Why independent podcasting won't die

Marcus Vorwaller, who maintains the “Best Tool for the Job” blog (a great blog, btw) wrote a post earlier today in which he describes why he feels independent podcasting will die. While I do think there’s a ton of (overblown) hype surrounding podcasting lately, I respectfully disagree that it’s going to go away any time soon. He feels that podcasting will ultimately dwindle down to 20 or 30 podcasts that “anyone cares about or will listen to”. I think that’s awfully low and, once the “me too” hype of podcasting goes away, I expect that number to still be measured in the hundreds.

I also think it’s worth noting that his post (and this one) relate to independent  podcasting. Not the well- unded, corporate-driven, marketing podcasts that are pushing a product, nor the podcasts that are published from radio stations that already have an investment in equipment and talent.

Here are the reasons he gives for podcasting to die off, along with my disagreements. 

1. Pocasts are time-consuming to create. This is  certainly true… but you could argue that many of the better (re: interesting and readable) blogs also require an investment in time on the part of the author/content provider — I’m sure Marcus spends a great deal of his personal time on “Best Tool for the Job”. If someone is passionate about what they want to say and getting their message out, they’ll find the time. For most people, blogging is a hobby that  they spend some of that precious spare time on… I don’t see any reason that podcasting doesn’t fall into the same category.

2. Podcasts don’t make money. Also true in most cases. While there are some examples  of independent shows that are bringing in some money (via donations), they’re certainly not the provider’s sole source of income. But if we agree that podcasts are often put together by hobbyists who are passionate about a topic, then the fact that they’re not generating income isn’t usually a factor.

3. Podcasts are expensive to produce. I suppose this depends on the definition of expensive. $100? $500? I listen to some great podcasts that are recorded on iRiver MP3 players. Another that’s recorded with a USB microphone on a laptop. There are open source audio editors that make cleanup and editing a snap and don’t cost a dime. Nearly anyone who wants to put out a podcast will have a computer and a vast majority of those will have some sort of audio input capability. Is it ideal? No… but it can work quite well and stepping up to the next level of sound quality doesn’t have to be much more expensive than a nice DVD burner or a new monitor.

4. Podcasts are boring. There’s plenty of evidence  to support this, given some of the bad stuff out there. On the other hand, there are a lot of shows that are interesting — using my personal definition of “interesting”, which is the point here. One of the podcasts I listen to centers on the world of poker. If you’re not into poker, you’d be bored stiff to listen to it. If you are into poker, you might enjoy it. I also listen to a couple of .NET development-related shows that would bore to tears anyone who’s not spending their days  building software with .NET. Based on Marcus’s blog, I’m sure there are a few podcasts that align with his interests. Whether or not those also have decent quality and content he finds compelling is another matter.

5. Podcasts sound bad. I lump this  in with the “expensive to produce” argument. Typically, a podcast sounds bad because the provider recorded it with the built-in mic on their laptop, while they sat next to the microwave in their kitchen and and ate potato chips out of a plastic bag. Any halfway decent studio microphone (not anywhere near as expensive as you’d think) does a fine job, as do plenty of USB-based microphones. One nice thing about the explosion around Skype and other VoIP services is that mic manufacturers are flooding the market with inexpensive, USB-based mics. I also don’t think it’s important to have a “radio voice”… like most blogs, independent podcasts are put out there by regular people. They should sound like regular people when we listen and I don’t think one needs the booming monster-truck-rally-announcer style of voice (which are usually treated with audio effects anyway) to be interesting. If your content is interesting, I’ll tolerate a bit of a nasal voice.

6. Podcasts are too long. Are there some that are  too long? Probably, but it’s like any other content or form of entertainment. If you’re interested in it, you don’t want it to end. If you’re not interested in it, then you’ve got another option that’s missing from radio broadcasts — the fast-forward. There are times that some of the podcasts I listen to lose me. The topic for a given show might not appeal to me or maybe they’re doing a segment that I find boring. I fast-forward until I’m past it… and if that occurs too  often with that particular podcast, I unsubscribe. 

7. Podcasts are light on content. It’s the same  argument as with “boring”, “sounds bad”, and “too long”. If it doesn’t hold your interest, move on. The upside to this hype is that there’s plenty to choose from. I’ve downloaded some that I thought were just horrible. I really don’t need to hear about your day, what you’re having for dinner, how your dog’s vet appointment went, or that you and your wife are vacationing in the Poconos. If your content isn’t relevant to me, I’m gone.

In any case, I’m curious what others think. Will we eventually see  podcasting just plain “go away”, or as Marcus suggests, will it become the exclusive domain of existing broadcasters like NPR and radio stations?