Welcome to 2021 podcasters!

The First Pod Culture Newsletter

Podcasts are dead, long live Substack!

I kid, of course, though I have noticed recently that, when pitching corporate work, I’m occasionally fielding the question “and what about Substack?”. What about it? It’s a new, cool toy (that looks a lot like the old toys) that suddenly everyone is talking up. And it’s typical of a very media progression: 10 years ago everyone was excited for the pivot to video, then when the results looked sketchy and the undertaking was too expensive, video pivoted to podcasts. And now, to some extent, podcasts are pivoting to newsletters – which are about as inexpensive (both in terms of cash money and employee energy) as it gets. You won’t go bust betting on the media to keep pivoting to ‘cheap’.

This is my first newsletter and I’ve been cautious about adding my voice to the inbox cacophony. I’m also quite happy with my little corner of the internet on Medium (why does Medium never get talked up as an innovative media company these days? I still think they do interesting stuff) and don’t want to dilute myself too much. But there’s something about the privacy of Substack that’s appealing – it’s almost like whispering in the ear of a loved one. Here I can share with you my most anxiety-riddled despairs for the future of the media.

And that’s what this will be – yes, I’ve re-used the Pod Culture title from my Medium blog, but I will expand a little in these newsletters to discuss trends in digital media that I think are good and bad. Podcasters should always keep their eyes on what competitor mediums are doing – for example, be prepared for corporates to push more money towards newsletters and anticipate top-brass journalistic talent realising that smashing out 600 words for a newsletter each week is a hell of a lot easier than hosting and/or producing a 45-minute podcast.

Over on the Daddy blog, earlier this week, I published a list of my 5 predictions for podcasts in 2021, so I won’t repeat them here. But I want to instead focus on my personal ambitions for podcasts this year.

I’ve already received some bad professional news over the winter break (flow my tears, fall from your springs!), and so I’m facing the dilemma that faces all men at urinals – piss or get off the pot. I have a good slate of corporate clients and some interesting editorial work; my first solo hosted/produced pod-doc last year, The Town That Didn’t Stare, did objectively pretty well. I’m in a position, thankfully, where I can weather a few disappointments and probably expand my horizons. But I’m a cautious person and there are some rumbling questions that remain unanswered – what does the persistence of ‘work from home’ mean for IRL podcast studios? Have we reached saturation point for SME podcast houses here in the UK? Will client demand hold-up over the next 5 years and is the commissioning process with the BBC, Spotify, Audible…etc expansive enough to accommodate more players in the game? If I am to contribute more to the podcast landscape, can I be my own thing? Or is the die now cast, and, to survive, must I live off the charity of another?

My commitment this year, therefore, is to investing – internally and externally – in cultivating and maintaining the independent spirit of podcasting. I don’t want to wake up in January 2030 and only be able to find IHeartRadio and New York Times and BBC podcasts on whatever app I’m using. I don’t want to look at the roster of successful journalists and broadcasters and realise that they all came through the same half-dozen graduate schemes. I don’t want to conspire in turning podcasting into yet another medium that has homogenised around a few big dogs who have literally (well, figuratively) eaten the smaller dogs who pioneered the area. I don’t want to be a Chihuahua in the belly of a Rottweiler, a Pekinese in the bowels of a St Bernard.

So my little ambition for 2021 (other than the obvious: sign more clients, file taxes efficiently, produce something that makes my mother proud) is to be a voice for Joe Podcaster, the little guy*. And my tiny part in that tiny revolution starts here, on Substack.

I have absolutely no idea how people find out about Substack or how you gain subscribers. For now, you are in an elite club. If you want to recommend this to a friend or colleague then go ahead.

A Podcast Recommendation:

I love Tom Hanks and I love the idea of him firing someone for having ‘dead eyes’. This Headgum documentary(ish) podcast, Dead Eyes, starts with the premise of an actor/comedian (now most famous as a podcaster) trying to investigate why Hanks fired him and whether he feels bad about it. Like with many podcasts (*cough* Wind of Change *cough*) this is a frustrated task and you could easily feel like it becomes rambling, losing the pithiness of that central idea. It does. But what emerges from that is a show business interview podcast about failure, about hard times, about the nuts and bolts of Hollywood. But because it still has that dead-eyed peg, it’s a lot more focused and less arsey than that sounds.

* I apologise for the gendered language, feel free to substitute Jane Podcaster.