Podcasts have historically been exclusive to niche markets, but I think that’s going to change, and quickly. Here’s why:
1. You can do whatever you want while listening. I’ve gone on walks, shoveled snow, and played video games, all while listening to podcasts. Basically, all activities where you don’t need to hear, which is almost everything, is a great activity to listen to podcasts. In an age where leisure time is competitive, it is natural to cram as much as possible into our daily lives. What better way to do that then multi-task? Podcasts are educational, entertaining, and can supplement any activity. The people who listen to podcasts know and relish this, and it’s only a matter of time before the masses realize it too.
2. It’s a proven formula. There was a time when radio was the number one form of communications. Today, the radio plays a smaller role in mass media, but people are still accustomed to the habit of listening to the radio while driving. Listening to the radio is ingrained into our culture, but podcasts are not. Unequivocally, they are the same thing. Podcasts are simply radio shows without the music, and the success of the latter has been significant. Shows like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh are immensely popular, and there is no question podcasts can reach the same level of popularity. What is needed is for podcasts to transcend their stereotype and become the radio of everything else but the car.
3. They are gaining traction. This year, the Serial podcast by Sara Koenig has made podcast history by reaching 5 million listeners, an unprecedented number. It did so by introducing a form of audio story-telling where the host learns information at the same pace as the listener, creating an interactive medium that grips audiences. Millions of Americans were hooked because they wanted to solve the mystery presented in the story, feeling as though they were part of it. The next season of Serial is set to repeat its success, creating more podcast fans and bringing other podcasts into the spotlight.
4. They’re educational. Podcasts, more so than radio shows, tend to focus on education rather than entertainment. This is because podcasts, by nature, are not one-and-done experiences like radio but rather works that are meant to be enjoyed regardless of time. Take This American Life, which still gets downloads on episodes from the 90’s. The reason this is important is because the world is shifting towards mass information where the ability to curate it is crucial. Podcasts tell a small story from a bigger picture, and as people desire an understanding of a deeper topic, podcasts become a useful tool. This, combined with fact that people are becoming more educated and desire learning outside of work and school, take MOOC’s and online classes, make podcasts a very attractive supplement to education.
5. They’re accessible. Not only are they free, which is valuable in and of itself, but they are easy to make and access. Anyone can make a podcast-all you need is a recorder, which our phones and laptops all have. What this means is that anyone can make a podcast, and while it may not be popular, it is a great outlet for curators and content producers. This increases competition and ensures a large pool of quality podcasts to choose from. Not only that, they are easy to access. With apps and websites dedicated to navigating the pool of podcasts, people are able to find what they want and get it consistently.
For these reasons and more, I am bullish on podcasts. If you are a content-seeker, get on it. If you are a content-creator, utilize it. If you are an investor, invest in them. The medium is going to blow up, I guarantee it.
Looking for a place to begin? I recommend This American Life to get started, and if you like finance, business, and economics, Planet Money and Freakonomics.