I’ve been listening to podcasts now since 2006, when I won an iPod Nano and had to find something useful to do with it.
The early podcasts I listened to were from podcast-pioneers who were getting to grips with this new medium. There were a disproportionate number of very niche tech and music podcasts. Production values were largely not a thing, and the tools available to record audio were not as readily available as now. Better sound quality was derived using makeshift bedroom closet recording studios using copious blankets to cut out hash reverberation, traffic noises and the neighbours dog. Nonetheless there were some remarkably entertaining and informative and well-produced podcasts.
Most of these early podcasts have pod-faded as peoples lives moved on and other interests and imperatives took precedence. However some persisted and have changed the course of peoples lives. For instance Scott Sigler’s pioneering audiobook podcast launched his career as a New York Times best selling author, and lead to the creation of Empty Set Entertainment with his publishing partner A Kovaks. Tony Smith created the StarShipSofa podcast with his mate Ciaran O’carroll, then later with the community of authors, narrators, contributors and listeners he inspired, built it up to be the Hugo Award winning podcast it remains to this day.
Podcasting was seen by many to be the democratisation of audio media, anyone could make a podcast about anything they wished without being dependent upon ‘big media’ to make themselves heard.
Although it is as easy as ever to make a podcast (easier than 10 years ago) an increasing proportion are from commercial enterprises. Conventional media are podcasting to retain and grow their audience, or promote their services. Podcast advertising, whilst still not able to provide a substantial enough income to support a small independent podcast, appears to have become a viable enough source of income to support organised podcast networks bringing together seasoned radio producers with new talent.
There are several notable podcast media companies that have appeared, from the venerable Twit network of tech podcasts headed up by Leo Laporte, to newer companies such as Wondery.
Wondery Inc are definitely a case of the podcast organisation with a ‘boardroom’ feel. According to their blurb they are “a network of storytellers and the fastest-growing podcast company in the world”. They were venture capital funded by a Series A seed round that raised $5M in March 2018. I’ve recently subscribed to two of their podcasts; ‘Business Wars’ and ‘Legal Wars’. The production values are high and the writing/journalism is excellent. They are obviously attempting to fund themselves through advertising (but my pod-player has a 30 second skip forward button, so I’m OK with that).
Podcasting has changed, however there are still gems, some of them more polished versions of early podcasts, some slick shiny new ones and some new rough gems where people are trying out that podcast thing. Many of the original podcasters have moved on to new or additional shows. It looks like podcasts are here to stay, not fading away as some one feared, and I’m no longer stuck with just Radio 4 as my spoken word media outlook on the world.