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Today I’m going to write about podcasting, with some observations on how a media market that is far healthier than online publishing functions.
A Functional Market
From 2000-2006, the web was an open place. If you built a highly trafficked web property, you could finance yourself by selling advertising. It wasn’t just that the internet itself was a decentralized network, so were financing streams behind content. There were many publishers and paths for readers to get to those publishers through different search engines or aggregators, and ad networks matched advertisers to those properties. The result was a flourishing of voices and new media projects.
It was a three tiered system, with production, distribution, and advertising operating in vertically separated layers. There were certainly industry players who breached these layers – the New York Times sold its own ads and distributed its own product, but no one had dominant power in any one layer.
That is very much what podcasting looks like today. About a third of Americans listen to podcasts regularly, and there are 750,000 active podcasters, including independent successes like Chapo Trap House, The Bill Simmons Podcast and Joe Rogan, as well investment by major newspapers like the New York Times, and capital-infused podcast-only networks. Nonprofits have podcasts, so do industry associations.
There are real and serious problems in podcasting, as there are in any industry, leading to union drives and sometimes to attempts to ruin the industry by overfunded Wall Street goons. As more ad money floods into the space and branded podcasts become more important, there are debates over labor relationships, as well as censorship and advertising especially within large branded podcast institutions, like Pineapple Street Studios or Radiotopia or Spotify. Fear of Apple, which has a powerful spot in podcast distribution through its podcast app as well as its app store, is rife.
But these are debates within a growing industry in which various stakeholders debate values and rules. It’s nothing like the nuclear winter of the non-audio internet content industry.
In podcasting, the major directories for distribution use an open standard called RSS to list podcasts, a standard originally developed by open web advocates like Aaron Swartz. Apple has the dominant podcast app. I’ve heard there are some issues with how Apple deals with ratings, but so far, Apple operates as a benevolent despot, largely not collecting data and not privileging its own content. There are also a host of advertising networks, as well as some subscription options, so financing is relatively distributed.
Podcasting is a three tiered system, with production, distribution, and advertising in vertically separated lawyers. There are corporations who [ … ]