Does anyone listen to podcasts anymore?

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By Alexandra Reid

Mitch Joel sparked an interesting conversation recently on his blog when he argued that podcasts could make a comeback.

Joel runs the popular podcast Six pixels of separation and admitted that the podcast is a guilty pleasure for him to ask interesting people his burning questions. He also confessed that he had no data to back up his claim that podcasts could be on the rebound, but listed a handful of successful podcasts which are acting as indicators that consumers do in fact have an appetite for longer, in-depth and content-rich audio programming. These podcasts are:

When he asked his blog community, “Does anyone listen to podcasts anymore? Does anyone even care?” some responders (myself included) said they do enjoy listening to podcasts, but often don’t have time. Like radio, many listen to podcasts while travelling or in the background while taking care of other tasks around the house. Some complained that too many podcasts are a waste of time, and so they stick to just a few podcasts that they trust will continuously offer great content.

One commenter pointed to an interesting Edison study that suggests podcasts are on the rise. The study is based on a national, representative sample of 2,020 Americans aged 12 years and up, and examined demographics, usage and other behaviours related to podcast consumption and the podcast audience. It found that 29 percent of Americans have listened to an audio podcast, and one in four podcast consumers plug their MP3 players or smartphones into their car audio systems “nearly every day.” While awareness of the term “podcast” has remained more or less steady since 2009, the percentage of Americans who have listened to or watched a podcast has been rising steadily since 2006.

Since I’m interviewing Joel this Friday for an upcoming episode of IABC Ottawa’s The Voice, I thought I’d spend some time thinking more strategically about how I could approach the conversation to ensure its value to our listeners. I went through each of the podcasts Joel listed and have highlighted here some important points about what makes them so great:

Feature prominent people (and it doesn’t hurt to have a prominent host, either)

Most of these podcasts feature prominent guests and have prominent hosts as well. After all, who doesn’t want to hear celebrities interview celebrities? On Foundation, Kevin Rose interviews hot shots in startup land from Tim Ferriss to Om Malik, while over on Here’s the thing, Alec Baldwin interviews icons from Peter Frampton to David Letterman. Whatever your industry, it’s a good idea to feature its prominent players. And while we aren’t all celebrities, we can promote ourselves, speak confidently and get big names on our podcasts (Joel and Gini Dietrich are just an email or tweet away).

Length isn’t a deal breaker

While you may increase listenership by keeping podcasts tight, length isn’t a deal breaker when the content is irresistibly gripping. For example, Rose’s interview with charity: water’s Scott Harrison yielded 880 likes on Facebook and 149 tweets despite the fact  that it was 55 minutes long. The personal story about Harrison’s path to found the non-profit organization and his transformation from “selling selfishness and decadence” to providing the most basic of resources to the most impoverished people in the world was so absorbing I couldn’t peel my eyes away.

Professionally produced but also personable

All of these podcasts are professionally produced. The audio and video quality is top notch, making these pieces of content joys to listen to and watch. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to purchase expensive equipment or hire a production agency; just be aware of audio and video quality and do your best to make them decent.

While the production level is high in these podcasts, the interviewer and interviewee(s) are casual and relaxed in their exchanges. It’s like you’re being welcomed into their home, which is sensible because you’re welcoming them into your space whenever you tune in. It’s not uncommon for Rose to have a dog on his lap while his guest enjoys a glass of wine. He eases into the conversation naturally by asking his guests about themselves, where they grew up, and how they got to where they are now.

Baldwin’s voice is smooth, calm and friendly, while Nerdist’s Chris Harwick is positively hilarious. On Pursuit of Spark, Julie Burstein brings it home by bringing into the public light people from all walks of life who have developed creative approaches to the challenges, possibilities and pleasures of everyday living.

A good trick to producing great audio podcasts is to set context for your discussion using sound. For example, in two episodes of Here’s the thing, one featuring the president of New York Philharmonic, Zarin Mehta, and the other Peter Frampton, listeners are brought into the conversation with sound bites such as orchestra music and audience applause. This technique offers depth, tone and setting to the discussion.

Use video and offer additional information

Podcasts aren’t just audio, but can include video as well. Also helpful for people tight on time are accurate and specific written summaries of the conversation that include time markers for important questions and discussion points.

As I mentioned, Rose uses video to capture his discussions. Video offers more information about an individual, from personal style to other facial and body queues that could reveal subtleties that aren’t revealed in audio podcasts.

WTF with Marc Maron offers short podcast snippets published along with blog posts. The podcasts typically range from two to five minutes in length, and offer a glimpse into a situation that a short blog post further explains. It’s a nice marriage of written and multimedia content that is entertaining and also easily digestible.

What did I miss? What do you think makes a great podcast? Do you listen to podcasts? Do you even care?

Image: Tip tap tip


  • Kelly Rusk

    September 05, 2012 12:07 pm

    Great tips and insight Alex. Also we are so grateful to have you and your smart brain on the Voice podcast team! Keep up the great work!

    Kelly Rusk
    IABC Ottawa

  • Alexandra Reid

    September 05, 2012 3:04 pm

    Thanks Kelly. Glad you liked the post. I’m thrilled to be on the podcast team. Never a dull moment ;)

  • Richard Hanley Jr.

    September 05, 2012 8:35 pm

    I love listening to podcast.

    Whenever I’m truly interested in a particular topic, I look for a podcast and make time to listen to them. Sometimes in the car, trips, washing dishes, or waiting at the DMV. I find time.

    What makes a great podcast is quality audio and having great interviews.

  • Alexandra Reid

    September 06, 2012 9:06 am

    Thanks for the comment, Richard! What are your favourite podcasts to listen to? I’m looking to expand my roster.

  • Hugh Culver

    December 28, 2012 5:05 pm

    Thanks Alexandra.
    This is the best break down of what-to-do I have found. I’m planning on launching my own podcast in the new year and this is brilliant data to help in my planning.

    And I agree: the celebrities we want are often just an email away.


  • Alexandra Reid

    December 28, 2012 9:26 pm

    Hugh, thanks so much for the kind words. I wish you all the best as you move forward with your podcast. Be sure to send along the link when your first installment is published. Tweet me – @TechAlly :)

  • Michael Richards

    February 08, 2013 5:00 am

    Interesting article – podcast length is something we are often conscious about as most of ours often reach or exceed the 1 hour mark (especially our specials).

    To overcome this problem we’ve thought about putting 5 – 10 minute snippets of our podcast on YouTube with links to the full length version in the description.

    We’ve been doing them for a while now but seem to be struggling to get traffic!


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