This week in The Industry Standard, Ian Lamont published an article called “Why Podcasting is Failing,” which proports to show why Podcasting is, failing, at least for the moment. In short, he cites 1) an overcomplicated delivery system, 2) lack of ability to properly monetize podcasts, and 3) slower-than-predicted rate of adoption as a consequence of #1.

His points on point on #1 is well worth listening to, but they’re hardly original, and there are an increasing number of ideas floating around for the so-called “Podcasting 2.0” delivery system.

But, even as it stands, is podcasting really a failure, or is it failing as a phenomenon? I think not. Rather, I’ll wager heavily that Ian Lamont’s radio background is impeding his prognostication abilities. He commits a basic category error when evaluating podcasting as a medium. Podcasting is not a failing medium. It is, As Seth Harwood recently said in a Q&A I filmed and helpt conduct with him on Google video, a medium without a business model. All that exists at the moment are small-scale ad sales and donations to defray costs, except in the case of podcast fiction authors, who also have the Sigler business model: build a community that generates enough of a buzz to make a run at Amazon’s bestseller rankings and attract big publishing deals.

The radio format as it exists today is based around three practical realities:
1) radio production has historically been stratospherically expensive
2) after the advent of television, radio’s audience profile changed and long format fiction and similar in-depth long-form interest shows lost audience, while music and short-segment interview and news shows gained audience share.
3) as a consequence of number 2 and an increasingly transient urban population, the programming on radio – particularly talk radio and talk/music hybrid programs – must reflect the rhythm of the workday to remain lucrative.

Because of this, over the last forty to fifty years the radio business has consolidated around the commute rhythm – exciting, ostensibly edgy content in the morning drive time giving way to banal, background-noise content that demands little from its audience for the duration of the workday, and back to a more laid back but engaging format at the end of the day.

But podcasting is not radio, nor should it be. Although it does work as an excellent way to time-shift radio programs, it does something far more useful and important: It provides a platform for a variety of formats and format experimentation, from underground music programming to the miraculous resurrection of the once dead-in-the-U.S. radio drama by groups such as Greg Taylor’s Decoder Ring Theater, to the innovative loss-leader distribution of fiction innovated by Mark Jeffrey, Tee Morris, and Scott Sigler. There have also been a number of other formats tried with various degrees of success – audio blogging, a’la “Tag in the Seam,” business tutorials, a’la The Survivor’s Guide to Writing Fantasy and Answers for Freelancers, and, of course, there are a lot of formats and podcasts that simply don’t work. The low barrier to entry means many – perhaps most – podcasts will suck. They’ll never make it past a few episodes, or attract more than a couple dozen listeners.

Will podcasting find a business model? No. What will more likely happen is that different sorts of podcasts will find different business models that work for their targeted demographic. Some will doubtless be advertiser supported, some will be hobbies, some will be loss-leaders, some will be
maintained by patronage and swag sales, and there will probably be a few more ideas rolled out by innovative podcasters over the coming months.

There is another market force coming into play that also will lower the entry bar for podcast customers. At the moment, the aggregate podcast audience is a tiny fraction of the potential audience (i.e. those who own Personal Media Players). The reasons why are not hard to divine: listening to a podcast requires a podcatcher, a PMP, and a little technical acumen – IF you want to listen to it on your earphones while you’re at the gym. Unfortunately, most people do most of their audio listening in the car, and earphones in the car are a big no-no. If you want to listen in the car, you must either buy a short-range FM transmitter, get a car kit tape adapter, use external speakers, or replace your in-dash receiver with a model that accepts aux input. All four of these, for the average Joe, are unacceptably troublesome and/or expensive.

These barriers to in-car listening are disappearing. Car makers are starting to offer in-dash receivers with Aux-in, and an increasingly large share of the PMP market ships with a minijack Aux cable. This little market force, gathering steam, will open the podosphere up even more. If/when Podcasting 2.0 arrives, it will further streamline the delivery stream.

Podcasting’s central problem is that it is retrofitted onto RSS, a brilliant technology that had not yet become ubiquitous and may never see near-universal adoption on the client side. However, podcasting’s roots need not determine its future, and as podcatchers become less cumbersome or (better yet) bundled in with browsers or email clients, the barriers for entry will continue to fall away. Its rise isn’t as meteoric as the adoption of YouTube or the iPod, its path is so far much more analogous to television. The cultural potency of this method of distribution is already proving itself, and it will grow far more obvious in the coming years. This isn’t a statement of faith, but a statement based on a basic incentive-based assesment of Podcasting on its own merits.

Contra Ian Lamnot, Podcasting is not failing. It is merely failing to be radio.


  1. Podcasting has definitely become a lot easier to listen to on account of iTunes. No, it may not be the best podcatcher, but it is certainly the easiest:

    1. Find the podcast. (Type in persons name in the Search Bar and then qait for the results.)

    2. Click on subscribe.

    3. Go to iTunes > Podcasts.

    4. Listen.

    Podcasting is merely on the rise, and while people are still out to make it a money-maker, it is generating revenue for folks like Scott and me. It all depends on your approach and your disciplines.

    I believe, as you do, that podcasting is hardly failing. It is still going through growing pains…but growing it most definitely is.

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