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Exploring the Path Ahead for the Podcasting Industry with James Cridland
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In this blog post, James Cridland takes us on a journey into the past, present, and future of the podcasting industry. Learn valuable insights and perspectives on the evolving podcasting landscape while gaining a deeper understanding of the trends, innovations, and potential opportunities. From emerging technologies to evolving listener behaviors, explore the exciting predictions to watch for in the future of podcasting and a few warnings of things to watch for. Get ready to better understand the ever-changing podcasting landscape and stay ahead of the curve!
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The first thing I want to get into here is just your contribution to the podcasting industry. One of my favorite things you do is Podnews; we’ll get into that a little bit. So I’m not going to spoil the whole thing now, but it’s just been such an amazing, helpful resource to the entire podcast industry, not just me, but the whole industry. And I want to say thank you so much for bringing your passion and your desire to help and serve people in the space. I can’t speak highly enough about how you show up to make this industry a better place and honestly have moved the needle doing that. So, again, James, thank you so much for what you do. It means a lot to me personally.
No, Alex, thank you. That’s very kind. That’s very kind. You’re making me, as a British person, making me feel very embarrassed. We’re not used to any of that sort of thing.
James Cridland’s Journey Into the Podcasting Industry
I’m told I have a couple of guys in my Mastermind, they’re British, and I’m told I should say mean things because that makes them feel better. But I don’t have an enemy, so I will stick with this. All right? It’s all got. So I always love to do whenever I bring on a pillar of the industry, which is you today. I love talking about some of the past of podcasting and having you share your unique perspective.
Before we do that, we will go more general. Still, you’ve got some interesting things that have happened in podcasting to you, so I’m going just to call those out, then we’ll get into more general, we’ll get through the type of the past of podcasting where it is today and into the future of it. But the first thing I want to mention is to have you talk about Podnews if you can quickly explain that. I heard you got the idea over a beer in a bar in the United States, which is where the idea came from, but can you talk about it a little bit about what it is and where it came from?
I was at the Worldwide Radio Summit, which is as worldwide as your baseball things. So I guess I was the world.
If you invite one, then it’s worldwide.
It was a conversation after in a pub, and somebody was saying or in a bar, and somebody was saying, where’d you get your news from regarding podcasting? And I said there isn’t anywhere, really, is there? And that got me kind of thinking. It took two or three weeks of me thinking, okay, well, what will the workflow be? How am I going to do this? Let’s build all of my technology to do this because why make life easy for myself? So I ended up doing all of that. And so this was back in May of 2017.
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One of the biggest problems I had at the time was finding news about podcasting. There was not an awful lot of information out there. And for the first couple of months, the hard job was, oh, I need at least four stories for everything to work correctly, so how will I get four stories daily? And some of it was going through the release notes of podcast apps and going, well, Podcasts has a new app out now and all that stuff, which sounds like a luxury these days, given that I’ve got so much news to cover. It was a delightful thing to be working on.
I must have found Podnews pretty early on. It was June 2017 when I came on board, Finding. Before that, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of an, I don’t even know if I want to call it an app, a web application, for lack. A better term is called Feedly. Have you ever heard of that before? I was using Feedly to find any keyword about podcasting I could just to keep up with what was happening. And as you said, once a week, I’m like, OOH, something about podcasting. And it’s like new season drops, like some random press release. I’m like, okay, it’s another true crime podcast. There’s no real news happening here.
Then you showed up, and as you said at first, obviously, there wasn’t much to report on, right? And today, anyone who has subscribed to Podnew, which I encourage, everyone, go to Podnew.net and go ahead and subscribe now. It’s very well done. And a lot is happening daily in the podcasting industry, and we’ll get into that today. But again, James, I appreciate what you do and sitting down, building up the code yourself, and stuff like that. That adds a level of ensuring that it stays healthy for everybody. So I appreciate anyone who’s using their code these days. So thank you again for that as well.
No. It’s good fun. Not always the best plan, but it’s the right thing for this particular thing.
