The State of Podcasting: You Never Know Who’s Listening with Todd Cochrane
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In this post, Todd Cochrane (Founder of Blubrry Podcasting and one of the first 40 podcasters ever) delivers The State of Podcasting Address for PodPros Q3, which contains details of the past, present, and insights into the future of the podcasting industry. Additionally, Alex brings up the topic of podcast listenership, which leads Todd to share an inspiring story about how we never know who’s listening. This is a notetaking-worthy conversation that you won’t want to miss!
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Let us go back in time to when you started your first podcast. That was in 2004, am I right?
Yes, that’s correct. It feels like an eternity.
I think podcasting years are kind of like dog years. 18 years ago, times seven means you are over 120 years old in podcast years! And you have done really well. When I pull up one of the podcasting apps, I feel like I can type in your name and scroll forever through the many shows you have done or been a part of.
Yes, to be honest, it’s been a fun journey. Who would have thought that when I was sitting in the Hampton Inn in Waco, Texas, recording my first podcast, I would still be at it after all this time?
I recall we were both in Los Angeles a while back when you casually said, “There is really only X number of podcasts.” I said, “What?” We always hear that there are 2.5 million podcasts, but you were the one who told me that podcasting has been a little stagnant for a while. Why do you think that is?
Creating content is hard. It’s been hard from the beginning. That’s why there’s such a high failure rate for shows.
Everyone thinks they can be a podcaster, but once they have produced 3, 4, or 5 episodes, they quickly realize it’s hard work.
I think what’s really happening is that people are being weeded out pretty quickly.
At the same time, some people can only talk about a topic for so long, and that’s another challenge in creating a show. You have to have something that keeps the show fresh.
Fortunately, on the tech show, I started with, there was something new to talk about every day.
A quick side note: Geek News Central, the podcast you launched in 2004, is still running today?
It does! It was quite a process to get there. Without going into too much detail, I ran a bulletin board in the early days, on a site called FidoNet, which became obsolete with the advent of the Internet.
In 2002 I decided to become a blogger and set up my site, Geek New Central.
Then it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and when I heard about this medium called podcasting, I thought, “Man, I can talk.” So the podcast started almost on a whim.
And believe me, back then it was hard and it was not cheap either.
It was expensive to run a show because there was no Blubrry, Libsyn or Podbean. None of those companies even existed back then. So we had kind of figured it out.
You chose a theme that is evergreen because it’ll never go away. It’s always evolving and changing, which is great. But imagine if I had a more general show, like a leadership show. They say that people produce so many episodes until they finally say, “I do not even know what else to share.”
A lot of people right now are shopping shows. So they think, “Oh, this category is hot. I want to do that.” I think that’s a very bad approach. I think you need to do content that you already have a passion for. You may not be an authority on the subject, but you have a passion for it.
If you have a passion for the topic, whether it’s recovery, self-help, true crime or fiction, whatever the topic may be, as long as you are passionate about it, I think you can last a long time.
Again, sometimes people do not have the time or the resources to find guests, do new research, maybe read a new book, or hire an author.
A lot of these factors play a role in the longevity of a show.
In other words, how much dedication do you have to it? It’s a marathon. Unless you are a celebrity, you are not going to succeed right off the bat. Even a lot of celebrity shows fail.
Yes, I have seen that happen a few times. Something Jordan Harbinger shared with us recently was that you should keep your podcast a hobby as long as you can. The moment you make a business out of it, it becomes a little harder to stick with it. I want to flip the script here because our audience includes podcast hosts as well as guests. Now that I have been working with podcast guests for a couple of years, I am seeing that they are starting to disappear too. Many say they are tired of sharing the same thing over and over again. You have been doing this for 17 years. Do you have an opinion on this subject?
It’s very simple: non-duplicative audience. There’s usually a very small number of audiences that overlap. You are telling the same story, but you are reaching a very different audience. If you look at national data or global data, the average podcast listener listens to six or seven shows.
That’s why advertising works so well in podcasting.
If you go to TV and you hear a GEICO ad on ABC and then the same ad on CBS, you know there are a lot of duplicate listeners there. That’s not the case with podcasting.
I think it just proves that as a podcast guest, you have to pick your cadence. Do you think it’s better to just do one or two podcasts a month, or just find what suits you best fit for yourself and stick with it long-term? Do you think this strategy is better?
For a podcast guest, I try to do two a month. Personally, I am doing two to four right now because we have some things coming up in our business. So it also depends on the time of year.
If you are an author and you have a new book coming out, what do you want to do? You want to sprint to book launch and a little bit beyond.
And between books, you might want to slow down a little bit. I think there’s a solid marketing reason to appear on more shows at certain times than others.
Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself what you can handle. Personally, I am not too picky about that.
When someone asks me to appear on their show, I do not ask them what their ratings are or how many episodes they do.
I have given myself permission to be interviewed by pretty much anyone because it gives me access to a diversity of content and creators. I am not aiming for the top tier. I am just trying to reach more ears.
