Now let me start with Podcasts are a type of social media. Much like blogs, it is posted up on a site and people are able to share and comment on that post or show in this case. I am a fan of podcasting. I love listening and learning from Automobile University. What is Automobile University?

 
As I drove up and down the roads I would listen to podcasts. I listened to Kevin Smith when he was just trying to get Scott Mosier to laugh. Along with being able to witness his growth and development of some of his latest movies. I have listened to all sorts of podcasts for a long while. Well since 2008 and I have seen some podcasting trends come and go. The trends often swirl around advertising.
 
For a long while, if you listen to podcasts you were bound to hear a host read an ad for Audible. That would by on just about every other podcast show you listened to. That was because audible was forking over some pretty good cash for each new sign up. It was easy too. All you had to do was sign up for the affiliate program and you were off to the races.
 
The big affiliate programs like this have come and gone. After the Audible program there were others. You could tell who was handing out the good rates. Listening to how often an ad for a particular product appears. The more shows the better the payout.
 
Within the last year or two there has been a trend. This trend is not good for podcasters nor is it good for the advertisers. This trend is a dangerous road to be on because you will kill the golden goose.
 
Don’t think that will happen? Think back when blogging was just becoming a thing and the media was just starting to accept it. Several people were making a living with their blogs. It wasn’t heard of for bloggers to find a couple of advertisers who would shell out some pretty serious cash. All because the blogs were getting some nice responses from their readers. Well, news got out that you can make a living by staying at home and blogging.
 
As the popularity of blogging grew, so did the advertising opportunities. The advertisers started joining advertising automation services. So that their ads were able to be served up to even more people than just one blog. This trend kept up till the advertising bubble popped.
 
Now try to find an advertiser who will pay a respectable amount. Bloggers are not really able to live off of just the ad revenue anymore. Yeah, a few blogs that are huge like Huffington Post, are able to live off of ad revenue. That is because they have grown to a size where the numbers game of a dollar here and a dollar there, actually add up. It adds up to a very nice income stream.
 

The Dangerous Road

 
Podcasters and the podcasting community are at that precipice now.  Podcasters and advertisers are coming together more often these days. You even have a Huffington post equivalent, with WNYC. With all that is aligning podcasters are going to have their advertising bubble pop too.
 
The biggest perpetrator to this is automation. As I have said before automation is good to a point. Yet, there is a time you have to make a decision and not have a machine do that. Who you want advertising on your show is one of these decisions you need to be making for your customer. If you leave your audience to the machines they will go someplace else.
 
Who is driving this push for automation? Funny you should ask it is the very companies that have been causing podcasts to be popular. The huge radio conglomerates who killed off the Radio DJ. The Companies who don’t think you want to hear a guy talk about a minute and a half. They want to play a little music as possible. All while playing as much irrelevant advertising as possible. The radio stations have always been an inaccurate numbers game. They rely on surveys and radio diaries to get a good guesstimate. So the stations have to rely on an educated guess and pump out to the greatest common denominator. Which if I had to guess would be maybe 10% of the listening area. Many of the automators are wanting to use radio tactics and a radio mentality. Thinking that advertising can be automated is the big problem for podcasts.
 

Are You Sure They are Radio People?

 
Yes, I am very sure of that. I have heard over and over again people who are trying to push radio standards on to podcasting. Now many of you reading this have probably heard podcasts don’t need to be any longer than 23 minutes? Awfully specific numbers ain’t it? Well if you listen to a radio show and take out all of the commercials they play in a 30 minute period. Do you want to guess how much radio show you have left? If you said 23 minutes take a cookie.
 
This mythical rule, and it is a myth, is supposed to be because the average commute is about that long. and they are probably right on that. Yet, the difference that the radio consultant turned Podcast consultant doesn’t understand. Nor do they care to realize is that people pause a podcast and continue later. While you can’t stop a radio show. So there are reasons for the radio standards. Those standards don’t stand in podcasting
 
Don’t believe me look at Dan Carlin. He breaks this rule every single episode with his show Hardcore History. He busts that myth with 6 hour-long shows, and then gets over 2 million downloads per show! There are several myths like that are done by people who view podcast as another form of radio. yes, it is primarily audio programming but after that, the road diverge.

