Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

What Is Podcasting?

Harry Marks wrote a piece about podcasting last week. I’ve been digesting this for a while, but I knew I’d eventually respond:

Podcasting is still finding its footing among the masses, but it’s telling that the top episodes and podcasts in iTunes almost exclusively come from professional “Old Media” outlets. NPR/American Public Media, ESPN, and NBC occupy the majority of the slots at the time of this article’s publication. They adhere to set schedules, time constraints, and they properly edit their shows down to the essentials.

I agree with almost everything Marks says in his article, but this is the clincher. My favourite podcasts — such that I have any favourite podcasts — are those produced by “old” media. I find the tech podcast space both crowded and rambling.

I type this, by the way, fully aware that my weblog is one of many linkbloggy, Daring Fireball-esque weblogs out there. It’s also a very crowded space. But it takes an hour or two to listen to any given tech podcast, during which time you could probably crawl through the posts of twenty or more iterations of this kind of weblog.

Myke Hurley followed up on Stephen Hackett’s 512 Pixels:

A collection of my friends have just launched a project called the Unrecorded Podcast. […]

They are getting together to do a weekly show, but not release the audio, just the show notes.

People love podcasts because of the conversation. They hear how it flows from start to end and the show notes of an episode either add context to the discussion or allow someone to follow along. You will lose a lot without this and just be delivering a list of links to someone.

I disagree. The latest Unrecorded Podcast episode, as it were, has a great list of links packaged in their context within the conversation. I get the gist of the conversation, but I can also listen to the Weakerthans while doing so.

I appreciate the craft that Hurley and others bring to the space. But a time commitment of two hours per podcast per week is arguably a lot, and I often don’t get the sense that podcasters respect listeners’ time. I will sit through an album from start to finish, and it will take about an hour; a podcast can be twice that length, and if it’s unedited conversational rambling, I will struggle to finish the episode. It’s simply not worth that amount of time.

I mentioned the album in there because I feel it’s also a time commitment that isn’t often respected by both listeners and artists, or “consumers” and “creators”, if you will. There’s a pretty good interview with Moby from around the time “Wait For Me” was released where he explained why he hopes that people will listen to that record in full:

John Norris: … you’ve asked people to — at least once — listen to from start to finish. Do you think that’s an increasingly difficult thing to get people to do?

Moby: Yeah. I mean, in the “ye olde” days when I was a teenager — back in the ’30s — … I would save up to buy an album. Buying an album was a big deal: the first job I ever had was a caddy on a golf course, and I worked there just long enough to buy “Lodger” by David Bowie. After about three weeks, I’d saved up the seven dollars it cost to buy the album. And when I had “Lodger”, I quit my job, because I had my record and I didn’t need a job any more. And I took the record home and I’d listen to it from start to finish, over and over again, and it was a commitment. And now? For better or worse, I wouldn’t say the album is a dying art form, but it’s certainly a marginalized art form.

Regardless of your feelings about Moby or his music, I think this is a point which seems rarely considered by artists in 2013 (or in 2009, when the interview occurred). I think it’s a similar story with podcasters, except it’s an even more ephemeral connection: podcasts are (typically) free and unsubscribing is one button away.

And, yes, this post ran much longer than I think it should have. Thank you for reading.