Podcasts: Cliff or Runway?

podcast_iconI’ve been a fan and active consumer of podcasts for many years.  Over the past eight months, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road and so my interest in podcasts, especially as a free way to enjoy content from some smart and funny people, has grown.  They can really help a 5-hour drive fly by.

For the sake of clarity, when I refer to podcasts I’m talking about audio programs hosted on the internet that are automatically kept current on your device.  Using a podcasts app (my favorite is Castro, but Pocket Casts and Instacast are pretty snazzy), you can subscribe to a show (or discover one that fits your interests) and new episodes magically show up in the app.  It’s like custom radio with no commercials*.

(I know that some folks will point out that there are video podcasts (vodcasts?) available, too.  But for me those are useless.  I need something to listen to while driving, walking the dog, or doing the grocery shopping.  Any content that requires me to look at the screen is not solving any problem for me.)

But, the thing that I keep thinking about is that podcasts have been around for awhile, and yet most people (outside of a nerdy core of users) don’t listen to them.  Despite their great content, convenient availability, and more widespread knowledge of their existence, they have not taken off with the non-techie crowd.  I often compare podcasts to RSS feeds in this regard.  That’s another tool that I use to consume content, and one that has been around for years.  Yet, very few people make use of them.  That scares me a bit because lack of adoption sometimes leads to services and products disappearing.

So, naturally, I felt some measure of hope when I listened to the latest episode of “The Talk Show” in which the guest host was Mike Monteiro who leads the Mule Radio Syndicate of podcasters.  His take, which is obviously biased toward a positive fate for podcasts, was that we are on the cusp of something great.  As soon as the hardware and software evolve to the make consumption easier and more seamless–they used the example of Apple’s new CarPlay in-dash interface–people will begin enjoying this form of entertainment in huge numbers.

So, which is it?  Are podcasts getting set to take off?  Or, are they heading toward a drop-off?  What do you think?

*Commercials in podcasts are similar to public radio: short promotions for products that usually appeal to me.  When they appear, they are less than a minute long and happen only 1-2 times per hour.

BONUS:  Here are my favorite podcasts right now

3 thoughts on “Podcasts: Cliff or Runway?

  1. No surprise, I’m also an avid consumer of podcasts. Until recently my thought was – on the verge of fading away. But recently I’ve gained renewed hope for the podcast. Ice T’s Final Level podcast was a runaway hit, and if you’ve listened to it – not geared for the techy crowd. Similarly, some of what I’m catching on podcast is rebroadcast from satellite radio content. It just needs to be easy to access. Back in the plug-in-and-sync days, I was totally willing to do that to update my podcast feed, and now it’s only gotten easier. I predict expansion.

    My current faves:

    This American Life
    99% Invisible
    The Cracked Podcast
    The Memory Palace


    1. Jason,
      Great point about the direction of new content. I think that NPR pioneered the use of podcasts to allow listeners to “timeshift” their content and I think other publishers will find the benefit, as well.

      I totally agree about the importance of ease of use. Guys like us would always have pushed through, but more and casual listeners will be willing to jump over the lowering bar and I think that they’ll be hooked, too.

      And, most of all, thanks for the recommendations!


  2. For a while now, I’ve been a fan of audiobooks as a way to catch up with all the great new fiction my students were reading. A language arts teacher with young children has little free time, and like you describe, I found more “time” in my day when I could “read” in the car, walking the dog, etc.

    I am new to podcasts because for me audio was not my preferred method of non-fiction absorption. However, what I discovered was the conversational feel made this brand of non-fiction seem less “academic”. I found it was like listening to an open and interesting dialogue, where traditional non-fiction via audio felt like listening to what it was: a textbook read aloud. Hopefully, this appeal and the ease-of-use you describe will help podcasts grow their niche.

    Seconding the thanks for the recommendations, as well.



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