Here’s The Future Of Podcasting
Jordan Harbinger launched his popular show The Art of Charm in 2007, making him an elder in the rapidly-expanding podcast community. Podcasting has enjoyed a media blitz of late, with New York magazine declaring a “great podcast renaissance.” But few have thought as deeply about the future of the platform as Harbinger. Here are his thoughts about the state of podcasting, and where it’s going in the next five years.
The ‘resurgence of podcasting’ is media hype. The headlines notwithstanding, podcasting hasn’t suddenly emerged from a slumber, Harbinger points out. In fact, it’s been steadily growing year-over-year. He believes it’s the adoption of the channel by traditional radio celebrities like Alex Blumberg that’s fueled a new round of hype. “There was practically no mention of podcasting from 2008 to 2013,” says Harbinger. “Why? That’s because it wasn’t new anymore, so nobody was talking about it. But if you look at the statistics…podcasting has been growing steadily, in great numbers.” Indeed, Rob Walch of the podcast hosting service Libsyn agrees, noting that “Smartphones, and specifically the iPhone, have really been the driver of growth the last few years” because they make podcast downloading and consumption easier.
The next frontier is your car. By next year, one industry group estimates, 50% of new cars sold will have Internet connectivity; by 2025, it will be all of them. “When that happens and there are podcasts in everybody’s car, it’s not podcasts anymore,” says Harbinger. “It’s just the radio.” At that point, the playing field has been leveled and podcasting is likely to grow dramatically, as it reaches an audience without smartphones or who haven’t yet clued into the process of downloading podcasts on their own.
In the future, everyone will have a podcast. So start yours now. If you’re thinking about launching a podcast, you’d better do it soon, says Harbinger, because the competition is only going to get more intense. “When [podcasts] are in cars, that Top 100 [iTunes] real estate is going to be all corporations that spend millions of dollars marketing their shows,” he says. “There’ll be 80 Discovery Channel podcasts, 100 ESPN podcasts, and to be in the Top 100 is going to be damn near impossible. That’s why I’m building my listener base now and building connections now.”
Go niche. Because of the heightened competition, says Harbinger, “Stop trying to think about ways to get more listeners [overall] and think about trying to crush it in your niche.” He cites the example of one podcaster who “records a podcast in his car on his way to work on his iPhone. It sucks and it’s awful, but he has a ton of listeners” because a certain demographic is interested in his discussion of conspiracy theories and survivalism. “As long as you can dominate a particular niche, it’s not too late to start a show,” says Harbinger. “Even if there are 10 people in your exact same niche, there’s a darn good chance they’re not willing to put the work in…If you’re creating [a podcast around] roleplaying video games, that’s not going to be a top iTunes show, even if everyone who plays games listens to your podcast, because it’s hard to compete with shows like The Moth that have wider appeal. But you can make a living off that show because video game companies would pay you [lucrative advertising rates] because it’s their market.”
Publish frequently. Two or three years ago, Harbinger decided to get serious about his podcasting schedule. He vowed to “start releasing every single week on the same day, at the same time, and my audience kind of doubled overnight.” So he decided to up the ante. “If I’m doing multiple downloads per week, maybe I’ll be keeping [listeners] engaged instead of them searching for other shows. So I started to release two times a week, and the downloads didn’t just double, they more than doubled. I was getting audience growth from more people talking about it and sharing it more frequently.” He settled on a release schedule of three times per week, which bumped his listenership to 6x its original number. (He decided not to go beyond that because “producing it has to stay fun, or I won’t do it.”)
You can monetize beyond advertisements. Ads are the most obvious way to monetize a podcast (and the rates are pretty generous), but Harbinger has actually succeeded by following a different route. (Though he occasionally features outside ads now, he primarily touts his own Art of Charm workshops and courses.) “We never planned on making a business out of the show,” he says. But listeners began to email, asking for coaching services. Harbinger and his colleagues piloted the program at $50/hour to make sure they could really be helpful, and quickly expanded their services and upped their fees. “We started to hire consultants and therapists so we could get our curriculum to be really good, and we started to monetize and now have workshops.”
As the popularity of podcasts increases – fueled by the rise of smartphones and the rise of Internet-connected cars – competition is increasing. Says Harbinger, “My greatest worry in terms of competitors is that a YouTube celebrity, or a really well-known blogger or media superstar on TV, [today] thinks that podcasting is for nerds and dorks and that nobody listens to those things” but will suddenly discover how ripe the opportunity is. The lesson holds true for all of us: if you want to start a podcast and build a following, today is a lot better than tomorrow.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and the forthcomingStand Out. You can subscribe to her e-newsletter and follow her onTwitter.