Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The NYT Wonders If We’ve Hit ‘Peak Podcast’

Jennifer Miller of the New York Times wrote about the eruption of podcasting popularity — a seemingly evergreen topic. Nieman Lab wondered in 2017 if we had hit “peak podcast”, while Wired thought the same in 2015. Podcasts were “back” in 2012, according to Social Media Examiner, and also in 2014, according to the Washington Post. 2005 was the “year of the podcast”, according to Slate. Podcasting seems perpetually mainstream and, also, simultaneously on the verge of death.

Much as I think this story subject is well worn, there’s plenty of research in Miller’s article that helps provide a sort of status update on the podcasting industry. One stat she quotes near the end of the piece is particularly eye-opening: less than 20% of podcasts tracked by Blubrry issued a new episode between March and May. Unlike blogs, there doesn’t seem to be innumerable episodes of podcasts that begin with an apology for a lack of updates.

But Miller begins her piece with this curious anecdote:

In 2016, Morgan Mandriota and Lester Lee, two freelance writers looking to grow their personal brands, decided to start a podcast. They called it “The Advice Podcast” and put about as much energy into the show’s production as they did the name. (After all, no one was paying them for this. Yet.) Each week, the friends, neither of whom had professional experience dispensing advice, met in a free room at the local library and recorded themselves chatting with an iPhone 5.

“We assumed we’d be huge, have affiliate marketing deals and advertisements,” Ms. Mandriota said.

But six episodes in, when neither Casper mattresses nor MeUndies had come knocking, the friends quit.

I’m not sure what this part of the story is communicating, other than sounding like an Onion article. Is it that the world of podcasting is not a surefire way to a product endorsement deal? And, if so, is that supposed to be surprising, especially after a handful of weak attempts? Is it just a given assumption that the aspiration of every podcaster is a product pitch person, or even that they’re looking for a career in internet broadcasting?1

Two excerpts that I think are warranted, though:

Call him cynical, but Jordan Harbinger, host of “The Jordan Harbinger Show” podcast, thinks there is a “podcast industrial complex.” Hosts aren’t starting shows “because it’s a fun, niche hobby,” he said. “They do it to make money or because it will make them an influencer.”

[…]

“So many of these are just painful,” said Tom Webster, the senior vice president of Edison Research, which tracks consumer media behavior. “We revere the great interviewers, but it’s an incredible skill that nobody has. What did Terry Gross do before she had her own show? Well, she was an interviewer, not a marketer for a software company.”

I don’t mean to denigrate software marketing podcasts or more conversational styles of episodes — everyone likes something different, and these are clearly enjoyable for lots of people. But these excerpts illustrate what makes some podcasts work for me: well-edited storytelling or interviews by enthusiastic hosts. Aching to be an “influencer” is like aspiring to be a QVC host.


  1. For what it’s worth, I’ve been writing this website for about nine years now as a labour of love, and I bet that it will stay that way. I’m okay with that. If you’d like to send me tens of thousands of dollars, though, I won’t say no. ↩︎