Housty, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve come to believe about podcasting?

Each month we pose a question to the brilliant Peter Houston, co-host of the Media Voices podcast, who will answer in his fabulously inimitable way. This month’s question comes from podcasting producer and creative director, Christopher Phin.

Housty, we have a problem

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve come to believe about podcasting through Media Voices and The Publisher Podcast Awards?

What a surprising question!

It’s sometimes easy to think that people working in publishing are never surprised, that we’ve seen it all before and there’s nothing new under the sun. And that’s true if you get really reductive: we’re all just trying to make money telling stories.

But when you get properly granular, publishing in general and podcasting in particular, are full of surprises, good and bad.

No fancy kit

Let’s start with the good.

I’m genuinely surprised at the quality of podcasts that come from individual creators and smaller publishers. Yes, all you need to be a podcaster is an iPhone, but most iPhone podcasts are rubbish.

So it’s all the more surprising that tiny teams without fancy kit, fancy studios and fancy budgets are making some of the best podcasts out there. Simon Brew’s Film Stories won our best entertainment podcast as a one man-band. Reby Media is a small but growing B2B publisher that has put podcasting at the centre of what it does, and its narrative podcast lineup is fantastic.

I’ve also been surprised by the sense of community that exists among publishers around podcasting.

We can be a pretty competitive bunch; the number of entries we get for the Publisher Podcast Awards proves that. But on the night, and more recently at our Publisher Podcast Summit, the camaraderie was amazing. I think it comes from being in a sector that is still very much learning, but to see people from competing national newspapers sharing top tips and horror stories was a great feeling.

The other thing I am still surprised by is the innovation in podcasts.

Most podcasts are still three people round a table (Media Voices anyone?), but there are good things happening. Substack’s tying together podcasts and newsletters opens up all sorts of possibilities. The investigative streams some newspapers are taking – checkout ‘Call Bethel’ from the Telegraph and ‘Can I tell you a secret?’ from the Guardian – takes the Serial formula to the next level. And mixed media developments, melding together all the elements of the publishing portfolio, are becoming more common.

Not everyone has to be Joe Rogan

On the bad side, why don’t more people see that scale is not the point in podcasting? Just like in niche magazines, you can make money and make a difference with relatively small audiences. Not everyone has to be Joe Rogan, it would be a horrible world if everyone was.

I’d be pleasantly surprised to see more magazine publishers think about targeted podcasts rather than getting caught up chasing scale, or worse, never getting started in podcasting because they don’t think their audience will be big enough.

We’ve just recorded a sponsored episode with Reuters based on an average of 500 listens an episode, bundling in our daily newsletter and a feature on our website. One of Mr Phin’s old podcasts, ‘Energy Voice’ made great money with an audience in the hundreds.

Sadly, I’m still regularly shocked by the poor quality audio some publishers put out. And not just shonky recording, but really poor editing. Almost everyone I talk to for our ‘Lessons’ series says spend time on your edits, and yet too many people don’t seem to edit at all.

And I’m continually surprised at how senior professionals continue to put themselves up for interviews with podcasters that are just not nice people. Sure it’s flattering to be asked to appear on a podcast, especially if it is well known, but maybe do some due diligence first. Is that ego stroke worth making yourself the product for people that act in bad faith elsewhere?

Back on the positive side again, the biggest surprise of all is that after five years of recording The Media Voices podcast more or less every week, and mostly at stupid o’clock on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I’m still having a blast with podcasts.

Actually, I’m planning to launch another one at the beginning of December… watch this space.

Peter Houston is one third of the Media Voices podcast, a magazine publishing consultant and trainer, and a freelance writer.

Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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