Peak Podcast and the Purpose of Online Publishing

Quiet Mics Live On Air
‘On air’ lamp in a studio at BBC New Broadcasting House

Much hilarity on social media about this New York Times article about an aspiring writer who set up a lacklustre podcast.

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.

We’ve hit ‘peak podcast,’ apparently and everyone is getting in on the podcasting game – especially anyone who wants to be considered an ‘expert’ in some field or other.

My issue with this article is that it falls into a common mistake that ‘old media’ analyses make when discussing the latest iteration of ‘new media,’ which is an assumption that the publishers want to replicate old media; that the metrics of success are the same.

In fact, podcasting—like blogging, or indeed vlogging—is a medium that can handle many different types of content where the measures of success are different.

Back in the day, there was much discussion about whether blogging was ‘worth it’ and what strategies one should use to succeed. That discussion presupposed that the ultimate aim was to make money from the blog in some way. Some people do that, of course. But there is a whole other class of person who uses the same tools for different purposes.

I know full well that the best strategy to grow the audience of this blog would be to pick a subject (in my case that would almost certainly be free speech) and then blog to a fixed, regular schedule.

But I choose not to do that, because ‘growing the audience’ is not really the purpose of this blog. The meander is intentional. Instead, it’s (variously) a commonplace book, a notebook, an archive of stuff published elsewhere, and training in a particular type of writing. The skills I taught myself while blogging are the ones I use to quickly deliver op-eds for other publications.

I don’t have a podcast, but of course I’ve wondered whether to start one. If I did, it would probably fulfil similar goals to the blog. That is, not to raise my profile and grow an audience, but fulfilling some kind of training or education need for myself.

It would be crazy if we pigeonholed the medium of ‘books’ into a single genre — investigative journalism, say — and then declared any other kind of book to be variously ‘experimental’ or ‘amateur’ or a ‘vanity project’ (though books can be all of those things). The medium is so loose it can take in so many different purposes, from million-copy bestsellers, to niche poetry, to a photo book of your last holiday to Spain, and everything in between. Neither podcasts or blogs are narrow media, only suited to a particular purpose. They are simply tools to record thoughts.

If we think like that, then it should be clear that we certainly haven’t hit peak podcast yet. I hope we never do.

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