The economics of podcasting

Published on Monday, July 17, 2006 By Brad Wardell In Industry
I do a podcast -- PowerUser.TV. It's a tech podcast but with a lot of tongue in cheek. I play up my more offensive side of things with lots of weekly rants.

We really enjoy doing the podcasts, but the problem is that the work vs. reward is just not there.

Here's some of the problems with podcasts:

1) The sites that syndicate the feeds are the ones who get all the rewards. ITunes, PodNova, Yahoo, they're the ones who make all that advertising revenue without having to create the content. It costs Stardock thousands of dollars each week to do the podcast. Even the Neocast version costs Stardock money too even if it's not producing it, it runs/maintains the site for it. But the iTunes of the world merely have to link to the MP3 file leaving the content providers out in the cold.

2) The effort vs. reward is totally not there in terms of listeners. Take PowerUser.TV -- it involves 3 salaried people plus 1 volunteer to produce the show plus another salaried person to maintain the website. That same staff could put together a pretty impressive website. A popular website like Neowin.net might get a million visitors PER DAY. A popular podcast might get 100,000 listenres PER WEEK. It's not even remotely as effective a means.

3) Podcasts aren't sticky. You can't say in the middle of a podcast "Hey, go check out this post on Neowin.net" and the user be taken to the website somehow.

Can you imagine me saying http://www.neowin.net/forum/index.php?show...#entry587710294 on the air?

"I repeat, that's st=0%#..."

4) Bandwidth costs. A page view on Neowin.net might use up 60K. A download of a podcast might be 60 MEGABYTES PER LISTENER. Ack.

5) Podcasts are being crowded out by radio shows and other NON-podcasts (i.e. things that were produced with a totally different audience in mind and then tossed onto the web as an MP3 with an RSS feed and called a "podcast"). You can't even find most real podcasts anymore.

Of the top 50 podcasts on Yahoo, nearly HALF of them are now NPR (that's National Public RADIO) shows that have been tossed onto the net as "podcasts" despite them not really being podcasts. It really aggravates me because a) they're paid for by taxes and they're abusing the medium. It would be like Electronic Arts submitting games into the independent games festival.


That doesn't mean podcasts are doomed. It's too early by far to say that. What is really needed first off is a way to filter out the NPR's of the world off the various podcast lists so that people can actually find genuine podcasts.

Secondly, we need to learn who the listeners really are. The lack of raw numbers could be made up for if the listeners are "industry influencers". For example, Neowin.net may not get even a fraction of the traffic of a Digg.com but the difference is that (I believe) Neowin.net's average viewer has a lot more influence over what kind of technology people around them use over the average Digg.com viewer (and the average Digg.com viewer has a lot more influence than say the average MSN home page viewer and so forth).

It will be interesting to see what happens to podcasts. I don't think it'll be going away but I think it may become like blogging where at first everyone was starting to have blogs (and just as annoying then was on-line columnists turning their articles into "blogs") but now it's found its own particular niche.