Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

“My fear is that the ecosystem we have invested in all these years will start to resemble the vanity publishing marketplace or the guy selling CDs out of the trunk of his car after gigs: a place that’s easy to publish into, but rarely yields a significant audience.”

Growing up is hard and often messy.

2016 was the year that the decade-old podcasting industry grew up. How so? It professionalized. Outfits like Gimlet, Midroll, Panoply, Wondery, and to some degree my own company, Audible, are feeling less “startup-y,” and showing signs of maturing into viable media production companies. Notice I didn’t call them “podcasters.” That’ll be part of the problem in 2017 for small and mid-sized podcasters.

eric-nuzumAs I watch the podcast industry mature, I see parallels with the early music industry. For much of its life, the music industry followed a cycle: Passionate entrepreneurs started independent labels, and some grew successful. Most of those successful indies were bought by corporations and absorbed…but not all. There were some small indie labels that remained small. Those who happily remained small felt that the trade-off balanced in their favor: While they lacked the distribution and marketing muscle of a major label, they were free to call their own shots and decide their own futures. But for the unhappily small…they just feel left out.

The smartest players in the music industry (a small number of people, admittedly) realized they were in the music industry, not the 45 single, LP, CD, or digital download industry. Those who survived did so because they were quickest to acknowledge that they needed to be everywhere. And, ironically, it was often the smaller, scrappier labels who figured that out first.

2017 will be the year that podcasting stratifies into hard layers, the year of distinction between major label and indie label. 2017 will be the point where what divides these two layers will be more relevant than what unites them.

The professionalized podcasters (and I’d lump bigger legacy media orgs like NPR, WNYC, ESPN, and HowStuffWorks in there too) will see a lot of payoff for their efforts this year to produce better metrics and analytics, better discovery pathways, more sophisticated advertising tech, and (this will be the most impactful move) to direct as much listening away from the RSS/iTunes ecosystem as possible and into their own app experience, other platforms, and access points. That’s a smart play for them. When you rely on one distribution channel, your fortunes are inevitably linked to the fortunes of that platform. However, another result is that they will seem less and less like “podcasters.”

What does stratification mean to the little guys? Lately I’ve heard a lot of laments from smaller, independent podcasters that it’s getting really hard to keep up. The strategic struggles of a Midroll or Panoply feel less and less applicable to them. And that’s okay, as long as they feel their independence works in their favor. But I don’t think that will be the norm.

With the big publishers slowly evolving out of the space, what happens to the overall iTunes/RSS-centric podcast traffic? My fear is that the ecosystem we have invested in all these years will start to resemble the vanity publishing marketplace or the guy selling CDs out of the trunk of his car after gigs: a place that’s easy to publish into, but rarely yields a significant audience. Which means we’re just making it harder for our industry’s indies to grow into future hitmakers.

Eric Nuzum is senior vice president for original content development at Audible.

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Trushar Barot   API or die

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before