My Gripes with Podcasts

I have been a huge supporter of podcasts.  I absolutely love this medium and have made podcast consumption a very large part of my daily activity.  I listen while exercising, I listen while driving, I even listen during any desk time while at work.  I currently have 56 different subscriptions in my podcast player.  I listen to personal finance podcasts, sports podcasts, comedy podcasts and several other categories.  As a consumer of this format for several years now, I have noticed a few discouraging trends.  These would be recycled content, a changing voice and/or a very clunky transition to a financial model.

Typically, the host starts off excited about their subject, offering a somewhat unique perspective on their chosen topic.  While the basics of the topic they are discussing may be the same, their personal approach or view may vary slightly.  At least it is slightly enough for it to resonate with you as a listener and get you to continue to tune in.  The enthusiasm for the medium is evident, the excitement in the host’s voice is even contagious.  However, after a certain number of episodes the host may run short on new ideas.  I know that this has happened to me as a budding blogger and I can usually spot the turning point on podcasts.  Around this same time, that podcast may have reached a certain level of success and become an important voice in their space.  At least important enough to get more mainstream guest on their show.  They start to bring in those more mainstream guests, which to them may signal a new milestone in their growth, but to me as the listener, this is usually met with an eye roll.  These guests are usually limited in their stories and have already made the rounds of other podcasts that you may already listen to.  The regurgitate the same stories and offer the same advice on each one.  This becomes what is referred to as an echo chamber.  The absolute worst case of this (to me) is when a person in that space launches a new book that they have written.  They make the circuit of podcasts and give the exact same interview on each one.  Since they are going a promotional tour for the launch of their book, all these episodes hit at the same time and your entire playlist is a filled with carbon copies of one another.  This has led me to tire of that guest and even at times to convince myself NOT to pick up their book that I would have otherwise tried.

Another regular trend I am finding on podcasts is when the host is met with a certain level of success and then their voice changes from what made them successful in the first place.  A high percentage of my podcast library have to do with personal finance—shocker, I know, considering this is mostly a personal finance blog.  In this space, there are more and more women.  I think this is a great trend as I tend to have much in common with many of them in the way they approach money matters and decision making.  However, on many of these podcasts, I have noticed that once there is a certain level of success, their voice tends to change.  While these women gain popularity, their followers appear to be mostly women and they wind up changing the tone and direction of their podcasts.  They make more and more stereotyping statements about how men handle things vs. how women do.  I find such stereotypes boring and inaccurate and this forces me to question the host’s place as an educational voice that is speaking to me.  Granted, I understand this change since if the audience is predominantly women, you will cater to women in your topic selection and advertising, etc. But I just think it often goes too far and there are many statements made about how men do this or that.  It is usually followed up by a statement about how the host is not going to apologize for their take, it is just how it is.  This tends to make me want to tune out.  I understand that historically women have not advanced as much as men in the areas of finance, saving, investing and others and I am all for promoting that they dive in and take control of their money.  I just don’t understand how the hosts feel that being one-sided in their discussion helps with this.  This is not promoting equality, which is what most say they are striving for.  Just my two cents (get it, that is a money joke since I am sort of getting away from my normal personal finance related topics).

Lastly, and probably the issue I am having the hardest time adapting to is the financial models for podcasts.  This falls into two categories that I have noticed.  The first (but not as frequent) is the podcast that gains an audience but abhors advertising, yet still wants to monetize.  In these cases, the host usually dedicates a portion of each episode saying how much they hate advertising and how it diverts the listeners attention.  They usually follow this up with trying to get listeners to donate money directly by going to a separate website and either donating once or subscribing or even buying merchandise.  Sometimes they will offer unique content only for those that donate.  The problems with this model are many.  First, podcasting is almost exclusively a mobile activity.  Getting users to go to your website is not convenient or easy which will prevent this from happening. Secondly, podcasts became popular as a free source of information so nakedly asking for donations tends to make the listeners a little squeamish.  Third, and probably most importantly, the host will say they dislike advertising and will never include it as it disrupts the flow of the show, etc.  However, they will dedicate a portion of each and every episode to their plea for support.  This usually winds up taking more time than any single read of advertising and disrupts the flow of the podcast more than advertising would.  Luckily, this tends to be done at the very end of the episode so you can usually just fast forward through this awkward plea for money.  

The more common monetization attempt is done through advertising.  I understand that much work goes into putting together a podcast and I don’t wish anyone to not be recognized for their work.  However, the way that advertising is done leaves much to be desired.   They either are clunky, too frequent or deceptive.  Most first-time advertising will fall into the clunky category.  They just aren’t well versed in this activity and the ads don’t have any real flow and often don’t fit into the flow of the show or the product doesn’t fit their brand.  Since they are usually new to this, I don’t begrudge this.  I tend to hold my nose and hope they get better at this.  When ads are too frequent is where it starts to become annoying.  Too frequent can be either the same advertiser appearing on too many similar podcasts or just the sheer number of ads on a single podcast being too many.  I am sure that anyone who has ever listened to a podcast knows which companies jumped into the advertising space as early adopters to this medium.  They tend to jump on to any podcast where the audience is larger than just the friends and family of the host.  I am talking about the Blue Apron, Me Undies and’s of the world.  It is to the point where even if I were in the market for those types of services, I would never consider one of these brands simply because there are doing their best to ruin podcasting.  The other issue I have is when I host finally dives into advertising but goes a little overboard.  In one of my favorite podcasts, the host has recently ramped up their advertising.  Their show is usually around 40 minutes per episode.  Currently, they break three different times for ads and when I timed up the total, it came out to almost 9 minutes of ad reads vs. 31 minutes of content.  While I love the content and want the podcast to remain sustainable, this is just too much of each show dedicated to trying to sell me.  Not to mention that this is a personal finance podcast that spends quite a bit of time talking about anti-consumerism and frugality… then turns around and spends almost 25% of their time trying to get me to buy things I may or may not need.  This particular podcast also does Q&A episodes from time to time and recently read a question from a like minded listener who commented on the frequency and volume of ads.  The host gave a very strong response saying that they have been giving free content for years and they will not apologize for trying to earn money to help sustain the podcast.  I think this was a little tone deaf.  You are able to monetize your podcast BECAUSE of your listeners, not despite them.

The last, and perhaps most frustrating part of advertising is when a host tries to weave the read into the episode.  It is inorganic and comes across as trying to “fool” the listeners into listening to the ad, rather than skipping over it.  To me this shows a disrespect to the audience.  I understand that the more ears you get on the ads, the more valuable you are to the advertiser, but this tells me that they advertiser (and their wallets) are more important to you than the listener.  Each time I encounter such advertising, it is not very long before I unsubscribe to that particular podcast.

In closing, I absolutely love podcasts and will continue to listen to them as a source of information, education and entertainment.  However, with such a broad selection of options I can be a little choosy as to who I listen to and how frequently.  Podcasting, like blogging, is an intimate medium where a community is built around the content provided and the interaction with the audience.  If you lose the authenticity of that interaction, the community crumbles.