Leo Laporte on the Future of Podcasting (edited for clarity and length)
Podcasting is going to change very dramatically. It's going to be the same thing that happened in blogging. In the early days of blogging, it was possible for many people to make a little money with like, Google ads. What happened was a shakeout, a conglomeration. It basically split it into professional blogs — like The Verge and Engadget — and hobbyist blogs that didn't make much money or any money at all.
Podcasting has supported a lot of people over the last 15 years with a decent income. I talk to people all the time who say hey, I'm now a professional podcaster — but that's about to change. I think we're gonna see another shakeout.
It's starting with Spotify, as they acquire podcast networks for vast sums.
The idea that Gimlet is worth $230 million or that The Ringer is worth $170 million is mind-boggling! And they aren't worth that much. I know because we have similar revenue and so I know it's a ridiculous multiplier of revenue.
It only makes sense if you understand Spotify's long-term strategy: to move podcasting away from RSS feeds, which are hard to monetize, to something that exists only on the Spotify platform, which is easy to monetize. If every podcast has to be listened to on Spotify, then Spotify knows exactly who's listening, and how much they've listened. They know the demographics; they have your credit card number; they know everything about you. And then they can go to advertisers and say — like Facebook and Google do today — what would you like? We can slice it and dice it. Advertisers want that; they desperately want that.
It's the same reason web or ad tech has taken over on blogs on the Internet. But it's been a terrible thing, hasn't it? On blogs, it's created this war with ad blockers and anti-ad blockers and so forth. And I think the same thing is about to happen. At least Spotify wants the same thing to happen with podcasting.
I do have high hopes that it won't happen — that there are enough podcasters like me who will say, no, it really needs to be RSS so people can get it anywhere, anytime. It can be on your Amazon Echo, it can be on your phone, it can be on your computer, it can be anywhere you want it. My fear is that advertisers are going to say, well, if you can't give us what Spotify can give us, then the heck with you.
And you hate to admit it, but the content that you get is somewhat driven by the needs of the advertisers, not by the needs of the audience.
Let me give you an example. The reason true crime succeeds is that the end of every episode is a cliffhanger, right? It keeps you listening. So one of the reasons there are so many true crime podcasts is because they drive traffic better. We had an interview podcast, much like [Inside Podcasting]. The problem with an interview podcast is people pick and choose which episodes to listen to. Take Fresh Air — one of the best interview shows of all time. But you don't listen to every episode; no one does. You listen to the ones you're interested in. That's fine on public radio, but it's not good for advertising. You're only getting one-fifth of the downloads, even though you're beloved. We had an interview show [Triangulation], and we realized this is what's happening. My guess is that we had 100,000 to 120,00 regular listeners, but no individual show had more than 20,000 or 30,000 downloads because nobody listened to every show.
I bring that up not to bemoan what happened to Triangulation, but to point out that ratings and advertising drive the type of content you hear. So this is why I'm unhappy about what Spotify is trying to do. It won't be just Spotify. Eventually, there will be three or four companies that own all podcasts, and it will very dramatically change the kind of stuff you listen to. [Small independent/hobbyist podcasts] do not exist in that world unless the hosts are willing to do it completely for free.
People will do it because they love it. But they're not making money on it. And then there will be commercial podcasts. But what I love is the great middle, right? Where independent podcasters can make money doing something they love.