Mapping the Podcast Ecosystem

Jul 24 2020

As a maker and lifelong-learner, I have been following the podcasting space for a long time. It is fascinating to see it evolve over the years into the mainstream medium it is today, and the exciting possibilities for future development.

The intended audience for this post include current and aspiring podcasters, makers and investors looking to stay up to date with the podcasting space, and folks who just want to learn more about a fast-changing part of our cultural Zeitgesit.

I plan on updating this post on an ongoing basis . If you know a project that you think should be included, let me know .

Enjoy.



Note:

  • Many companies and product span across multiple categories listed here. For simplicity, I have selected the primary category for each. In fact, several companies brand themselves as "all-in-one" podcasting solutions.
  • This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. But rather a sample of popular products among creators and listeners.
  • 

    Podcast players and discovery platforms

    The players and discovery platforms are the products that end listeners use to find and listen to podcasts.

    In addition to playing content from an RSS feed, the ability to search and navigate the universe of podcasts out there is essential. Given the direct contact with listeners and a wide audience base, these platforms play a big role in the discovery and distribution of podcasts.

    There are big players such as Apple Podcasts , Google Podcasts , Spotify , and Xiamalaya which is popular in China.

    There are also plenty of tail, smaller platforms. I personally use Podcast Republic on Android.

    

    Recording

    The most common form of podcasts is interviews. Many of these conversations between the podcast host and the guest take place over video calls.

    There are a variety of services that facilitate turning video conversations into published content.

     Zoom , a video-conferencing app that has gained popularity recently, comes with a native recording feature. For Skype users, Ecamm provides a similar recording functionality.

    For podcasters looking for a higher audio and video quality, there are more specialized recording tools for remote interviews. Examples include SquadCast, and Zencastr which advertises "Hi-Fi podcasting" with HD video recording.

    There are also tools for recording other forms of audio content to be used in podcasts. For instance, SpeakPipe allows podcasters to receive voice messages (such as testimonials, questions, and feedback) directly on their website.

    It is not uncommon for higher-end producers have their own recording studios. But the discussion of hardware equipment is omitted in this post.

    

    Editing

    Many of tools used in editing music and audio files, such as digital audio workstations (DAW), are commonly used for editing podcasts: Audacity , Logic Pro , Garageband etc.

    Many of the hosting platforms mentioned below also come with editing capabilities, such as Podbean , SimpleCast , Buzzsprout .

    For more low-touch editing, tools like Auphonic , Alitu automatically clean up and manipulate raw audio files to improve production quality.

    Also worth mentioning is Descript , which has interesting text-editing interface for editing audio files.

    It is likely that we will continue to see more experiments with intuitive and specialized user interfaces for editing podcasts.

    

    Hosting

    Analogous to the hosting services for the web at large, there is a wide array of companies providing podcast hosting. Notable products include Transistor , Castos , Libsyn , and the ones mentioned in other sections.

    As of 2020, we are already seeing a number of companies positioning themselves as all-in-one podcasting tools. This includes functionalities such as recording & editing, analytics, and monetization. Much like how web hosting providers also offer email hosting, site builders, SEO, and various features for bloggers and businesses.

    This trend will likely continue, as existing products look to expand, and as podcasters demand a more integrated end-to-end creative experience.

    

    Monetizing podcasts

    In order to operate a podcast sustainably, it is important for a podcaster to find a monetization model that works. This is true even for hobbyist projects, to keep up the motivation and to escape the graveyard of abandoned podcasting efforts.

    Common revenue models for podcasts include:

  • Ads and sponsorships: Many podcasts maintain a direct (manual) relationship with sponsors. Services like Acast , Megaphone , Midroll help connect podcasts with advertisers. Some of these ads are static - recorded along with the audio file itself. Others use techniques like dynamic ad insertion (DAI) to serve updated ads.
  • Donations: RadioPublic makes it easy for listeners to tip their favorite podcasts. Patreon is another service that enables paid supporters for content creators in general.
  • Paid episodes / subscription: Companies like Upstream by Breaker allow podcasters to charge for their content directly - by episode or by subscription.
  • Premium content: Instead of charging for the podcast content itself, some podcasters put detailed notes and/or transcripts behind a pay wall. The Knowledge Project Podcast by Farnam Street and The Peter Attia Drive are good examples.
  • 

    Notes and transcripts

    For listeners, it has long been a challenge to retain the valuable insights from a podcast, because it is cumbersome to pause and take notes. Show notes and transcripts are very useful, for reviewing and organizing learnings afterwards. Though such notes are not a universal standard. Some podcasts provide a verbatim transcript for each episode, while others provide little more than a brief description.

    Sites like PodcastNotes provide notes and summaries for podcast listeners. On the other hand, speech-to-text technology vendors such as Otter.ai , temi cater more to podcasters, so that they can provide show notes to engage their listeners, or sell as premium content.

    

    Analytics

    Podcast analytics are provided both by the distribution platforms, as well as hosting platforms discussed above. This makes sense given the close integration with the core product offering.

    Other companies that are more focused on analytics offerings include Chartable , which provides analytics and ad attribution. Podtrac helps inform advertising decisions by providing industry-wide analytics for podcasts, including periodic ranking reports.

    Similar to the many analytics solutions used in web and mobile apps, we can expect to see more attempts to bring more unified and richer analytics for podcasters.

    

    Guides, information, and communities

    Another integral component in the podcast ecosystem is information and guides on how to do it well. Sites like Podcast Insights  and The Podcast Host are popular sources of information.

    In addition, almost all of the products mentioned above have their own blogs, where they share useful tips and knowledge on various aspects of podcasting.

    There are also online communities where podcasters exchange tips and learnings. Podcasters' Support Group on Facebook, r/Podcasts subreddit , and various other Facebook/Linkedin groups are popular places for podcasters to gather.

    

    Content producers

    Finally, onto the podcasters themselves. Podcast producers can be classified into the following types:

  • Production studios that focus on podcasts: Gimlet , Wondery 
  • Media companies that have a podcasting effort: NPR , iHeartMedia 
  • Individual podcasters: Tim Ferriss , Joe Rogan , and we all know a friend who started a podcast at one point :)
  • Business podcasts: Shopify Masters , 80,000 Hours , and many notable businesses, non-profits, and investors have one
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