James’ First Time Speaking in the Podcasting Industry
So I’ve got to hear one more thing in your history your first time speaking in podcasting. Can you talk about your first experience on a stage when you were going over podcasting?
You’ve been doing your research. So I was working for the original Virgin Radio in London, and we launched in March of 2005. We’d launched podcasting for the first time, and we were taking the breakfast show that we had and producing a podcast version of that show. And this was a long, long time. Apple hasn’t launched podcasts yet on iTunes. It was a long, long time in the past. There was a podcast conference, which was called Podcast Con, in London in June of that year. And I was invited to speak. What I didn’t necessarily appreciate at the time is that many people had gotten into podcasting specifically because they hated radio.
They hated the gatekeeping, and they hated everything that radio stood for and everything that mass media stood for. And podcasting was their escape, and they were really unhappy that Richard Branson’s radio station had got involved in podcasting. I was shouted at for about 45 minutes, and that was a very humbling experience. Still, I was there specifically to see how much I could share about what we were doing and, you know, hopefully, win some people over, if not everybody. It was an exciting experience!
And for everybody watching and listening today, that is why James is talking remotely right now, so you can’t throw things at him—kidding. Actually, in the second quarter of 2023, James gave the opening talk at the podcast show London, which I’ve heard, I believe, the theater sat 400 plus people, but it was standing room only, which, congratulations, I don’t think anyone was booing you, so I’m pleased to hear it’s come full circle for you. What a beautiful thing.
It was terrific. What a fantastic event that was. And as a Brit, even though I live here in Australia now, but as a Brit, it’s a very sort of weirdly patriotic thing to realize that we can put on a big show and not mess it up. It was a good experience and great to see how, you know, how popular and how much podcasting is growing in the UK.
What Brought the Podcasting Industry To Where It Is Today
I love seeing that. Before we move on to the present day of podcasting, I do want to open it up. Just go a little bit more general and give it over to you. What you have seen in podcasting can be recent or long ago. A tool, a resource, an event, or something that happened to bring the industry to where it is today? Has there been anything that’s just really that you see as, like, that was a milestone that brought it closer to where it is today, excluding Podnews, because we all know that was the thing? But other than that, what else do you think it was?
That’s a good question, and I believe that several different things have brought it together. Spotify getting into this industry has moved the needle, not always necessarily in the right way. Still, I think certainly it’s increased the thinking of where podcasting is and certainly increased the number of people who are into podcasting, both in terms of consuming and making them. Spotify’s involvement in the podcasting landscape has been helpful overall for the industry, so that’s a big change.
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I also think another big difference is seeing Adam Curry, who, of course, invented podcasting with Dave Weiner. Seeing Adam getting involved in the nuts and bolts of podcasting again with the Podcast Index. (Which is his directory.) It’s all of our directory of podcast shows which is available, but more than that, the new podcast namespace. So new ideas, new features, lots of really bright app developers making new things around podcasting, whether that’s around paying, whether that’s around accessibility through transcripts and tipping buttons and stuff like that. Adam hates the word tipping. Sorry, Adam, but it’s all that stuff that has changed the theory of what you can do with a podcast app. Those two are probably one of the two largest.
The Rise of Spotify and YouTube
We’ll talk more about that later in the conversation as far as what Adam’s done and some of the changes we’re seeing in the namespace of podcasting. But going back to Spotify, I agree with you; Spotify is one of the things, but also some of the other hosting providers that have popped up. Competition breeds accountability because we have to innovate now and do something. The status quo gets challenged when competition comes in, and as soon as we saw Spotify go into the game, it forced everyone else to get a bit better.
Now, regardless of if Spotify is doing everything right or wrong, I don’t want to get into the ethics of it. But the fact that someone else showed up and said, I can do this too, made everyone else say, oh, yeah, right. And we all are forced to level up. And because of that, when you have the right amount of companies working in podcasting, hopefully with the right intent of serving independent podcasters right, it elevates the entire industry. So I’m with you on seeing that being a big shift in the industry is when that happened. Where do you see the podcasting industry today, James? Where do you think we’re at? What’s going on in the industry, more or less? Well.
