The original promise of blog software was that it democratized access to publishing tools, giving everyone a voice in the emerging online conversation in a public way, that last point being the key value proposition over the chat rooms and forums that existed up to that point. A few years after that people began producing these weird audio programs that were kind of sort of like radio, but they were delivered via RSS to software that would “catch” them and let you listen to them on demand. You know them as podcasts.
The news that Vogue was now launching its own podcast, though, made me think that we’re now seeing this process in reverse.
For years – the better part of a decade – podcasting was a sleeping giant. There were tons of people producing their own shows, but they only sporadically got support from big media companies. It never went anywhere, but it’s only been in the last year that it’s gotten serious attention from media companies, who can’t launch them fast enough to keep up with demand. In the wake of last year’s breakout hit Serial, podcasts are hot.
But now it’s media brands who are vying for the attention that’s been focused to date on individual shows. Sure, This American Life and others have been big for a long while now. But the democratic nature of podcasting means that individuals with no access to significant production budgets are already movers and shakers in this world, where Vogue and other media companies are in the position of playing catchup to Marc Maron, Chris Hardwick and other, smaller players.
Things may be decided on the same playing field they so often are: Discoverability. The guy running a podcast in his garage with cobbled-together equipment likely won’t be able to make it onto iTunes’ recommended list of shows unless a minor miracle occurs. Slate’s entire lineup of shows, in contrast, gets regular exposure in that field along with NPR, Panoply and other networks.
So it’s incumbent on those smaller fish to work harder to beat the drums of their shows. Stay active and engaged on social networks. Make hail-Mary passes when trying to book guests. You don’t have the inherent advantages of the big brands competing for people’s listening time. So work harder.