The Podcast Manager’s Concerns: A Short List
Running a podcast involves a range of tasks that do not involve talking into a microphone. Below, I share one conception of the various tasks involved in managing a podcast. I use it to sort the concrete operational concerns expressed by the podcasters we interview. This list might also be used as a checklist of things to plan when creating or developing a show, or as a basis for evaluating the operational quality of a podcast enterprise. This is a first draft, rather than a complete and definitive list. Any comments are appreciated.
When trying to understand the inner workings of a podcast enterprise, my first interest is the podcast enterprise’s main purpose, and its (often implicit) big picture plan of how to achieve this purpose. Questions related to this concern might include: What is the podcast trying to achieve? Ultimately, whom does it serve, and how? Concretely, what are my plans with this podcast? Podcasts can have many purposes — to make money, to advertise a product or company, to serve some non-business cause, or just for fun. Many — probably most — podcasts incur economic losses for their creators, particularly when one considers the time investments.
Content production involves creating the content that the enterprise has been devised to create. This can involve a range of tasks, any of which can be a defining quality or source of competitive advantage. For example, some creators are good at idea generation, which involves devising topics, formats, personnel, or other unique program features that help define and hopefully distinguish the show. Some programs’ strength lies in excellent performance, the creation of original audio-visual materials for inclusion in a program. A show that is successful at booking (the task of finding and enlisting outside people to perform in a program) can use guests to attract audiences and raise their stature. Also important is show prep (preparing performers to perform the content, like research, scripting, or notes preparation), content procurement (the acquisition of audio-visual materials from outside creators or content brokers, like licensing music or sounds, or procuring audio-visual material from outside archives or vendors), or editing (cleaning, enhancing, and integrating the audio files to create a finished program). A serious deficiency in any of these areas can put off listeners and limit a podcast’s potential, and a strength in some particular facet of production can give a podcast a distinct character that helps it stand out.
Audience engagement include attempts to attract and engage listeners. Major questions along these lines include: Who are our listeners? What do they want from us? How do we engage them? Like many Web 2.0-based media, the social distances between creator and audiences are smaller than, say, radio. How can we generate awareness and interest in our podcast? What causes people to engage with a podcast? How to communities grow around or attach to podcasts? I have been particularly interested in this last question over recent interviews. Some podcasters serve established communities, almost as if they are acting as a type of niche media outlet for special interest groups. Even where podcast audiences more closely resemble cults of personality, just below the surface you can see communities with shared worldviews or agenda.
Sponsor & Patron Engagement
Although many podcasts give the public some means to contribute to their enterprise financially, only a subset of podcasts are standalone, profitable enterprises. Many podcasters work as marketing personnel, and their podcasting serves their employer’s public communications or marketing prerogatives. Traditionally, very few podcasters had the ability to attract advertising and the money was not great. There are many tech companies trying to find new ways to generate an advertising market for podcasters, but many creators are focusing on small-dollar patronage or subscriber models (e.g., through Patreon), in which people agree to regular credit card charges as donations or in exchange for incentives (e.g., special content, opportunities to interact with performers or producers).
By operations, I mean procuring the equipment, labor, and services required to run a podcast. Podcasting is extraordinarily inexpensive compared to its predecessor medium, radio. It can be produced using a personal computer and inexpensive recording equipment. An entire industry of online service vendors whose bots can organize recording sessions, produce audio, post the audio to web and the major portals, catalog and promote episodes or shows, and much else, often for quite low subscription fees. Their innovations include what podcasts can do, and how much technical skill and money is required to run a sophisticated podcast.
Finally, the podcaster must confront at least two major legal concerns: intellectual property and actionable speech. Intellectual property laws are concerned with the legal ownership of text, sounds, or visuals. The podcaster creates intellectual property when he or she creates a program, at least to the extent that they don’t use someone else’s property. This property is often used as a basis for generating income, but it also presents legal hazards if they infringe other people’s intellectual property rights (which is easy to do and surprisingly commonplace). Actionable speech is concerned with legal liabilities or hazards that are created when a podcaster says particular things. For example, people can sue for defamatory speech, and certain types of political speech can lead to criminal charges in some countries. Both types of laws help define what podcasters can and cannot say in their programs.
So that is my working typology of a podcast’s areas of operational concern. I use it to categorize my respondents’ concrete issues or problems in the administration of their podcasts. It is also useful as a checklist of things to contemplate when planning your own podcast.