crappy app in favor of one that preserves all the work you put into the presentation of your episode details.
And a quick primer for those who need it: There are three different blocks of text you need to write for each of your episodes and include in your hosting provider when you publish the episode:
- A title for the episode, ideally compelling and informative
- A short summary of the episode of maybe a sentence or two (Note: some podcast apps will not display this summary, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write and include it!)
- Detailed episode details
All of these are important. But it’s the last bit—detailed episode details which you may still call “show notes”—where you can provide more love for your listeners. And the location where they’ll spend the most time with your episode other than listening to the audio.
Format this! Use line breaks to separate paragraphs and sections. Bold your section headings. Hyperlink text where appropriate. And give credit where credit is due. If in the audio of your episode a reference is made to another person, write the name of that person in your episode details. If a service is mentioned or recommended, add the service in your episode details and link to it. If your episode had a sponsor, put the name of the sponsor in the episode details. And be sure to include a coupon code or affiliate link if applicable.
But as helpful as detailed episode details are, sometimes (all the time?) there are elements about an episode that just can’t display properly in a podcast listening app. In those cases (all cases?), you should also include a link to the web page you’ve built for that particular episode. You can really go into even greater detail on that page, where you know you’ll have full control over the format. Add some pictures or other visual elements regarding the episode if that’s appropriate. Certainly include the transcript to make your episode more accessible.
The Podcast App Is The Listeners Umbilical Cord To Your Show
Don’t neglect the podcast app, podcaster. For all its limitations, it’s often the only connection listeners have with your show. When listeners hear you say something on your episode and want more information, it’s their podcast app they’ll turn to first. If they can’t get to their app as they are listening, it’s likely where they’ll turn to when they do have a minute to look later.
Are you giving them what they expected to find? Are you enhancing the listener experience? Or are you frustrating your listeners?
This doesn’t get talked about enough. And when it does, it’s often poo-pood without any serious investigation or consideration for the experience of our listeners. And that’s a shame. But you can help. Share this episode with the podcasters you regularly interfaced with and start the conversation. Demonstrate what you’re doing right (or wrong) and how they (or you) might improve. Because all of us want to make podcasting better. This is a relatively simple way to make great strides in that direction.
And if you love the thought-provoking content I bring to you four days a week on Podcast Pontifications, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and slide a virtual coffee my way.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.