Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why I'm Not Listening To You - Biggest Mistakes Podcasters Make

I've been listening to podcasts since December, 2004.  I don't have a podcast, and despite some period mutterings about "Maybe I should start one", I'll never have one.  I'm firmly on the listening side of the equation.  I commute 3 hours a day, and listen to nothing but podcasts.  Plus, I listen to them at work.  At least once a week I scan the directories for new stuff to listen to.  I tell all my friends about podcasting, and I regularly share them with my coworkers.  Next week I'm flying to Chicago, and I'll have my podcasts to keep me from falling asleep on the plane.

In other words, I'm your audience.  I've been sold on the concept since the beginning, and now I'm singing the praises of podcasting to anyone that will listen.  So I'd like to think that my opinion bears at least some merit.

Am I listening to your podcast?  I might be.  I can tell you which ones I'm not listening to.

  1. Not a Podcaster.  Still Want To Talk To Me?
    Thankfully the says of "podcasts are just people talking about podcasting" are coming to a close, much like bloggers aren't all just talking about blogs anymore (they're talking about making money with blogs :-D).  Again I repeat my initial premise.  I'm not a podcaster.  The audience of "people who have or want to have a podcast" is always going to be infinitesimally small compared to the larger audience that doesn't care.  Do you listen to radio stations that talk about how to run a radio station?  Probably not.  Does the DJ spend his on air time talking about the DJ conference that's coming up next month, or some cool new DJ gadget to make his DJ life easier?  Nope.  Once upon a time, when the only people who understood the concept behind podcasts were geeks, then the odds were pretty good that they might also want to be podcasters.  It was a small community basically of people talking to each other.  But unless that's all you ever want it to be, you've got to find things that a regular audience wants to hear about.  You might have a very small audience who is hardcore about whatever it is you talk about.  That's cool.  Good for you, you're pursuing the original goal.  But if the internet at large is any indication, what people want mostly is to do what they love for a living.  That means making money at it.  To make money, you need traffic. That means appealing to a large audience.
  2. You Don't Have Time For Me?  I Don't Have Time For You
    When I go cruising for new podcasts, the first thing I check is how frequently new episodes are coming out.  If they are coming out on a random basis, or worse, they used to come out frequently and now it's been weeks or months since the last one, then I'm on to the next one and you're barely a memory to me.  If you've got a podcast that I'm already listening to, and I've come to expect an episode every week, then don't leave me hanging for two or three weeks.  Sure, I'll forgive it a few times, especially if we're talking about a Sunday night show coming out on Monday morning because you were busy.  It goes down easier if you tell me that, too, by the way.  I understand that people are doing this on their own time and they've got other commitments.  That's actually one of the things that makes podcasts endearing to me, is that personal touch.  But if you've suddenly found other things to take up all of your time, and the podcast is going down lower and lower on your list of things to do?  Then I'm bailing out on you, and I'm never coming back.
  3. No, You Can't Have My Vote
    For the love of all that is good in the world, stop telling me to go and vote for your podcast.  Be it on Digg, or iTunes, or Podcast Alley (are they still around?)  Seriously, it's nothing but an advertisement for yourself.  It eats up my time.  No, I'm not voting for you.  I think that every podcast voting system I've seen thus far is horrible and has offered me no value at all.  Plus, I'm listening to you in my car.  I don't have a computer handy. By the time I get to one, you're the last thing on my mind.

    I'm happy to report that this is not nearly the same level of problem that it used to be.  In the early days podcasts were having actual turf wars over who could rig the Podcast Alley results the fastest.  Maybe they're still doing it, I wouldn't know because I stopped listening to them a long time ago.  But still, whenever a new podcast directory comes out (much like Digg just did), people immediately start in with the "Go vote for me!" stuff.  No.  I will listen to you, I will evangelize you to my friends, I will support the music that you play.  I will subscribe to your blog and comment on it.  I will write you reviews.  But I'm not voting for you.
  4. Eat...errr... Listen To Your Own Dogfood?
    An old programmer's cliche.  Do you listen to your podcast?  Do you hear what you sound like, and can you tolerate yourself?  The tone of your recorded voice might sound like nails on a chalkboard.  You might be too close to the microphone, or your special guest star (your wife who just walked into the room) might be so far away from the microphone that nobody can hear what she's saying.   There's a million reasons why audio can become intolerable, and it's really on this point that the difference between professional produced content and "anyone can do it" shows the most clearly.  It's not random chance that Adam Curry (yes, the MTV guy) really made podcasting a mainstream thing.  He was a crossover talent who had enough experience behind a microphone to sound professional while still bringing that new "I'm just a guy talking about stuff that interests me" spin to it.
    Can anybody do that?  Well, it's debatable.  When everybody was using a $10 Radio Shack microphone and everyone sounded like garbage, it was more about the content.  Money does play a role, especially when some have it and some don't.  That's why I tried to spin this one as "make yourself tolerable" rather than "try to sound professional", because professional costs money, tolerable doesn't.  Don't be fooled, though - there's lots of intolerable podcasts out there!  If I can't stand to hear your voice for 5 minutes, you're off my list.
  5. Have A Theme, Have Something To Say, And Stick To It!
    One of my favorite podcasts, which shall remain nameless, was all about starting your own business.  Except that right in the middle they would play a song.  What?  Huh?  Why?  That always had me scrambling for the fast forward button.  You're a business podcast, you'll attract an audience interested in business, not in your choice of music.  There's no law that says you can't have two podcasts, you know.  Make the other one about music.  If you insist on playing music because you want to support the whole podsafe thing, then great, at least save it to the end of the show and use it to close out.

