Tow Center for Digital Journalism project leader Vanessa Quirk studied why podcasting matters to the future of digital journalism, and she had the same questions you have: “Are people actually familiar with podcasts? Are they viable now, and are they sustainable in the long term?”
Despite the massive success of a few podcasts like Serial, she didn’t find a giant spike in podcast listening over the last few years. However, I think a podcast boom could easily happen this year. The emergence of Google Play and the further development of the smart dashboard are only going to help digital audio consumption grow. In her study, Quirk points out that what made today’s climb in listenership possible was lowering the barrier to entry — and adds, “It was also the fact that the podcast app on iOS 8 was undeletable.”
If you look at the raw numbers, Android claims to have over 1.4 billion active users. That’s more than double the active monthly users Apple has claimed in the past, but Apple remains the major driver of podcast traffic — because of that podcast app, and its ease of use in Apple’s operating system. Once Google Play is fully rolled out and offered to the podcasting community, it will surely make podcast discovery even easier for a larger audience.
Research has shown that once someone starts listening to digital audio, they will usually continue consuming the medium to some extent. One of the keys to the development and growth of podcasting will be for you to not only introduce the content itself to your audience, but also to help them understand what a podcast is. Quirk believes the biggest barrier to the growth of the medium is getting people to try listening in the first place.
And don’t overlook the added benefit of making money on podcasts, even if growth is initially slow. In her research, Quirk laid out five different types of revenue streams companies are using to monetize their digital audio. And you can do it too.
ADVERTISING AND SPONSORSHIP
Much like selling ads for your station, you can sell them for your digital audio offerings.
Think public radio: You can ask for financial support from the people who listen to your podcast in order to keep it going.
Sometimes foundation grants are available specifically for not-for-profits.
MEMBERSHIP, SUBSCRIPTION, OR PREMIUM MODELS
Offer something exclusive to supporters who would be willing to pay for a subscription. Many podcasts offer regular content for free and exclusive content for paid members.
LIVE EVENTS AND OTHER STREAMS
Beyond live events, you’ll have opportunities to brand your podcasts and offer merchandise, create educational tools for professionals, use keywords for referral programs, sell e-books that you can create, and more.
My takeaway from Quirk’s research is that the relationship between radio and your listeners will grow once you start to podcast. The financial benefits won’t be there at the start, but I believe it can be made into its own revenue stream over time, so now is the best time to get involved. There’s a reason digitally successful radio companies are investing time and resources in podcasting. They want to have it in place and be ready to monetize their content when the next wave of listeners are introduced to the medium.
Podcasting started over a decade ago; radio in general may not be early adopters of the trend, but we’re far from being late to the party. “The nice thing in this happening on delay is that we can look at other formats and see what’s happening there,” Quirk says. “You can see what’s happening to on-demand video and you can see how that’s transitioning. You can see it with digital media. There’s still print, it’s out there, but it’s not often how people get their content first.”
So ask yourself: What does radio do best? What can your station offer through digital audio, and how can that impact what your audience is already looking for?
Ryan Wrecker is PD at WOWO in Fort Wayne and can be reached at email@example.com