Other problems with Radio model of advertising

The shotgun method

The shotgun effect of throwing out as much as you can in the off chance that you may hit something

 
Since Radio advertisers know that they have a variety of people listening to their show. They have to use the shotgun method of advertising. This is blasting out general ads so you have a chance to hit as many people as possible. Though still compared to podcasting that percentage is low.
 
The shotgun effect doesn’t work on podcasting. Because the audience is, more often than not, very specific. In podcasting and blogging terms it is called Niching Down. This is because you get a better and more engaged audience. This podcast audience is often very carefully crafted and nurtured. If you are looking for a podcast on Podcasting you might look to the School of Podcasting Morning announcements. You know what that show is going to be about. And if The Host Dave Jackson started posting Mid-roll advertisements for Burger King. I can guarantee that he would lose the majority of his listeners. Though Dave’s listeners probably like Burger King they don’t look to Dave Jackson for inspiration to get a flame broiled patty.
 
Automation of podcasts commercials doesn’t work. That’s because it will not connect with the audience. How many different commercials do you notice on the radio? Not many at all I am positive. Now if you listen to podcasts and your host is doing ad read. How many ads do you remember? Good, chance there is one or two.
 
This connection is the power of the host read. If hosts care enough and control what gets to their audience then you get better quality ads. This is because the host took the time to connect with their audience. The host has taken the time to care about helping them. Automation ads have no connection what so ever. It will therefore fail.

The number of ads is growing

 Another curve on this dangerous road is the sheer number of advertising spots. These spots are created during injection ads and some host read ads. I am going to call out the man who actually got me into podcasting because he is guilty of this. The man I am talking about is Kevin Smith. I have listened to Kevin’s Smodcast Network since Kevin was in Smod Castle. which is pretty close to 10 years I followed with Jay Mews and his staying clean. I Laughed out loud many times at Him and Scott Mosier back when they played music in the background. If you don’t understand I liked a lot of Kevin’s material through the years.
 
Yet here recently I have started having to skip forward through his adverts. The fact that I am actually skipping advertisements should scare podcast producers. If I am skipping through ads. Then you can guarantee that the average podcast listener is doing it too.
 
There are just so many irrelevant ads. In his Hollywood Babble-on podcast, there are at times 4 -5 commercial breaks. That is not counting the preroll ads either. That is just the number of midroll ads. I understand, he needs and rightfully should make some money from his efforts. Yet when you have that many ads that tells me something. The big one is, you are not getting the biggest bang for your buck.
 
Look at Glenn Hebert and his Horse Radio Network. Glenn doesn’t do injection ads and none of his ads are paid by CPM. His Network is his business and that helps support his wife’s horse habit. All advertising on his network is a flat fee. He uses a tiered system so If you want to shell out a lot of money then you can sponsor a show. I am sure Glenn gets a higher percentage of responses and generates more revenue from his ads than Kevin Smith does from his ads.
 
That is because the way radio does their advertising doesn’t work for podcasting. Again it doesn’t connect with the audience.
 

So what happens if Podcasting keeps going down this Dangerous road?

 
Advertisers are not going to pay nearly as well as they do now. The advertisers are going to ask why should I pay $50 per CPM if they only have to pay $3 or $4? With people skipping past the irrelevant ads. the advertisers are not going to get the response rates that they are looking for. This means that we will face the same problems that the bloggers faced about 10 years ago. when their advertising bubble popped.
 
Most advertisers will keep advertising. Its just the price will more often than not, be a low paying and low performing CPM model. You will more than likely see podcasting is dead and see the very first retraction on podcasting. There could be a dip in new shows that are being launched.
 
It won’t kill podcasting. Podcasting like blogging is here to stay.
 

So Who or what is fueling the adventure down this dangerous road?

 
I have mentioned one. Radio consultants who have turned into podcasting know it all’s. the other is in our space. They again have been traditionally in radio. Till recently have actually started making money because of podcasting.
 
