Picture this: it’s 2014, and you’re chatting with a friend who has to make a strenuous commute to and from work every day. You inquire how they stand such a mundane drive, and they simply remark ‘I’ve been listening to a few podcasts.’ Although it seems odd that someone wouldn’t just listen to the radio or their own music, you decide to try listening to a podcast or two for yourself. Unbeknownst to the both of you, in a few short years podcasts will be one of the most marketable forms of media in the publishing realm and a hit among millennials and baby boomers alike. In four short years, podcast listening has grown by over 157% (according to Neilsen 2018 podcast insights) and is still on the rise.
The question remains; why are podcasts so popular? Journalists and researchers have found that there is an idiosyncratic overlap between the purpose of listening to a podcast which can primarily be narrowed down into education and entertainment value. There’s also the factor of the rise of smartphones, time spent on public transportation/ commuting, and online streaming services available on multiple technological platforms.
On the educational side, research from The Cultural Orientation Research Center has found that the retention rate of auditory learning is two times higher than reading and four times higher than attending a lecture.
On the entertainment side, the concept of ‘binge- listening’ has become appealing because of podcasts’ tendencies to be series- based and story- driven. Much like a binge- worthy Netflix series, podcasts can be addicting, full of cliffhangers, and obviously on- demand.
My podcast love story began in 2016 with the now chart- topping podcast ‘My Favorite Murder.’ I found myself going out of my mind sitting in traffic while living in Los Angeles and found solace in the array of voices and subjects I could choose between on my often 2- hour drive home. Just like books, podcasts have a wide range of genres– from daily politics to raunchy comedy to true crime. My Favorite Murder, as you may have guessed, is a true crime podcast but with a twist of dry humour. Two comics sit in their living room and talk about their favorite true crime stories, personal brushes with death, and overcoming their mental health struggles– all while making quirky and scarcastic jokes. The hosts of the podcast, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, began doing live shows around the world and recently sold out the largest live podcast show in history with over 7,000 attendees.
With the help of shows like My Favorite Murder, true crime podcasting has truly taken off. ‘Serial’ from This Amerian Life is the most downloaded podcast of all time, with over 250 million downloads for just the first two seasons (according to Variety.com). The show combines investigative journalism with narrative storytelling and interviews, which makes for some seriously addictive content.
Genres aside, why do podcasts matter? I believe that the podcast format is one solution to the question of whether publishing is a dying industry. Look at the colossal growth podcasts have been doing over the last few years. Publishing is transitioning and growing into an increasingly digital format, with content being pushed out on more and more platforms.
One of the principal strategies that can be emploied to keep podcasts growing and relevant is using the unique relationship they have with brands and advertiesers to connect with their audience. Podcast hosts incorporate advertising into the podcast, making it feel very personal and more narrative rather than an annoying ad popping up on your phone or taking up space in your magazine. The brand voice suddenly comes to life through the channel of a podcast, conveying the company’s values in a way that has never before been so streamlined.
Looking forward, keep an eye on podcasts and how they evolve. They’re here to stay, and it will be fascinating to see how the podcast publishing field will keep up with changes in technology and culture.