Podcasting models mature and diversify

“When podcasting reaches its potential size, looking more like peak radio penetration thanks to these many new and improved sources of discovery, we’ll start to see several revenue models arise to support the diversity of content now possible by untethering the form from RSS.”

How do I want to start out my 2018 predictions? By saying “I called it” for 2017. Last year, my predictions centered around the high-touch, high-value propositions that content creators needed to put forth in order to ensure their own survival — from niche print titles (like my own, Racquet magazine), to premium/paywalls that have been the lifeblood of news outlets such as The New York Times, to the flourishing world of audio that I get to explore as content director at Acast.

These high-value propositions not only survived in the tumultuous year of our lord 2017 — one that saw digital-first operations like BuzzFeed and Mashable fall far short of revenue projections, slashing jobs and pivoting to video as they frantically tried to find an advertising model to sustain their heavy costs — they thrived. Why? Because they got much of their revenue directly from their audience, proving that in the era of platform dominance, an ad-supported model for journalism might always be a part of the mix, but it can never be the complete picture.

Instead of further gloating, I’ll make some more bold predictions for 2018:

Search and premium come to podcasting

With the acquisition of Audiosearch earlier this month, Apple made a bold move to reclaim some of the territory it had ceded to competitors in the realm of audio discovery. This is a signal that Apple sees the upcoming year of podcasting as one battling between itself, Google, Amazon, and platforms such as Acast — all trying to surface content to a podcast audience that doesn’t yet exist. That these big players don’t yet have a route to monetization, the way that Acast and Megaphone do, isn’t what’s interesting here — it’s that they’re betting on the 70-something percent of Americans who don’t regularly listen to podcasts to start listening through new ways of discovery.

Search, in-home devices, and native apps are all muscling into a territory that they will help expand quickly, giving podcast creators tremendous new freedom in storytelling formats and even revenue models. When podcasting reaches its potential size, looking more like peak radio penetration thanks to these many new and improved sources of discovery, we’ll start to see several revenue models arise to support the diversity of content now possible by untethering the form from RSS — short-form, daily, one-offs — supported by ads, subscription, or in-app purchasing like Acast Plus and many others, finally yielding the diversity that has always been podcasting’s essential promise.

We’ll tell you what’s important

I see the consumption models of content eventually hovering around two ends of a spectrum of engagement. On one hand, an atomized stream of content delivered around algorithmically and socially derived recommendations served to us via tech platforms — from Google Home to Twitter to Instagram — all interconnected and constantly calibrating to make sure we’re getting the most relevant content served up to us in our hands.

And on the other end of the spectrum, a complete lean-back experience, served to us when we barely remember we asked for it (hopefully inciting some whimsy and surprise), in a format that focuses our complete immersion in the experience. Of course, I’m talking about Racquet magazine — a print-only product we ship four times a year — filled with stories that we deem interesting, that have underappreciated subject matters, headlines that you’d never click on, and images you can’t encounter in a Google search. To enjoy our magazine, and the many, many other quarterlies that continue to pop up, you must completely surrender to the idea that you have almost no control over the content experience — your trust is our hands.

Caitlin Thompson is director of content for Acast and publisher of Racquet.

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