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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.