I love that you say that because that would have been my next question. Something I hear regularly from podcast guests is, “I need bigger shows.”They try to estimate download numbers, look at social media followers, Apple ratings and so on. What do you say to the person who focuses only on that and not on the actual quality of the match?
I had a gentleman who wanted to advertise on one of the top-tier podcasts. I felt that it probably was not a good fit and that he should advertise on one of the smaller shows.
Often the smaller shows have more engagement from both an audience and advertising standpoint.
Because on a big show, you are just another person being run through the gauntlet. You may not get as much attention, but the smaller shows will take more time to market to you, talk about you, and link to your pages.
I’d much rather have a small niche-focused audience than a large general audience.
I had a gentleman who wanted to advertise on one of the top-tier podcasts, and I felt that it probably was not a good fit and that he should advertise on one of the smaller shows.
Often the smaller shows have more engagement from both an audience and advertising standpoint. Because on a big show, you are just another person being run through the gauntlet on that show.
You may not get as much attention, but the smaller shows will take more time to market to you, talk about you, and link to your pages. I’d much rather have a small niche audience than a large general audience.
This is all about the independent podcasters, and that’s who PodPros helps. I am going to move on to something you said recently on a show I really appreciate, the New Media Show. You mentioned that podcast hosts should own their own hub. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Having your own website is like having your own home. It’s your place to focus your funnel, your community, and your tribe. Any podcaster who wants to put on a great show, build authority and build their brand absolutely needs their own .com.
You can have a great Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram presence, but as we talk about today on this show, we want people to ultimately come back to the website, read the show notes, and then maybe engage socially that way.
A common mistake podcasters make is that often you come to their website and do not even know they are podcasters. They have made it very difficult for you to follow them or subscribe to them.
So if you have a website, make it easy for people to follow you.
The analogy I have used for years is do not build your castle on rented ground. Why would you do that?
If you are going to build a castle, you want to own the earth. If you build your brand on Facebook or on your hosting provider’s website, there’s a risk that the company will change or that the algorithm on the websites will change a little bit, so all of a sudden you will not rank.
Now it’s all about winning the episode search.
People are no longer searching for a specific show, they are searching for a topic. So what comes up in Google searches is a specific episode related to their search terms, not the entire podcast.
Where do you think podcasting is going in terms of the role of the host and the guest? Since you have been around for so long, I think you have some insights that we can all learn from today.
Five years ago, there was no market for editors, production teams, none of that. Today, there’s a huge marketplace for editors, production teams, and just anything that helps a podcaster with their content.
So the quality of content has completely improved. I think what you’ll see over time is people taking audio to the next level and making it more compelling.
People are becoming more and more intelligent storytellers. And that’s also why so many broadcasts fail.
There’s nothing wrong with having a show where you just hang out with your girlfriend or your buddy and talk. There’s room for everyone, for shows that are done just for fun, for those who want to make a little money doing it, and for those who do it professionally.
And the best part is that there are no rules. So I think that’s going to continue.
Also, podcasters want to grow their shows. So I think companies like mine and others that are developing strategies to help podcasters reach a large audience and reach 10, 15, 40, 50, a hundred thousand or half a million listeners are going to get a lot of attention in the future.
I think that’s going to increase, but as I said, there’s room for everybody.
I was a PC guy through and through, and I bought the very first Mac mini from Apple.
One day I was ranting on my tech podcast about that Mac mini and how it was a piece of crap.
I remember saying that if I could just talk to Steve Jobs for 15 minutes and tell him what I thought, we could make this product better. A week later, I got a call from Steve Jobs himself!
He said, “You are on the clock. Tell me what you think.” We talked for about 15 minutes about the Mac mini. He disagreed with me on some points, and I disagreed with him on some points.
A few days later, I got a call from the Apple Store. They said, “Hey, we have something for you here.”
When I went, they brought out a MacBook Pro and handed it to me. Steve Jobs had given me a MacBook Pro as a gift. So you never know who’s listening.
I love that. I think that is good encouragement for people on both sides of the mic. I think that’s the power of podcasting. I think it’s important that we all remember that we are here to add value to people’s lives. You never know who’s listening and really needs what you have to share. Anything else you’d like to say before we close?
The podcasting space is healthy and will continue to grow. Podcasting is an opportunity to express what you want to say in the way you want to say it, without constraints.
And the best thing to remember is that no matter what anyone tells you about how to do a podcast, there are no rules. You do it your way. Put out the content the way you want. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy it. And again, you never know who’s listening.
About Todd Cochrane
Todd Cochrane, CEO of Blubrry Podcasting, wrote the book on podcasting. Well, at least the first one: “Podcasting: The Do-It-Yourself Guide.” The founder of the People’s Choice Podcast Awards and the Tech Podcast Network, he’s also credited with introducing the first advertisers into podcasting, GoDaddy. Cochrane was inducted into the inaugural class of the Podcast Hall of Fame in 2015. But perhaps his biggest influence on podcasting is Blubrry Podcasting and its parent company RawVoice, which is a full-service podcast hosting service with the No. 1 podcasting plugin for WordPress and much more. A United States Navy Veteran who served 25 years and retired with the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer, Cochrane resides in Quincy, Michigan.