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The Podcast Industry is Dying (and Why That Doesn’t Mean Anything)

Sorry, I gotta vent for a bit

I’ve been mulling over this piece I read from The Verge a few days ago and I’m still stumped. It talks about the boom and bust cycle the medium has experienced the past few years and how we’re firmly in the bust end of things. But this bit in particular baffles me: “Podcasting is affected by the same macro forces that have resulted in layoffs and closures across media. The investments have dried up, and every single project needs to be profitable in order to survive. In this way, podcasting is unexceptional. But even if the lofty promises of podcasting’s early days do not come to fruition, there are those shows that are adapting to the new landscape and making it work.” What?

Every podcast needs to make a profit to survive? The early days of podcasting promised infinite growth and endless ad revenue? Are we talking about the same thing here? For someone to have covered the “industry” for two years and get it all so wrong is… well, let’s call it interesting. Podcasts weren’t born yesterday like this article seems to suggest but over 20 years previously. The RSS standard got the ability to enclose audio files in late Y2K. The first things you could reasonably describe as podcasts appeared just a couple of years later. In 2005, Itunes added a podcast section to their store, which opened the floodgates—introducing the concept to more than just tech-savvy early adopters and making it easy for everyone to add shows to their iPods. That’s where the the “pod” in podcast comes from after all! This American Life didn’t come up with the concept when they started Serial in 2014! Spotify buying Joe Rogan’s stupid fucking show for 1 bajillion dollars where he “just asks questions” to far-right schmucks was not the original promise of the medium! A journalist covering this should know that!

I started listening to podcasts around 2009 or so. I never imagined there would be a time when anyone would expect to make huge amounts of money and corporate sponsorships producing them. It just seemed like the perfect thing for hobbyists and enthusiasts. I’ve been making podcasts with my friend Meys (who plays music as Echo Vessel) for about 5 years now. Not even a single financial quarter of profit. And we’re doing fine! Our listenership is easily on the low end of the spectrum but we’re not doing this for fame and fortune. We do the shows we do because it’s fun to do! It’s fun for us to fuck around and talk about our favorite bands and, once a year, talk about how much we’re sick of Star Wars. It’s kind of incredible that anybody listens to us at all to be perfectly honest. I’m grateful, but it’s for us and our friends more than for anyone else. I’ve even been thinking of starting a new solo podcast where I get experimental with the format. Maybe a non-live call-in show, maybe audio collages, maybe I review the books I find in the Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood. Those were just off-the-top-of-my-head ideas! There’s so much you can do with podcasts that I don’t think is being done because a lot of the people getting into it are thinking like they need to be Marketable and Advertiser Friendly. Maybe because of articles like this.

I really don’t mean to pick on this particular writer, who probably does decent work, because this is not the only piece of writing out there lamenting the state of the “industry”. I’m sick of reading about how podcasts are dying or how the audio bubble is bursting and why we should all feel bad about it. Podcasts are not dying—in fact, more people are listening to them than ever before. They’re just not a surefire way to get rich. I am sorry to inform you that the capitalist speculators feasting on the bones of culture lied when they said that putting audio files into an RSS feed could be an industry worth billions of dollars and that you need to do soul-crushingly stupid ad reads for Betterhelp and Fanduel if you want to survive within it. If you can make things work and find a way to make even a partial living off hosting one, then I am sincerely happy for you (don’t do ad reads for Betterhelp though, have some shame). But you shouldn’t go into a creative endeavor expecting line go up infinity for all time. Go work for an investment bank if you prize profit over passion and craft.

If the podcast “industry” dies, it literally won’t matter. People will still make them and there will still be an audience wanting to listen.


(Oh and by the way, just so I won’t have to make another post ranting about podcasts, I’ll say this here—a YouTube video is not a podcast. There is no such thing as a video podcast. People sitting around with Shure SM7b’s in their faces is just a boring vlog. Podcast = audio only, delivered via RSS. Okay bye have a good day)

Nicky Flowers - 04/22/24 - Subscribe to my shows, new episodes for both coming soon!