Listening is listening. Everything else is marketing.

Tyler Moody

I don’t read many books. I’m not against reading books, but it’s just not a part of my life right now. I do understand what it’s like to be lost in great writing both fiction and non-fiction. On a vacation a few years ago I was engrossed by “The Big Short” and I ripped through “Gone Girl” pretty quickly just when the movie came out and there was all that buzz.

But in general, I just don’t read a lot of books. I don’t take or make the time to be engrossed.

My relationship with books is how I relate to people that don’t enjoy the experience of listening. Whether it’s narrative storytelling like Serial, or just some trusted “friends” talking politics every week in the Politcal Gabfest or RunningMate, some people just don’t mix with listening. I’m ok with that.

A few years ago when CNN Radio was branching out into more than just headlines, one of our reporters did a fantastic piece about houses near a power plant. You can still see and hear the story on this link. “A power plant, cancer and a small town’s fears” from John Sepulvado. I was really excited about it. I thought it was just a fantastic piece of reporting, and a well told story that would hold anyone’s attention. (But we still needed and article and photos for a web page.)

I put the audio on a CD and gave it to a friend that has been in the TV business their entire life and asked them to just please listen on their commute home. The next day I expected them to say “Wow, that was really good!” or something like that. Instead their response was ‘It’s nice. I get it, but it’s just not my thing.”

Millions of people listen to radio each week, but I would venture to guess that most of it is passive listening. People have music on in the background, and even news & talk stations can become background noise. Podcasting seems to me to be more of an active listening experience. Especially when you choose to plug in some ear buds. The content isn’t meant to be “white noise,” it demands your attention and many people are willing to give it. You invest your mind and thoughts to the program, and when you find a good one it quickly becomes an addicting habit. It’s how the trust and intimate relationship is built between host and listeners. (And that relationship is what hosts are selling to advertisers with all those ads.)

Why am I writing about this? It’s because of this article from Wired: To Attract New Listeners, Podcasts Need to Move Beyond Sound it’s a concept that I agree with, and makes me roll my eyes at the same time.

Try this headline: “To Attract New Listeners, Podcasts Need Marketing”

It’s a lot more obvious, and a lot less interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the examples that are mentioned in the article. Videos, graphics and images with audio for Instagram and Facebook and GIF’s on Tumblr… those are all GREAT ideas.

Remember The Ricky Gervais Show on HBO? It was a brilliantly animated version of his podcast. Very funny, very well done for the TV, but to someone like me that enjoys listening and making those images in my own head, the animated experience was “less than.”

Dividing hour long podcast stories into chapters like Pandora suggests is also a great idea. (Hmm… chapters… it seems someone else likes the book analogy) It gives the listener a chance to put a “bookmark” in the podcast and pick up later. It makes total sense, even for people already accustomed to long podcasts.

Clammr is also among the groups trying to solve the issue of sharing snippets of audio along with those others mentioned in the article.

Just like if I were a writer and wanted more people to read my book, I would maybe license an excerpt to a magazine, and put some text over images for shareable social media posts in an effort to make people aware of my book. But ultimately I’d be hoping that people buy the book and actually read it.

“Did you like my book?” 
“Well, I saw a few quotes on Facebook and Twitter. It seems nice. If they make a movie maybe I’ll watch it.”

Movie trailers are the same thing. Short sizzle-reel style pieces of video designed to wet the appetite of the consumer for the whole movie. But the conversion is from one experience that’s similar to the other. “Did you like watching this short thing? Try watching this longer thing.”

Converting from “Did you like looking at and hearing this thing? Try only listening to this longer thing” is a bigger jump.

Will new ways of sharing audio in snackable clips with visual elements for inherently visual social platforms convert more people to the entire immersive experience of listening to podcasts? It can’t hurt, but I won’t place the success or failure of podcasting on the ability to convert non-listeners into listeners.

I once posed the idea to someone in the podcast business that Snapchat be used to try and reach new audience, and the response was “isn’t Snapchat the completely opposite experience of podcasts? I’m not sure that audience will convert.”

If you have the staff, time and expertise to create material based on your podcast that will be relevant and worthwhile on other platforms, by all means you should do it. Why not?

But if you don’t, there’s no need to panic.

I think podcasts will continue to grow, because that’s what they do. Slowly. Just as the article suggests accessibility will get better and more people will be able to choose to listen to a podcast. Just wait until cars have Apple Car Play and Android Auto.  That’s going to be huge for on-demand audio, but it won’t replace the experience of scanning the radio.

Nothing about the podcast experience today is as passive as turning on the radio and scanning up and down the dial. Podcast listening is a chosen experience just like on-demand or Netflix viewing. People sit down and choose to give their time and attention to those programs vs. just turning on the TV and flipping around to see whatever might be on. It’s the same with podcasting. But just as Netflix and other on-demand options are taking viewers from regular TV, I think podcasting’s growth will come from radio listeners. People that are already familiar with and somehow wired to enjoy listening.

So yes, WIRED, Podcasting needs to use all available social tools to spread the word about podcasts. It’s a good idea for marketing sake. But also recognize the experiences are completely different.

2016 is not a “make or break” year. If podcasting doesn’t reach some kind of HUGE growth to a massively bigger audience in 2016, I won’t declare podcasting broken.

As always, thanks for reading and sharing. Please leave a comment or reach out in one of those social places with your thoughts.

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