I’m driven by the original ideas that Adam and Dave Weiner had when they started podcasting. They were deliberately built to be open, have no gatekeepers, and allow anyone to publish podcasts alongside anybody else. That’s something that podcasting has. Frankly, very few other media has. You can’t operate a radio station next to everybody else because it’s tough to get hold of a license, and it’s challenging to find the money to run the whole thing, et cetera, et cetera. It isn’t easy to launch a new newspaper or a new magazine. But podcasting, it’s easy for somebody sitting in their basement to launch a show available on all of the same platforms as all of the big shows, as the Joe Rogans and the Mark Marrons and everybody else.
“Podcasting is easy for somebody sitting in their basement to launch a show available on all of the same platforms as all of the big shows.” – James Cridland
So from that point of view, that’s the exciting thing about podcasting. What worries me slightly is seeing a bit of a decline or a bit of a challenge to the open podcasting ecosystem. Whether that’s through some of the things that Spotify has been doing. More to the point, whether that’s something that YouTube, as they weighed into the industry, does not fully understand what makes podcasting great. That’s something that we should just be aware of and just sort of look at in terms of what we’re doing there. Just being aware of what podcasting, of where podcasting came from can help us understand what the future of podcasting is going to be.
The Economy and the Podcasting Industry
I fully agree with that. And I’m seeing Spotify, who once said they want to become YouTube for podcasting. That’s obviously when YouTube was like, wait a minute. We’re YouTube. We can do whatever we want, right? Neither of them fully understood it.
Spotify is kind of they tried a lot of things that didn’t work, and they’ve kind of almost, I don’t know what to call it other than submitted to the default of what podcasting is, which is good to see that it had that much power, that it wasn’t just everyone jumps shipped and does the Spotify thing. And YouTube is trying similar things.
I guess we’ll see what happens. I know they have some plans, and it evolves so quickly I don’t even want to get into the details. But my hope is, again, that guys like you and I, along with the people that are creating the tech behind it, RSS right, can keep the accountability there as far as it just being open. So I’m excited about that. One of the things I also wanted to ask you is, do you think podcasting is healthy as an industry right now? And if yes or no, what metric makes you say that?
It’s interesting when you look at what’s happening in the US now. Many media companies are having difficult times with the economy right now. You’re seeing many people that perhaps weren’t set up particularly correctly in terms of their business anyway, finding it very difficult and having to lay off many people. People then point at podcasting, oh, well, it’s podcasting, it’s a bubble, blah, blah, blah. And I don’t think that’s the case.
When you look at the revenue that podcasting is making, that revenue is outpacing every other form of online ad revenue, for example, in the US, Australia, the UK, and so on. Podcasting itself is very strong, but some of the larger legacy companies involved in podcasting have just had a bit of a reset over the last six months or so. Somebody told me I was in New Zealand doing at a podcast conference there, and someone was saying to me, again in the pub afterward? It’s always in the pub later. Of course, it is, James. Maybe I should look at that.
It’s an intervention, but no, but as somebody was saying to me, if you look at how different industries start, various industries begin with lots of people throwing lots of money and just trying other things and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and not, frankly, understanding what they’re doing for a long time.
Perhaps what we’re doing right now is seeing large companies who are probably coming out of the stage of throwing money against the wall, seeing what works and what doesn’t. Now we’re seeing companies who understand what works and the things that don’t work and that they should get rid of. We’re seeing a bit of that reset, but that’s very US-centric.
Having spent the last week or so in Europe, one of the things that I have noticed in the European podcast market is just how much vibrancy and how much growth there still is in that market.
Some people say the European market is two or three years behind the US market. I’m not so sure about that. But if that’s the case, then what we’re seeing is the Europeans learning from the US what works and what doesn’t work, and can then actually get a little bit more of a heads up in terms of working out where the business is going to go next.
The amount of consolidation going on at the moment, the amount of there’s a huge Scandinavian investment group called PODEX, and they are buying all manner of large companies at the moment, really amassing quite a talent bank of companies, and that’s going to be, again, fascinating to watch what happens there. So Europe is the place to watch and see where podcasting is going. Both Europe and, I should also say, the Arab countries as well, who are grabbing podcasting and using that as much as they possibly can.