    So what should you talk about?  That's still up to you, believe it or not.  I was going to write something about how my time is valuable and I want value back from my podcasts, I want to learn something... but honestly, one of my favorites consists of 4 guys sitting around, telling stories and generally making fun of each other.  It has no real content whatsoever.  But I like it.  I don't think I could fill up my entire ipod with stuff like that, though.  The key is to be consistent about it.  That same podcast just started up a separate one recently (which they are feeding on the same channel, argh) that's all about gaming, and I hate that.  Not a big gamer.

That's my list.  For the curious, right now I'm subscribed to 47 podcasts.  I'm sure I've burned through a good couple of hundred in the past few years.  Some of them might even still be around.  In general if something looks like it might be interesting to me I'll subscribe for awhile. But if I find it intolerable for any of the reasons above, I'm out of there. What's that expression about RSS feeds?  Subscribe liberally, unsubscribe ruthlessly?  Something like that. 

I'm not trying to position myself as having the world's greatest podcast playlist.  You'll notice I didn't even mention any specific podcasts here for exactly that reason.  I expect people to listen to what they like and what works for them, not what somebody decided to put on a Top 10 list someplace.    Someone else may not like my choices.  Fine.  I'm just a listener.  But there's lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of people out there just like me who you're not reaching.

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mspoke said...

Just spent the last 15 mintes trying to come up with something to add to your list as a fellow 'listener-only'. I failed, you hit everything dead on.

The only big consideration for me is finding the best way to receive podcasts. I'm struggling to find a good solution for me. Seems if I want to listen to 3 or 4 shows in a row I have to go through a million menus on my iPod when I am out and about.

I also listen to podcasts through my computer too so finding something which can cope with listening to podcasts both on the move and via a PC is proving to be a challenge.

drew olanoff said...

bravo! thank you for sharing this. as a content creator, i focus heavily on the people who listen. i don't care if it's 1 person or 1,000, i'm doing what i love to do.

Mr. Steven Cohen said...

Amen, brother. I'm always forwarding through music, and have dumped many podcasts. Of course, I'm guilty of irregular posting of podcasts. Mine are for my students, though, not for a general public.

Evo Terra said...

Excellent advice, Duane. I'm an old timer in the podosphere as well as an author of one of of the many How-To books on podcasting, so you can imagine I get asked about growing an audience quite often.

You've hit the nail on the head: before trying to gain more listeners, podcasters need to make sure that their program is worthy of new listeners. Hey, I'm as guilty as the next guy on some of the transgressions you detail here -- but not on the shows I'm trying to grow.

"Do what you love" is still a good mantra for podcasters, but I don't think that needs to be mutually exclusive of "do what others love", too.

Evo Terra

Prent Rodgers said...

Now I'm curious. What's on your 47?

Simply Wild said...

I have tried and failed to listen to Irish podcasts but I can't get past the smarmy "this is the IN ter NET, and we are way cooler than you are" attitude.

Its not the content. I want to engage with the podcasters in my country but they set the barrier too high. Its the attitude to the audience that makes me unsubscribe or not listen at all. Its as if it is assumed that banal thoughts of their heads coupled with "Apple just announced" is enough. Only a few people are interesting and disconnected from themselves enough to be engaging.

I could live the rest of my life and be happy and never listen to Jersey Todd or Wil Harris again.

