A recently published piece by Jennifer Miller in The New York Times entitled “Have We Hit Peak Podcast?” has been quite the topic of conversation, garnering some mixed reactions.
The subtitle removes all doubt as to the editorial angle: “If past experience (cough, blogs) is any indication, a shakeout is nigh.” No matter how one fits into the podcasting ecosystem, we can all see that the sheer number of shows has become overwhelming. However, the Times article positions a “makeshift” and “mediocre” podcast, hosted by two inexperienced, unmotivated individuals, as its central cautionary tale.
The doomed project, apathetically named “The Advice Podcast,” was an attempt to grow its cohosts' personal brands. “We assumed we’d be huge,” explains Morgan Mandriota, one of the two creators. When “affiliate marketing deals and advertisements” failed to appear, the effort was abandoned after just 6 episodes.
Citing the saturated landscape of podcast startup manuals, Miller's argument extends the blog analogy. “Podcasts […] are today’s de rigueur medium, seemingly adopted by every entrepreneur, freelancer, self-proclaimed marketing guru and even corporation,” she writes. ‘Everyone' having a podcast has become a “punch line,” a symptom of our self-absorption and delusions of marketable grandeur.
Jordan Harbinger, host of “The Jordan Harbinger Show” podcast, is quoted to weigh in on the bandwagon phenomenon. He gives a lecture called “For the Love of God, Please Don’t Start Another Podcast” that warns against starting a show to “get a piece of the pie.” This perfectly wise and rational piece of advice aims to cut down on structureless interview shows known as “bantercasts.”
The message seems to be that these bantercasts, clones of the aforementioned “The Advice Podcast,” have flooded the market. Too many shallow, get-rich-quick schemes in podcast costumes, if you will. The “shakeout” alluded to in the title follows as appropriate: Podcasting has experienced rapid growth followed by overexpansion, so we can expect a steady wave of endings. Blubrry's report that “between March and May of this year, only 19.3 percent of existing podcasts introduced a new episode,” supports this prediction, but it's not that simple.
The other side of shakeouts is that large, diversified industries can benefit from them. Although it's true that starting a podcast is trendy, sustaining one is deceptively difficult. Yes, many underestimate the work involved and drop out, but that doesn't mean at all that new podcasts should slow down. Podcasting as a whole has evolved into a powerful medium because of experimentation.
That spirit of trial and error is what so many podcasters love about the format. It's frustrating that an objectively subpar podcast was used to point out why trying is a.) done for the wrong reasons, or b.) a waste of time. Who would ever expect a passionless show with no focus to succeed? Reddit user CorkyKneivel posted the article to the site's Podcasts forum, adding: “This article might as well have been called ‘People starting a podcast with poor preparation and entitlement get disappointed and quit.'” Couldn't agree more, Corky.
A New York Times commenter under the name Lenswork had this to say: “If you start a podcast for the purpose of earning money, then you will likely fail. Start a podcast about what you care about. Have passion. If you turn out to be engaging and good at [it], then maybe it will get enough attention that you can start [to] think about monetizing it.” This is true, wise, and something the authors of the article should have given our community credit for. Wil Williams, podcast critic and audio fiction aficionado, hilariously and succinctly reacted via Twitter:
anyway if you think podcasting is easy your podcast is probably just bad
— Wil Williams 🕷️ (@wilw_writes) July 19, 2019
Although the article backs up its viewpoint with industry players and statistics, it feels like a missed opportunity. The most important takeaway is this: Not all podcasters get into it for money, fame, or to become an “influencer.” Cynicism is understandable when an accessible industry blows up, but discounting the creative joy of podcasting is a mistake. If there's such a thing as a wrong reason to become a podcaster, this article suggests that few approach it correctly.
In conclusion, don't let the question of “peak podcast” get you down. We leave you with an uplifting excerpt from Reddit user miali16's comment on the thread:
“Bad podcasts are fine — a lot of people who make them intend for it to be for themselves and their friends anyway.”