Wednesday, August 29, 2018


As the podcasting boom rolls on, an increasing number of industry observers are using variations of the term “podfade” too describe the current reality. 

Like any boom town, podcasting is moving from the early excitement phase into the “can I make a living doing this” phase.

Podcast promoters often sound like “boosters” from the Chamber of Commerce, bragging about big their town may be someday. Earlier in August at Podcast Movement 2018 [link], the nation’s largest gathering of podcasters, broadcasters and advertisers, attendees heard about a new initiative Podcasting’s Next Frontier: 100 Million Listeners [link]. This will be a heavy lift.

According to Edison Research [link], 64% of Americans over the age of 18 say they are familiar with the term “podcasting.” However, only 17% have listened to a podcast in the last week. Podcast champions say this will change when technical issues are addressed, new Apps are available or when “that one big show” ignites consumer interest.

Steve Goldstein
Beyond the success of podcasting big hits such as The Daily, This American Life and Radiolab, most podcasts fade away soon after they start.  Podcasting takes time and some money and requires a commitment.

A post by media consultant and blogger Steve Goldstein, CEO of Amplifi Media, [link], posted a think piece on his Blogstein titled “How Many of the 540,000 Podcasts Have "Podfaded?.” His post has created a stir in podcast circles.  Goldstein’s article is based on the fact that many podcasts “podfade” by their seventh episode. By “podfade” he means they cease production.

Goldstein cites reports that there are 540,000 podcast titles in current circulation and that number rises by 2,000 every week. He notes:  

“Starting a podcast is easy. It must be; everyone seems to have one. Keeping a podcast going is another thing.”


In June we opined [link] that our friend, blogger and podcaster Mark Ramsey got it wrong when he wrote that podcasting will be more successful if/when it includes content designed for "regular folks."  Ramsey said success is just around the corner if podcast producers create shows with familiar topics and appeal to a mass audience.

We feel that podcasting works best when it is NOT intended for a mainstream audience. There is something about podcasts like 99% Invisible that are unconventional, even radical, and that is a part of their appeal. Maybe podcasts were meant to be “outlaws” in the media landscape that are so juicy that traditional media can’t contain them.

The boosterish nature of initiatives like Podcasting’s Next Frontier: 100 Million Listeners remind us of hawking the blue-light specials at K-Mart.


Sooner or later it comes down to sustainability – can I pay the rent when I am doing podcast? The answer is generally NO. You see, podcasting pays even less than radio.

In order for podcasting to grow, the people creating the content need to be sure they will be here tomorrow. It is exciting to be on the cutting edge, but a cup of coffee still costs $5 at Starbucks,

As we see it, the business of podcasting is divided into three groups: the Pros, the specialists and everyone else:


On the left is the most recent Podtrac Top 10 podcast publishes. As you can see, podcasts distributed by these folks reach lots of people. But, consider this: At almost all of the 10 publishers, podcasting is a sideline activity, not the sole source of revenue. 

Most of the people in these organizations have jobs giving them the security to be creative.

But these folks aren’t immune to gravity. Recently Audible, owned by Amazon, fired their podcasting department based on the belief that “smart money” says the platform is at its high point.


Specialty podcasts are the future of podcasting. There will always be big hit podcasts by The Pros, but specialty shows are the day-to-day workhorses of the business.  Whether the topic is knitting or new medical procedures, the key to success is to know the subject and set realistic expectations.


1 comment:

  1. Ken, a potentially useful analog might be the webcomics industry. It has zillions of artists writing and drawing comic strips of all shapes, sizes and styles. But only a very small number of them make any money at all, and of that small number, most are one or two man operations making a very modest living at best off their art. High four figures to low five figures per year are the norm. Usually through a combination of Patreon (very similar to public radio "sustainers") and merch sales. Many used to make a little money through web ads, but that revenue has crated in the last two years to almost nothing; I know one guy who was making $2000/mo off web ads alone in 2015 who's seen that dwindle to $100/mo in 2018. Eek!

    A tiny, tiny percentage are true businesses with multiple employees, and in every case the artwork is part of a larger enterprise. Sometimes as a loss-leader of some sort. Several do other media ventures, like animation studios, tabletop gaming systems, music studios, etc etc etc. All have extensive merchandising sales and usually multiple heavy-duty Patreons, as well.

    Interestingly, several have turned to, well, smut. The market for cartoon porn is large and growing, and they make a good living by creating special Patreon subscriber pages for that. High five, if not six figure incomes (pre-tax). Most of the artists I know in that realm aren't very happy about it, but they've got mortgages to pay and kids to put through college.

    Does put a decent spin on the concept of "news porn", doesn't it? :-) You almost have to wonder if those European TV channels that have sexy female newscasters who do their reports topless are onto something. :-/ Although I suppose there's nothing news about a news agency that has a separate enterprise to subsidize it. It's no different than the old days of network TV where the entertainment programming was what paid for the CBS Evening News.