Guest Post – Podcasting Isn’t Dead at All

Daniel Steinberg The following is a guest post from Daniel Steinberg, a veteran podcaster, and a personal hero of mine. Daniel’s one of the first “big names” I ever reached out to on the web, and he was gracious, friendly, and patient with me (I was critiquing his show). His opinion on podcasting should be heeded much more than mine.

Podcasting Isn’t Dead At All

Chris Brogan writes that Podcasting as we all thought it might be in 2006 is gone. 2006 was the year that I first met Chris. He emailed me with some suggestions for the Distributing The Future podcast I was producing for O’Reilly.

They were good suggestions and I took them. But he must have been looking at podcasting differently than I was because podcasting is a lot like I thought it would be in 2006. It’s a varied mix of offerings by people with different motives, talents, and audiences. There remains a lot of opportunity for podcasters — last year was my best year ever — and the future is even brighter.

Podcasting dead? That’s like a teenager complaining that they’re bored. There is so much creativity being captured in podcasts. It may be hard to find the content you want, but podcasting isn’t dead. It’s not even stunned.

I came out of radio, so for me podcasting was all about talking to one person at a time. But podcasting isn’t the same as radio. The listener’s commitment to us is different and our obligation to them must be different as well.

I recently complained on Twitter of a podcast I subscribe to that begins with a forty second canned intro before you get to any new material. As if that wasn’t bad enough the first words in the canned intro is “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls.” Who are they talking to? Long time radio buddy Chuck Collins replied to my tweet with this “you are not onstage, you are inside the listeners head! Don’t invite a crowd.” Chuck should be podcasting.

There are people who say that the NPR shows that you’ll find on iTunes aren’t podcasts and there are others who say the impromptu shows that feature some friends around a microphone aren’t podcasts. They—and everything in between—are all podcasts. There is no podcast police. Just as there is room on the radio dial for everything from highly edited and produced shows like “This American Life” to call-in sports shows like “The Jim Rome Show” there is even more room in the world of podcasting for a diverse world of content and style. I subscribe to “On the Media”, “TWiT”, “Late Night Cocoa”, and “Stephen Fry’s PODGRAMS.” There all as different as can be but they are all podcasts.

Dave Winer writes in Chris’ comments that podcasting “just isn’t what these guys thought it would be. No big deal. Now we can get on with what it really is.” But we don’t know what podcasting really is any more than we know what photography really is.

In one sense I agree with Dave—radio really changed when the non-radio people started buying up stations and started focusing on short term profits. So if you, like Chris, are mainly interested in the business case for podcasts then some things have changed since 2006. But much hasn’t changed.

Podcasts are a great way to create, grow, and serve an audience in a very personal way.

Podcasts are a valuable channel that your businesses can use to talk directly to your customers. You need to understand how audio differs from other media and how podcasts differ from other delivery systems. If you do, you will benefit tremendously. Can any company benefit from a podcast? I think so. Let’s put together a few pitches for podcasts that don’t yet exist.

There is no end to worthwhile creative ideas for podcasts. You need to pair the pitch with a solid business case. Identify your audience and your goal. Find your story and think about who best can tell that story to that audience.

Let’s take two big pitches—one to Make Magazine and one to The Walt Disney Company—and rif on them a bit.

Start with Make Magazine, for example. This is a wildly popular magazine that features the cool things that people make and customize. But it only comes out quarterly… so they also have a blog where they’re always on the lookout for cool things. Many of these items will never make it to the magazine where space is a premium. In the magazine, for many of the items you have 200-300 words to tell your story. That’s not a lot.

Make has a video podcast that is perfect for their needs. They demonstrate weekend projects in a short and engaging way. Make is also about to debut a new television show on public television.

What could a weekly audio podcast add to all of these offerings? Through audio you can get to know the makers and what makes them tick. In the magazine we get a little of that in the longer pieces but we’re mainly focused on what they are making and how. We can include people who have created ideas that aren’t so visual and we can find them anywhere in the world without sending a camera crew.