And specifically for Podshow. I cannot figure out how to get the shows onto my ipod. Life is too short to go thisaways and thataways and click here turn around twice, stand on my head and wait until I turn blue. I haven't been able to get one show onto my ipod. How is anyone else supposed to work this when its made so hard, so opaque. I just want to get a podcast and go. But podshow ties you up in tiny knots on their website and I leave frustrated and with no podcasts. I don't understand it. Its too difficult and I don't want to listen to the show on the web.

If I gas my car I stick it in pull the trigger and get gas. The gas station doesn't care if I have a Honda or a Hummer. Or what colour that car is. Podshow frustrates the hell out of me.

Duane said...

Wow...normally I'd try to address all the comments I get but I think this is gonna be a big one!

Mspoke, I've got a "new podcasts" smart playlist that sorts by date. As soon as I uncheck them or listen all the way through, they disappear. I sync every day while at the office, and then during the commute I always have a steady stream of new content to listen to. Hope that helps!

Evo - great site, several of my 47 are podiobooks :). I think we may have corresponded in the past.

Prent - I deliberately stayed away from the list because I didn't want to make it sound like I was saying my list were somehow better than others. The point is that they're better for me. The content might not be for everyone. For instance I listen to lots of business and entrepreneurial stuff. If you're not interested in that, it doesn't help you.

Mike said...

As a podcaster that uses podshow to host my podcasts, I agree. Make it EASY to put the shows on an ipod. Just a simple iTunes 1click button on the show info page would do it. And a plain old RSS link. That would be easy enough.

Duane, I would post my show's info on here but I don't want to think I'm replying just to get some publicity. Thanks for your comments on the state of Podcasting!


insertemailhere said...

I agree with the music. Why do some great Podcasts break their show up with music? If I wanted music I'd find a Podcast abotr music. I've had up to 40 Podcasts on Juice at any one time, and I have also gone thru a lot more that I loved, but they played music. I'm not a music fan, but it seems that a lot of the Podsafe music that is around is the same sort of stuff that commercial radio stations play anyway. It is (mostly) not different than the commercial stuff that I am trying to avoid. I've been a listener since early '05 and I have found only a single song via podcasting that I acutally liked, in fact I liked it enought to buy it on the Podsafe Music Network.

I'm very happy with the song, but look at it this way, I listen to about 40 hours of Podcasts weekly (or about 600+ hours since I started) yet I have only found 1 song that I liked. That is not a very good sucess rate. However I am aware that others like music in their shows, but how about we get appropiate songs for the show. About the only Podcast I know of that has "appropiate" songs would be the Distorted View podcast. Don't worry, I use the word "appropiate" with caution :)

Some "comedy" podcasts have quite boring music that is not relevent to what they were talking about, very fustrating! I normally unsubscribe a podcast if I don't like the music which sometimes is a shame as the other content was great, but music is such a personal thing, maybe it is best to leave it out of the show rather than spoil the mood of the show.

Having said that I must repete the words of Penn Jillette "that is what I think, but I could be wrong...."

Gene said...

I really appreciate this article. It hits on a lot of good points and I tend to agree with it. Music has been a two sided sword... I can live without it, but others want it to be in the podcast.


Anonymous said...

You absolutely nailed it, nice job Duane! I started listening to podcasts in the summer/fall of 2004 when Dave Winer recorded several shows while driving across Canada and Adam Curry was bringing together developers to further a project to build software to simplify and automate delivery of the MP3 to the user. Due to time limitations I have to keep my number of subscriptions in the low 20s, but I've probably tried and dumped a couple of dozen podcasts since I started listening, almost always because they failed to adhere to the standards that you've outlined here. Many of them had potential but they just didn't get it. Every Radio Shack mic sold should come with a copy of this information!

Mark said...

I'm a listener-only too. I started listening to Adam Curry the first August after he started Podcasting. My iPod, which I bought solely for podcasts, reads, "Mark's Podcast Receiver" on the back along with my email address.

You nailed this pretty well. Personally, I don't mind so much if one or two shows talks about 'how to podcast' because, while I have a terrible voice, it's still interesting to me.

Voting - this actually caused me to cease listening to all podcasts for a good four months. Who asked for there to be voting? Not me. I HATE the whole rating thing. I can understand it, I guess - it's probably easier to sell advertising when you can point to a common site and say, "See? I'm popular!". I get that. But man I hate it. I guess the problem is that there's no way outside of maybe iTunes of independantly verifying that Podcast x has y subscribers. If I think of a solution to this problem, I'll be sure to post about it.

AndyCast Andy said...

Hi Duane,

Thank you for posting your thoughts on podcasting. It's not often that we podcasters get such feedback from listeners and for you to take the time to sum it all up is fantastic!