This other group is Public Radio. More specifically the east coast public radio like WNYC. Now this public radio group has crafted a unique podcast style. This style is called the narrative podcast. There are lots of production points to a narrative podcast. You need to have a team of 10 -50 people working on the editing and story lines and it takes a lot of work. You may have heard of, Serial, How Stuff Works, This American Life, Radio Lab, or 2 Dope Queens, 99% Invisible, and Here’s the Thing, just to scratch the surface. These are WNYC podcasts
 
The news that you hear about podcasting. Are often about the east coast podcasting bubble. These folks are in the news so much that you would believe that they created podcasting. You would think that there are no other podcasters around. Though in reality WNYC, may have around in the neighborhood of about 5% of the podcasting audience. Yet when people want to talk about podcasting. They look to the east coast podcasters as the authoritative voice for all podcasting. When this is the radio group that had to rely on the government grants to keep them afloat. The other culprit is public radio stations who is successful at creating podcasts. And yes NPR should be congratulated because now NPR is actually making money.
 
The benefit to podcasting is that NPR is drawing people’s attention to podcasting. They are a good gateway drug to the wider more authoritative world of podcasts.
 

How to change course.

 
Now it far from being too late and even if the advertising crash happens there is still hope. Though the change will be rough for many people. Podcasts themselves will survive. Though we may be several Podcast networks smaller than before.
 

Use CPM’s with knowledge.

 
CPM’s are easy to set up and there are companies now that will help you get advertising. With the like of Midroll you will be able to get sponsorships for your show but get to know your audience. Be aware of what you are selling. Does your audience really need to know about Blue Apron or Harry’s? Ok, they are paying pretty good but how is your audience going to react?
 
Think of your audience first. How is this service or product going to benefit those folks who take the time to put your show in their ears? If you place money first you will lose out in either listener respect or advertising oomph.
 
If at any time you can use a flat fee from sponsors, go that direction. You might also get the sponsor involved in the process. That way they can experience and appreciate what their money goes to. Podcasting isn’t radio and advertisers don’t understand that.
 

Be Truthful

 
Advertisers are going to want to know about your stats. They are going to want to know how many listeners you have each week. You don’t actually have to provide details of your show. but if you chose too. Don’t cheat your customer, and that customer is the sponsor. If you share with them how many downloads you have been truthful. If you try to tell them you have 10,000. In reality, you have maybe 1000 on a really good day, your sponsor will know and not use you again. Not only they may go off and pull all advertising from the podcast space. In other words, you may be responsible for ruining it for everyone.
 
So don’t be embarrassed if you have 200 listeners. don’t be embarrassed if you have 30 listeners each week. Those are 30 people who turn to you for information and knowledge.  And then those people as you go will trust you and your company more. So when yo advertise a product on your show they will be more responsive to you and your sponsor.
 

Serve your audience

 
This is the biggest point I can make. Even if you are a comedy podcast, if you put your audience first they will help you back. Find ways of doing for your group of listeners. Can you find a way you can help with a common problem? Can you voice their concerns about an issue? Or maybe you can give them the much-needed laugh while they are dealing with a difficult time in their life. If you are able to help those who take the time to listen to you, they will cherish you and your brand.
 
I have always loved podcasting. The power of the human voice to influence and connect people is simply amazing. The podcasting influence is growing faster than ever before. I would hate for people with dubious reasons to kill our golden goose. With podcasting being a type of Social Media. It will hold a special place in my heart. If you want to start a podcast please do so but get your information from people who understand the medium. Look to Libsyn or Blubrry they have shows on podcasting. Take a class from Dave Jackson of The School of Podcasting, or Cliff Ravenscraft Podcasting A-Z . Each of these people has been podcasting for over 10 years and they know the medium and the power of podcasting.
 
OK the golden goose wont be completely killed. Its ability for lay as many golden eggs might be severely diminished.
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Bryan Goodwin

Social Media Manager at Goodwin Social Media
Bryan has been in the social media field in one form or another. whether it is blogging, podcasting, or trying out the latest social network . There is a good chance that you will find him talking somewhere.
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The Podcasters Dangerous Road
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