Have We Hit Peak Podcast?
- Podcasts and blogs are not the same thing. Blogs are easy to setup and content is easy to create. Podcasts are not easy to setup and podcast content is not easy to create (although services like Anchor.fm are trying to change that).
- Podcasts and YouTube are not the same thing. Podcasts are audio only and scattered across the web. YouTube is audio and video and aggregated in a single place.
Blogs were (to some extent) supplanted by YouTube and mostly ruined by social networks like Twitter (for quips and link sharing) and Facebook for journal-style posting. Niche blogs (both self-hosted and on aggregators like Medium) remain but there's next to no money in blogging because the ad revenue has moved on to other types of content.
The reason that podcasts have been different than blogging and YouTube so far is that podcast advertising is different.
Blogs and YouTube
Back in the day, you could start a blog and get a few readers fairly quickly. Then you could easily add Google Ads to your blog and collect a few cents for clicks. This spawned blogs with content specifically written to get high click value ads and traffic that would click the ads meaning more money for the blogger. Click fraud was also a great way to earn some money – friends click friends ads, repeat! Also, remember arbitrage?
YouTube has a similar pattern. Create content, post on YouTube (instead of your own blog because bandwidth is expensive). Easily monetize with ads (from Google, naturally) and profit! Realize which ads pay the most and tailor your content to match. Or realize which content is most “viral” and work that angle.
YouTube's method of showing more and more videos to the viewer, sucking them into viewing more videos means that more ads are shown. If you can get your videos to be recommended (either by the algo, or by YouTube's curators), then you can make some big money. Until your content isn't “brand safe” anymore and they won't run ads on your videos anymore.
On to Podcasts
There is no equivalent to Google Ads or YouTube for podcasts (yet). You can't create a shitty little podcast, throw it on a free service, have ads run against it and make a few bucks.
It's Hard Work
Instead, you have to create a bunch of shows, week after week, build a substantial audience, and maybe a big advertiser like Casper, Squarespace or Harry's will throw some money your way. But that's a lot of work and only the top tiny percentage of podcasts ever get to the scale that is required to get any decent payoff by ads.
It's a Different Format
Podcasts likely won't ever have a YouTube moment because podcast content isn't like YouTube content. Nobody is going to listen to a short useless podcast and then get sucked into a long string of “recommended” shows for an hour. And even if they do, the ad model doesn't work.
Podcasts are like radio – you aren't using a browser when you are listening to a podcast. You are doing other things like commuting or exercising. You won't click through to an advertiser site because there's no click through on an audio ad.
This is why podcast ads are almost entirely focused on brand building. Need razors? Oh right...Harry's sponsored that podcast...I'll check it out. Need a mattress? Casper is drilled into everyone's head over and over so when you eventually need a bed, Casper is what you think.
There's No Peak Podcast
There's no peak podcast because there's no money to be made without hard work and a quality product that attracts a lot of listeners. No easy payoff means that the majority of podcasters will come to the realization within a few episodes that podcasting is hard work and that they have next to no chance of every making a cent off their show.
Sure, Spotify will try with Anchor.fm (make podcasting easy) and with exclusive shows from big players that come with a built-in audience to monetize. The latter might work, but I'd argue that isn't a podcast.