Yet the overall audience for podcasts is growing very slowly. In February, Edison Research reported that 17 percent of Americans had listened to one podcast in the previous month. That is up just slightly from Edison’s 2012 survey, when 14 percent of Americans had done so. The business also has some problems, including a labor-intensive ad-buying process, a shortage of audio producers and the inability to accurately measure who is listening.
"Podcasting Blossoms, but in Slow Motion" – The New York Times
When I started podcasting in 2005, the number of people who knew about podcasts came much closer to 0. A couple of years ago, at a party, I still had people who asked me what a podcast was and how they could listen to what I created. They had seen my posts on Facebook about episode released and were left bemused.
With around 10% of the United States’ population, Australian podcast listener numbers are much lower than their trans-Pacific cousins.
The calculation of listener numbers, as the above article states, is a very difficult proposition. Boxcutters had a peak audience of somewhere between 4500 and 11 000 depending on how it was calculated. For American podcasts, advertising begins at 10 000 listeners. The people who buy advertising did not have the same calculation method as the 11 000 figure, so we never made much money.
By the end of my time at Boxcutters, I had stopped looking at the numbers. I realised one year that the number of listeners weren’t as important to me as just knowing people were listening, and that those who did listen continued to do so out of enjoyment. I realised that that was why I kept coming back every week.
Podcasting in Australia survives not on money but on listener feedback. The emails and tweets we received from listeners after each episode made it worth getting into the studio the next week.
At the time of writing, seven of the top ten podcasts on the Australian iTunes store are from the US or UK. The three Australian shows are produced by the ABC. The highest rating independently produced show by an Australian is WILOSOPHY with Wil Anderson, at number 13.
Wil’s other podcast, TOFOP/FOFOP is number 21 and his remain the only independently produced Australian shows in the top 40.
It’s a tough market to break through and it’s even tougher for independent shows. Wil has an established media career to leverage. The Gimlet Media shows mentioned in the New York Times article have the pedigrees of This American Life and NPR programs to help bring them attention. The first episode of Gimlet’s first show, Start Up was featured in an episode of This American Life, and you really can’t ask for a better boost than that.
I could go on about this but you get the point. It’s a disheartening climate for the independent podcast producer.
And yet, I keep doing it. I can’t not do it. I found my medium and I love it. It gives me an opportunity to keep learning and finding out about the world and what I personally can do if I put my mind to it.
In creating podcasts I found what I was always looking for during my years of radio. I’ll probably never produce something to knock the ABC or Hamish and Andy out of the top spot in Australian podcasting, but as long as I keep producing things I’m proud of, the numbers will continue to not matter.
Boxcutters was podcast about television that I stopped producing in 2013, after eight years of almost weekly releases. Only 14 episodes of Boxcutters were released after I left. Creating a listenable and regular podcast is a lot of work and it takes a passionate team to keep it up. Without that support it’s almost impossible to keep a non-financial enterprise going. I’m sure there’s another blog post about that. ↩