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November 8, 2005

The State of Podcasting

So with the first birthday of podcasting is in our rear view mirror and the Portable Media Expo and Podcasting Conference just days away it's a great time to assess the state of podcasting. It's so hard to believe that something that seems such a big part of my daily life today (I probably average 1-2 hours of podcast listening each day) was hardly a blip on the radar a year ago.

Nicole Simon just posted a good article over on Corante summarizing her take on where things are at. For the most part I think she's right on the map. I think that we're at a stage with podcasting where many podcasters who jumped on the gravy train back in the spring and summer are starting to ponder whether podcasting is going to be a business for them or whether it will remain a hobby.

For those who want to turn it into a business there will have to be a clear path to revenue delineated soon. Ad insertion services like Fruitcast might offer one hope but it'll be interesting to see how well that works. Podcast networks might prove to be another boon to the community. The recent acquisition of Weblogs, Inc. by AOL is a signal that while most individual podcasts and blogs might not have a ton of clout, by banding together a lot of value and power cna be created. Perhaps more podcasters will start charging for their podcast although it still hasn't been shown that many people to the left of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity can get away with that. So we'll see...

For those that are content to keep their podcast strictly at hobby level the key question will be whether they will have the wherewithall to keep it going. After all, a lot more goes into producing a good podcast than going into producing a good blog. And as podcasts in general become more professional that tends to raise the bar for all podcasts. My fear is that a lot of people will abandon their podcasts over the next several months leaving many of the directories with a ghost town-like feel due to all of the orphaned shows.

What will it take to keep this thing rolling on? Let me offer a few suggestions:

1. A solid revenue model soon - If there isn't a good AdSense-ish type model in the next few months that allows the indie podcasters to start making a bit of money I think we'll see a lot of people leave the game.

2. A general shift to higher quality podcasts - At first it was somewhat novel to be able to listen to some dude or dudette ramble on for an hour or so about mostly nothing because it was so unlike the pre-packaged crap on commercial radio. But that novelty is rapidly wearing off. It's time to recognize the value of a well-produced, more concise podcast.

3. A "killer app" podcast - To this day there hasn't really been a "Must Listen" podcast that has captured the attention of a large chunk of the podcast universe. Maybe the Source Code or Dawn & Drew but I think you could argue against either of those. I think there's a good chance that something will soon hit the airwaves (I know...wrong word) that will knock peoples' socks off. A podcast that'll be on the front of USA Today or Time Magazine. I don't know what it is yet but I'm waiting for that one podcast that gets a ton of podcast virgins to hop on board and start downloading shows.

There has been a lot of progress in the last few weeks. Yahoo's new podcast directory is very cool and the whole market that's opened up for video podcasting since the release of the video iPod presents some really amazing possibilities. So this week's podcast conference should be a lot of fun.

We'll be there representing LearnOutLoud and hoping to catch a glimpse of what the future holds. We're incredibly excited about the potential for podcasting as an educational tool and think that the surface of that potentiality has hardly been scratched. These are fun times we live in no doubt. I'm sure that one day our kids and grandkids will enjoy reading stories about them. Scratch that. They'll enjoy listening to stories about them.