To avoid ‘pod fade’ take a long-term view

Most podcasts don’t make it past a few episodes, but for those that do, interesting opportunities can develop. Rupert Cornford shares some insights from a talk given by Peter Houston, co-host of Media Voices

It started with a WhatsApp message from former colleague and journalist Richard Frost, inviting me to an event in Manchester at the end of January. He’d set up a messaging group for local writers and suggested it would be a good evening out. A few people showed interest and I thought the topic sounded good, so I signed up.

Beyond Advertising – How Magazines are Making Money in the New Decade was brought to the city by Nikki Simpson’s International Magazine Centre in Edinburgh. It was the first of its kind in the North West, as part of her mission to connect publishers, magazine editors and writers to share best practice. This is welcome, because a lot of people are keen to explore the future of journalism and storytelling.

On the top floor of Manchester bar Lock 91, with an audience of around 50 people, three talks explored membership models, training and podcasting in 20-minute presentations. Each speaker shared their experience of evolving their offer to find new ways of building communities and commercial revenues.

In this blog, I want to share a few insights from Peter Houston’s talk on podcasting, because I think his views are relevant to anyone developing audio content. Peter’s Media Voices podcast can be found here and he gave an entertaining account of a fast developing industry.

Most people bail on their podcasts after seven episodes. Peter believes that of the 850,000 plus podcasts that exist in the world, 80 per cent of them are “stone cold dead”. They are victims of ‘pod fade’ and aren’t being updated anymore. “You have got to keep going because you will not make money from podcasting on day one,” he said.

A podcast gives you access to people. As the Media Voices podcast grew – at the time Houston and colleagues had recorded 130 episodes – it was able to attract big names from the publishing industry. Nick Thompson, editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine, John Bird from The Big Issue and Rob Orchard from Delayed Gratification were three names mentioned.

Because the team had developed a strong editorial stand, “telling it like it is for the publishing industry”, they weren’t keen on being tied to a sponsor for the weekly podcast. Instead they started a spinoff series called Media Voices Conversations, where a sponsor and big-name guest discuss an industry topic and share stories in the studio.

Another way they generate revenue is through analysis and industry reports. A podcast gives you a lot of content that can be repurposed into other formats. Regular reports on key trends provide a solid way of consolidating messages, insight and stories for your community.

They also launched an awards event for podcasts made by publishers. While this won’t be a natural progression for everyone, it does show what can be done once a community has been developed. Many of the 120 entries they received in the first year came from people they’d interviewed and brands that boosted their credibility, including The EconomistFinancial Times and The Guardian.

The awards entries gave them insight into the commercial models of podcasting. Some people used sponsorship, on an annual basis, so they gained long-term support without having to find it each month; some used their podcast to sell subscriptions to their publication; and others used ‘ad reads’ where sponsorship messages were turned into stories. In some cases, these stories were turned into full episodes, where the content was valuable enough for its audience to hear in full.

The point is that podcasts give you a platform, access to people and the opportunity to develop your community. They also give you a lot of content that can be delivered in different formats with little extra work. Not every opportunity will be visible from day one, but keep going, and the seeds you plant will grow stronger if they are nurtured. As you progress, so does your audience and opportunities to make money will present themselves.

Peter’s last word on the topic was this: “Stay smart, add value and don’t be boring – have some respect for your listeners.”