We can also resell our food. The same reporters who have written articles for the magazine can tell the parts of the story that wouldn’t fit into the 300 words they were given. They can talk to people who tried the project themselves and have advice on where things can go wrong. I wandered around the Maker Faire last year with a microphone and captured some amazing compelling audio from Makers and fans that could have been edited down into a compelling series of podcasts. This is a show full of stories, inexpensive to produce (compared to a magazine or television), with amazing audio, and high sponsorship potential.

But there’s only one Make magazine and maybe they aren’t interested in a podcast or maybe they hire someone else to do it. What then? Look closer to home. Newspapers are in trouble and are cutting back and you, as a podcaster, can help them. How about a weekly podcast from the Arts section where the regular columnists and critics contributed pieces.

In a typical show the music critic could do an audio preview of the music that would be performed by the Orchestra this week and the food critic could visit local restaurants and talk to chefs and patrons. Why the arts section? Because this is a targeted demographic that you can sell to advertisers. This is also an area of the paper that does not tend to be served by other media. A sports podcast would probably not go over as well because your local radio and television cover the same stories the newspaper does. The arts are probably undercovered on radio and tv. If you’re going to pitch a sports podcast, look for holes in area coverage—maybe you do a high school sports roundup instead of focusing on the same pro games as everyone else.

Audio is great for communicating personalities and emotion. Audio paints great pictures that include the listener. With video the consumer sits outside the scene while with audio the consumer creates the scene. Audio brings me into a story quickly.

The key to audio is great stories and good story tellers. Walt Disney World has both. The parks and resorts are filled with great stories and their guests and cast members (with your editing and directing help) are great story tellers.

A year ago I did an internal podcast for Disney for one of their technology groups and spent a week in Orlando. At the end of each day we would head over to one of the parks for a meal or just to wander around. Every cast member I spent time with had great stories. They showed me an area of the parks I’d never noticed. They talked about some feature they particularly liked. They pointed out why the lions sit on that same rock in the Animal Kingdom Safari. They talked about time they’d spent in the park in Paris.

As an experiment, I called a couple of friends when I got home and asked them for their favorite Disney memories. One told me how his parents had taught him his phone number growing up to the tune of “It’s a Small World”. Another plans to run in a Disney marathon some day. I hadn’t even known there was a Disney marathon. Another loved walking out the back of Epcot and taking a quick boat ride over to the Hollywood Studios.

It’s not hard to imagine a weekly 15-20 minute WDW podcast for existing fans that isn’t marketing driven. Sure the American Idol attraction is opening in a couple of months—but everyone will be covering that. This show is a nod and a wink at people who are in the know. As for the business case, you are encouraging visitors to come back more often than they might otherwise have done, to stay a day longer to fit in everything they are hearing about, to come for some special event they didn’t know about, or to stay on property for the first time.

But again, you don’t need to sell a show to Disney to be successful. Look closer to home at entities that have existing fans that want to encourage them to come more often or to try new things when they do come. I produced a weekly show for a local jazz club that featured artists coming to town in the next month. It took people who were listening to the show for one artist that they knew and liked and introduced them to other artists they might want to come see. I’ve produced podcasts from conference presentations—people who can’t make it to your conference listen to these. Some conferences see this as money lost, but it is also a great way to interest someone enough that they might attend the following year. And you can often get a sponsor for these podcasts. Local colleges always have something going on. There are lectures, sporting events, shows, and more. A regular podcast serves the existing students, touches alumns in a way that encourages them to give money, and can be an effective recruiting tool.

Podcasting isn’t dead. I produced well over one hundred shows last year and have had great success with clients who understand their audience and have a story to tell them.

Daniel Steinberg is a podcaster, author, editor, trainer, and developer at Dim Sum Thinking. He co-authored the book Zero Configuration Networking: The Definitive Guide. He is also the author for two Pragmatic titles, Producing Compelling Audio and Podcasting Tricks.

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