Podcasting Industry Metrics That Matter
It’s encouraging to hear because we have podcast guests and hosts listening today and watching, and the question is always, is podcasting healthy? Right? People want to know, I’m devoting time to this, I’m a guest on a bunch of shows, or I got plans to release my hundredth episode in a few months, right? Like, is this all still going to be here? And one of the metrics I always look at, James, is listenership climbing. Is listenership climbing? And if it is, that, to me, is the first indicator that it is healthy. Do you go beyond that metric, or is that one you also use?
Total listeners is a vital metric to have a look at. But I also think, and I’m more interested now, in the total time spent listening to shows. We’ve seen the number of people listening to podcasts every week continuing to grow, and that’s a lovely thing. But I’m much more interested in just the amount of podcast consumption we can increase.
Can we increase people’s consumption? The average number of shows listened to is in the region of 2.8 or three in most markets. Can we increase that to four? Can we increase the amount of time that people are spending with their podcasts? More? That, to me, is a much more interesting figure because that is much more directly linked to money and is related to all of that side of the industry. So the numbers of people are great, but total consumption, including time spent listening, is much more interesting from my point of view.
I’m with you on that. I’ve been sharing that metric a lot. I’ve been using this as an example. If I’ve got a show that a million people listen to, but the average completion rate for episodes is 1%, or I have a show with a thousand people who listen to it, and it has a 90 some OD percent completion rate, like just to the very end of it, right? Who has the better show? Is it strictly the downloads, or is it actually that people are listening to it and consuming the whole thing? And so most people will say, yeah. The one people are listening to. And so I love that you bring up that metric. That’s really important for us to focus on.
Interesting Stats About the Podcasting Industry
You can compare, so in the UK, for example, only eight years ago, there was 3 million hour of podcast listening a week. Now it’s 91 million hours of podcast listening a week. Massive growth! But that’s the thing; 91 million hours is the thing. That’s the metric that we should be looking at now, rather than the, you know, the weekly reach metric, which is, you know, 23% or something. According to these figures, you know, that’s a lovely figure, but actually, I’m much more interested in time spent with the medium because great content will improve that.
The longer that people listen, the more ads they can be served. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, the more money that can be made if you’re interested in those ads. But on the other side, if you’re looking at podcasting in terms of education or influence, then again, time spent with shows is critical. So yeah, that’s what I hope, and it’s harder to get that stat, and so that’s probably why we’re seeing less of that and more of the just total audience. But I’m always interested in that stat too.
The Future of Podcast Listenership
It’s a very encouraging stat. I love hearing that. I imagine that’s probably on par with what we see in the US. As well. Hopefully, globally, there’s some average that’s close to that. So I want to talk about the future of podcasting. Where do you see it going? So, obviously, I don’t want to be like, where do you see podcasting in ten years? Because we don’t know.
Let’s double the age of it and see where it’s at. No, but where do you see it being in at least the near future, maybe within the next year or so? Let’s kind of talk through a couple of these points and make them actionable for people so we’re all positioned properly as guests and hosts to really ride the wave of this thing.
From a content point of view, I guess where the podcasting industry is going is, firstly, making podcasts the podcast that you do accessible. And that means getting it on as many platforms as possible. Making sure that you’re doing transcripts, for example, making sure that you’re doing chapter marks and all of the other stuff to make podcasts more navigable and more discoverable.
Transcripts are great, obviously, for people that have poor hearing. Still, they’re also great for people in particular environments where it isn’t easy to listen to the audio, but they can still consume stuff. But also, what transcripts are great at doing is helping a discovery mechanism understand what the show is all about and what is being talked about in that particular show.
If you look at the advertising side, it helps the advertising services understand what your show is talking about. You might be hosting a sports show but talking about new cars you or your co-host has just bought. Well, that’s a prime place to advertise a new vehicle. So if you can be cannier about that, then that helps. So transcripts are an essential part of that.