I too am a podcast listener as well as a producer and the only one of your points I take exception too is the frequency of podcasting...but like you said, this is your list on how we podcasters can better suit your needs.

Again, thank you for taking the time and energy to convey your thoughts on the subject.

Andy Bilodeau

Duane said...

Hi Andy,

I'm curious which part of what I said you could take exception to? All I said, basically, was that if you want an audience, you have to commit to providing something for them. You can't just leave them wondering when (if ever) a new episode will come out. Your podcast comes out once or twice a month? That's fine if that's how you do it. But if an entire month goes by with nothing...and then still nothing... how do people know you haven't just decided not to do it anymore?

Remember, the podcast audience for the most part is blind to anything and everything except what happens in the podcast. If you have an episode where you say "Hey, no show next month", then there ya go. But if I need to subscribe to both your podcast and your blog to find out, that's starting to ask a bit much. If every one of my podcasts did that, I'd have a hard time keeping up.

On one hand there's no technical harm in it, since my computer does all the work and I just get a feed of podcasts I did get. Your absence of a show doesn't cost me any time. Or does it? One of my favorites stayed on my list for a long time after he fell to the "maybe once a month" frequency...but then he had some domain issues and itunes would actually crash when it tried to hit his site. So I had to drop him.
Plus, the ipod itself isn't the greatest organizer of content in the world, and if you go to the Podcasts menu you have to scroll through every podcast you have looking for the ones with the blue dots. Pretty soon I'm gonna get tired of scrolling past the ones that never have a blue dot.

Randy said...

All points well taken---Bu-U-U-T:
the idea of "regularity", or expecting a podcast on a regular cycle. One of the reasons podcasters podcast (for not only nothing in monetary gain for the most part, but a considerable investment of time. skill, and equipment)is to be freed of the tyranny of the clock (or calendar). On this point I refer you to Dave Slusher's current "Evil Genuis Chronicles (Feb 20, 2007)---anyone who produces "on the clock" becomes routine.
I don't listen to Daily Source Code much anymore because it is like listening to someone have their morning constitutional. I DO listen (and I am a listener FIRST) to guys who impose quality/inspiration standards above regularity.

My podcatcher tells me when I have a new 'cast---I don't anguish over it. Some "pod fade"---then I move on.

I do a podcast when I have good music and something I need to say. The clock will not be my master in this.
Also, you are correct about the whole "Vote For Me" syndrome, but for podcasters it is a way to get SOME feedback and something that smells like a "metric".

Soon enough the corporate megaliths will come in and impose the routines of time and content, and suck the life out of podcasting. And the brilliant glimmers in the margins will die---and commerce will prevail over substance.

Thanks, Udane, for a great "think piece".


Duane said...

Thanks Randy. I might have to do a followup piece on the whole "regularity" thing because that seems to be the point that people are taking issue with. I didn't intend to say "give me something every X days whether it's good or not, dangit". I did try to convey "If you don't think that you have a commitment to your listeners, then they shouldn't feel as if they have a commitment to you."

Of course I have irregularly scheduled podcasts. Many podiobooks, especially once you've caught up to the author, could fall into this category. Where it starts to get tricky is if the podcast is then something that's timely enough that I have to listen to it that day. If your podcast is completely unstuck in time and I can go throw it into my bucket of overflow stuff to listen to whenever, then hey great, sign me up for that. But from what I've seen almost all podcasts, even the pure music ones, have some level of "Happy valentine's day everybody, how about that snow outside today, huh? And what's up with Britney's hair?" banter at the beginning or, worse, "I'm doing a contest/crossover/giveaway so remember to email me by Tuesday." These things lock the podcast in time and mean (to me, at least) that I have to listen to it basically when it arrives. It doesn't kill me to here "happy Valentine's day" two weeks later, but it does take value away from the listening experience because that's all just wasted time now.

If my listening time is already full of regularly scheduled stuff, then the irregular ones that need me to move them to the top of the list are usually going to find that they lose that battle. Not always, of course. Scoring high on the other points - quality, theme, etc... - as you said, can make up for a lot.

Anonymous said...

Evo Terra is a dick.

He's not an author of a how-to book, he's a COauthor. Granted, his coauthor is as irritating as he is, but he didn't write it all by himself. I really don't understand why he insists on denying credit to that other moron Tee Morris whenever he mentions that book.

Bryan Baker said...

I really like this post...although I'm not a podcaster or listener. I've listened to motivational audios for years...I'm adding you to my community.