Podcast Networks Live!

Marco, on why being part of a podcast network isn’t ideal:

Some roles provided by networks are useful to podcasters, but there’s no reason that these roles must be tied to their membership in a network — podcasters are better off having services available that can be hired and fired at will without having to move or lose their shows, the same way web hosts, designers, and salespeople are hired.

He draws a comparison between podcasting networks and blog networks, which have largely petered out. I think that’s a terrible comparison.

Barrier to Entry

The barrier to entry to a podcast is higher than the barrier to entry to writing. For one thing, you can’t really yet share excerpts from podcasts in their native form. One of the main ways I find new people to read online is when they’re quoted by other people I follow. That just doesn’t happen the same way in podcasting.

Getting your show on a podcast network associates you with a lot of other shows that people are already enjoying. It’s a mark of quality, and these days when everyone and their mother has a podcast, it makes it a lot more likely that someone will discover your show.

A leg up for beginners

Podcast networks are a bit like taxes, which make a lot of sense when you make less money than the average, and start to chafe when you make more. They spread the costs (of various kinds) amongst all the members of the network. So for almost everyone starting out they make total sense.

The game that you play with a podcasting network is trying to charm your big fish for long enough that their success can keep the smaller ones swimming. There are a lot more costs involved with producing a quality podcast than there are in producing a quality blog. Often beginners can’t afford those. Even if they could — it’s much easier to shift the initial burden of those costs onto someone else if they’re willing to take a chance on you.

Marco, on Twitter:

If you make the “That’s fine for Merlin” argument that ATP “started with a huge audience”, why didn’t anyone listen to Neutral?

Dismissing ATP’s success as irreproducible and due to external factors is really a tremendous insult to us and a disservice to you.

I can’t understand how this is an insult. Obviously ATP’s success is — in part — due to the loyal following that both John and Marco had accumulated over years of putting out fantastic podcasts. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that ATP itself is crap, and people only listen because they like John and Marco. People like John and Marco because they make great podcasts.

In this case it obviously made sense for them to own the show from the beginning. They don’t need the practical benefits of a network because they have the time and resources to do the same thing. They didn’t need the “discovery” aspect because they were already discovered.

In this discussion we need to be very aware of the effects of survivorship bias. Applying this extreme edge-case to the whole podcasting arena is reductive in the extreme. The ATP experience is different from the experience of 95% of new podcasters.

I’m not saying that a new podcast must be part of a network. But a sweeping statement that their “glory days are over” goes too far. They’re still the best option for a majority of podcasters, because most people starting out don’t have the money, time, expertise and popularity to do just as well outside a network.

I don’t think, like Marco, that they’ve “peaked”, because I don’t think we’ve reached “peak podcast”. Every year sees a growing number of people trying their hand at podcasting. I think that increases the benefit to be derived from good podcasting networks, as a means of launching great shows and helping listeners find quality amongst the escalating noise.

The glory days of podcast networks are yet to come.