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Is Podcasting Dead? Jason Van Orden Versus Read/Write Web

by Tom Johnson on Nov 6, 2007
categories: technical-writing

Podcasting iconI listened to an interesting podcast this morning. Jason Van Orden argues against a post on the Read/Write blog about podcasting being dead.

Jason listed several reasons why people claim podcasting is dead:

  • Yahoo pulled their podcasting directory.
  • Google Trends shows fewer searches with podcasting as the keyword.
  • No one is making millions in the podcasting medium.
  • Podcasts don't offer rich keywords for search engines to find.
  • Podcasts aren't becoming integrated into the mainstream.
  • It's hard to publish podcasts, but easy to publish a blog.
  • Videocasts are gaining more audience attention.
  • Podcasting is losing its underground indie feel.
  • Podcasts require a fair amount of concentration, unlike music, which you can listen to while working.
  • The time available to listen to podcasts is relatively short -- while commuting -- so the number of podcasts that can be consumed is small.
  • Big media companies are recycling their content in audio form, squeezing out the little podcasters.

I enjoyed Jason's podcast because of the exposure to this issue. He gets a little heated and annoyed at the accusations from Read/Write, but he's engaging.

Personally, I can see both sides. In the past two years, I watched nearly every one of my dozen tech writer colleagues at work acquire an iPod. However, only 1 of those people (besides myself) started listening to podcasts. The others used them for music only.

It was strange because they all knew I had a podcast, and they all commuted -- some for 45+ minutes. I encouraged them to try out some podcasts, but many simply had no interest. One person said she is not an audio learner. Another said she prefers to listen to music. Another said she listens to audio books. Another just laughed.

When it comes right down to it, podcasts are somewhat problematic in content. If your podcast is educational, your audience may resist listening because they've just been working for 8-10 hours and want to relax. One turns on the radio for entertainment.

On the other hand, if your podcast is pure entertainment, there's little reason to listen to it rather than the entertainment on the radio.

The key is to balance education with entertainment. I know if I wanted to dedicate about 10 hrs a week putting together an audio show, I could make it a lot more entertaining.

But this brings up another problem with podcasting: time. It can take several hours to create a podcast. First you have to identify the content, find someone to interview (or create the content yourself), think of compelling questions, schedule a time, conduct the interview, edit the audio because of a poor Skype connection, add an introduction, FTP large files, and publish a post with a link to the audio.

You have to also make sure your podcast is integrated in all the major podcast directories and that readers have an email subscription notification option (in addition to your email newsletter). To be effective, you should track hits, analyze web stats, respond to feedback, and seek to promote your podcast to relevant forums that can draw more potential listeners. And do this all for either little or no pay.

In contrast, writing a blog post is much easier. Search engines find you, people can read your posts during the day, and since they're reading online, they're more apt to respond, which makes it more rewarding.

Podcasting is not dying, but there are certainly limitations that keep it from being more prominent. Here's what I think needs to happen to fix many of the podcasting issues:

  • Skype needs to provide better connections, which would reduce audio glitches and make it easier to produce a podcast. (I admit, poor bandwidth is probably the real culprit behind many bad Skype connections.)
  • Cars need to come with built-in mp3 jacks. I don't know too many people with wireless FM transmitters in their cars. Commuting is the most crucial time to listen to podcasts, but unless people have a wireless FM transmitter, playing the podcasts becomes a challenge.
  • Podcasts need to be created with more of a blend between entertainment and education. This is something I want to work on. Interviewing is an art -- on the one hand, I want to give people questions in advance so they can prepare and not feel lost for words. On the other hand, spontaneity, tangents, and engaging conversation is what make up the life of any podcast that is entertaining.
  • Podcasts need to be more findable. Search engines should be able to limit searches to podcasts only, filtering out web pages and blogs to help readers locate audio. If people can find content they enjoy, they'll come back for more.

Anyone care to share his or her thoughts on the death of podcasting?

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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