There are a bunch of tools and podcast hosting companies that are adding transcripts and making sure that they’re effortless and straightforward. RSS.com, a podcast host I work with, has added free podcast transcripts for everybody, which is nice, but you can also get free. I believe that Spreaker has freepodcastranscription.com or freepodcastranscripts.com. It’s one of those two where you can get a full transcript of your show, which is important. Just purely on the boring technical side, ensuring you’re doing everything right in your podcast is a good thing.
That’s a great start. But I also think that people are getting more canny about editing their shows, making sure that every minute matters on their show. There are a lot of people that talk about how long a podcast should be and all of that. And my answer is always it’s as long as it needs to be, but not a second longer. We are, as podcasters, beginning to be a little more understanding that our audience has other things to do besides just listening to our shows. And so good. Tight editing is a good plan.
How to Make it as a Podcaster In The Future
I said something similar I said when we got started. I say we typically go for 20-25 minutes, but we go for ultimately as long as it’s good, right? It’s got to be good all the way through. And that’s important because in the day because there are more and more options for podcasts, and discovering them is becoming easier. If yours isn’t delivering on the promise you’re making, like if you’re the guest or the host, if you’re not delivering on the promise you’re making that you’re going to deliver, they’re going to say, you know what, there’s this other podcast, it’s like ten minutes shorter, and maybe it’s delivering on the promise. People are going to head over that way.
So you want to make sure that you are. Again, if this is what you show and stand for, you must do it. James’ perfect example would be if you went on five-minute rants and were podcasting in your newsletter about surfing in Australia. It’s like, man, that’s cool, but that’s not why we’re here, right? Like you’re going to lose some listenership and some listenership through that.
So it’s keeping consistent. It’s making sure that you are offering your audience what they expect, but keeping it as respectful of their time as possible is an important thing. So that’s certainly one thing for content creators to be watching for. The other thing around the very near-term future is seeing what happens with YouTube. YouTube has jumped into podcasting.
This is Google’s fourth or fifth time jumping into the podcasting industry, so we’ll see if this one works. But clearly, YouTube has an awful lot of people using them. So I suspect that we will see more podcasts that are like this. Which are made both as an audio podcast but also made as a visual thing to watch as well. We’ll see more of those, but I would approach that with a bit of caution regarding where YouTube comes from because one of the benefits of podcasting is that it’s lots of different people all working together on one thing.
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You have hosts who sit there, and they encourage new podcasters, they educate them, they help them move forward. There are lots of different advertising companies. You have many different companies that help with all other parts of the podcast ecosystem. And YouTube does a wonderful job of replacing pretty well all of those. So if YouTube, for example, turns into the most popular place where we all get our podcasts at this time next year. Which I don’t believe is going to happen, then that will probably put most of the podcast hosting.
Companies out of business, most of the podcast advertising companies out of business, most of the Podcast PR companies, and all of the other bits that Podcasting relies on. And that’s a concern and a worry. I don’t believe that there’s any chance of YouTube becoming that big, but we should be careful about what we do with YouTube and what effect that might have on open podcasting in the future.
Final Thoughts on the Podcasting Industry
I agree. We must be able to protect what we have here with podcasting. James, for the sake of time, I want to go ahead and let you go here, and I appreciate all the wisdom you shared today. But I do want to ask, do you have any final thoughts on podcasting, kind of where it’s going and stuff like that, something real brief to encourage our listeners and viewers today?
Podcasting is a tremendous medium. It reaches so many different people. It’s an incredibly intimate medium. And one of the things that I learned pretty early on is the difference that people consume radio and podcasting radio. Half of the people out there listen to the radio with other people. For podcasting, it’s 90% are listening on their headphones. It’s a very, very intimate medium. It talks to people in ways that no other medium does. And it’s a wonderful medium to be involved in. So go podcasting, as they say!
About James Cridland
James Cridland is Editor of Podnews, the daily podcast newsletter. He is a radio futurologist – a writer, consultant, and public speaker on radio’s future. James has worked in audio since 1989 as an award-winning copywriter, radio presenter, and internet strategist.
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