Podango looks like it is in trouble and may not be long for this world. I’ve been part of the Podango family while part of the Mommycast and Friends network, and I have always been a big fan of Doug Smith and Lee Gibbons. Both Doug and Lee have been great supporters of Podcamp and podcasting in general, and they are simply fine and kind human beings. In my many conversations with both Doug and Lee, I have always found them straight forward, honest and just simply a joy to work with, and I wish them the best in their next ventures.

Does this mean Podcasting or Podcast Networks are dead?

I still don’t think so. Why? All evidence points to the contrary. What I do think is that quality shows, grouped around a single topic- online audio/visual magazines, optimized for mobile use and searchable, have a future. What you have to do, however, is make sure every show hangs together like pearls on a string- they need some inter-relation, some logic to appearing on the same channel. You need to create a wider niche.

Most networks to date take all-comers, having a broad selection of shows to choose from, and thus hoping to attract broad advertising dollars. Yet the whole point of podcasting is niche. And books like Buyology show us that the most affective advertising is that that is integral to the programming, not just what happens at the top and the bottom of the show.

So for example, the interviews I do with authors of books on the LD Podcast is probably better advertising, and better long tail advertising for the author and book than an ad in a newspaper. While my purpose is not to sell the book per se, what it does is create a relationship between the author and the audience- you know what the author sounds like and thinks on many different issues, making it more likely that you will check out their book and all their subsequent material as well. When you make that human, passionate connection, it’s much more influential than just passing by a title on the shelf.

Podcasting, like some shows on NPR, appeal to niche audiences, based on narrow subject matter. The advertising should likewise be niche and relevant. It seems harder to place the right properties together- why would a large company want to deal with individual podcasters? Too difficult. However, here’s the rub- since people seek out podcasts directly, the audience has already jumped through hoops to find the show in the first place- they are much more engaged in the content than people who are leaving the TV on in the background, or never read through all the sections of a newspaper or magazine. And engaged consumers are one step closer to conversion to sales than one who has mere ambient awareness of a brand.

Podcasting, as a message delivering medium, has always made sense, just like radio makes sense. We sometimes need to process words separate from images, (like when we’re driving or at the gym) and there is a fundamental difference between show and tell. Take this along with the fact that humans process language based input at 40-50 phonemes a second, where we read and write at much slower rates, and you get the fact that we can bulk process more information by audio than by reading alone. This alone explains why audio books are so popular- it’s not that it’s the lazy man’s way to read- it’s the busy person’s way to get through a lot more material than they could otherwise.

To make money at podcasting, you either have to have enough time and money independent of advertising to gain enough audience share to make advertising a reality, or develop a way to team up with other podcasters in a niche that makes intuitive sense together- a collective of like content, like a magazine. If you are going to cross promote someone else’s work, it makes sense only if the content has overlap. And that way, advertisers don’t have to be as nervous about dealing with too many small producers to get a deal done- they just go to the source. The opt in/opt out methods adopted by the Blubrry network fundamentally accomplishes this goal already.

This is also part of the reason why the Association of Downloadable Media made some sense- we need to consider banding together to consider whether rate schedules, basic contracts and some sort of standardization so both content producers and people buying advertising have some idea of what they are getting. Right now, the lack of metrics and standardization makes media buyers nervous, as well as the casual nature of podcasting- will the show be weekly or biweekly? How many shows in a month? A year? Podcasters have to realize that if they take money, they will have to produce content on some schedule that suits the outside party, along with a guarantee of quality content. And for some people, that takes away the freedom, the rebel aspect of podcasting. But that is the price you pay for the money you receive in exchange.

This is the simple equation- podcasting = delivery system for content. Content attracts listeners and can attract advertisement, but media buyers are unwilling to deal with podcasters in the same way they deal with freelance submission of written, one-off content. (However- that is a cool idea- what if you could, as an individual producer, produce freelance podcasts for companies looking for content for their websites? That could be useful…. and some people are doing it now.)

In the end, while I am very sorry to see Podango go through this rough time, I still think Podcasting has its niche. It fills a space for information sharing on “smaller” subject matter, and gives people a chance to develop their own audience, independent of having to meet Neilsen ratings on a TV or radio network. From my point of view, I wonder how much more pure entertainment we will look for from podcasting, versus looking for information exchange. I know that the shows I subscribe to tend to be either substantive on subjects like marketing (Managing the Gray by CC Chapman, Marketing over Coffee by Chris Penn and John Wall), Podcasting (Canadian Podcast Buffet), language, grammar or learning, news, like Marketplace, and just a smattering of entertainment, along the lines of The Capitol Steps and This American Life.

I don’t assume that I am the proptypical podcast consumer, but I do know my own personal time is limited, so I tend to gravitate towards those shows that give me something I can take away from them, rather than shows that simply bide the time.  And because podcasting requires a certain amount of attention, I think as a producer, it’s important to make the content worthy of someone else’s ear and mindspace.   Podcasting will survive, but producers will have to keep in mind that attention is precious, and let your content reflect that.  Quality content will always succeed, wherever it’s found.