Not sure what the kids are saying is the Song of the Summer™, but the song of my summer is “Chemtrails over the Country Club” because I am dramatic and always a year behind. On that note, I am seeing Mitski tonight, which means I will be very in touch with my emotions when I return on Tuesday (lucky you!).
Plus, a new shortform audio app enters the market, some welcome podcast industry data, and more fallout from the Desus and Mero split.
The newest podcast platform is a text message
The newest shortform audio platform on the market has no app, no video, and limited social capabilities. Instead, it’s a bare-bones service that’s meant to deliver you audio every day, straight to your text message app. The service, launched this week, is called Jam, and it bucks many of the trends dominating the audio world right now in favor of a no-nonsense audio experience.
Instead of downloading an app, users sign in using a text message. They build a playlist of short shows that seem interesting using Jam’s website, and then they’ll be texted a link to their updated playlist every day. Basically, everything about Jam is designed to be short and simple, making it as quick as possible to start tuning into a podcast each day.
Jam’s co-founders, Pete Davies and Chris Pruett, who met while working at LinkedIn, are not the first to try to crack the code on short audio. Inspired by Clubhouse’s initial success, a slew of shortform social audio apps launched last year, including Beams, Quest, and Facebook’s Soundbites. Beams is still up and running, but Facebook recently discontinued Soundbites, and Quest no longer appears to be online.
Jam’s founders are not scared off by shortform audio’s hurdles, though. “Just because Facebook didn’t find that value, or couldn’t immediately figure out how to build that business… doesn’t mean it’s not a good business,” said Davies, Jam’s CEO. “It just means it’s a different opportunity.”
To be fair, Jam is not built to be a social app. The current roster features produced shows like The Economist Morning Briefing and Wine Time from wine discovery platform Pix. And there is definitely an appetite for that, as the success of five-minute daily update NPR News Now shows. Not everyone has the time or energy to listen to a half-hour episode of The Daily about how the earth is burning (though no shade to The Daily — they keep me on my toes).
The website interface is also unusually barebones. According to the founders, that’s because they expect users will have the audio going while they do other things instead of actively interacting with the site while they listen. “The primary consumption and the primary mode in Jam is listening to your playlist,” said Pruett, Jam’s CTO. “We don’t need an app for that.”
That thesis really flies in the face of the industry’s belief that video podcasts are the way of the future and that people want to be watching while they are listening. That belief does not come out of nowhere — YouTube is the number one podcast platform in the country, according to a study by Cumulus, because more people are actively watching their podcasts. Spotify recently announced it is expanding its video podcast capabilities to six additional countries, including Mexico, Germany, and France.
But for those who like the lean-back experience of audio (hi, hello, that’s me) and just want to be engaged while cooking or driving or chilling without staring at a screen, Jam might be just the thing. The platform is brand new and has limited (if growing) programming. And while I like the idea of not having to have another app on my phone, I wonder how discoverable it will be if it’s not in the app store.
Some welcome good news on podcast listening
When Edison Research reported in its Infinite Dial report earlier this year that podcast listening had dipped among young listeners, the industry was not thrilled. It is still not clear why figures went down after Covid lockdown, though it is possible shifting daily habits (people not commuting to work but not being bored at home all the time, either) had something to do with it. Yesterday, Edison posted mid-year figures that indicate podcasting has recovered as routines have normalized again.
Edison found that 29 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 34 listen to podcasts daily, a six-point jump from the end of last year. Listening among Americans overall rose from 14 percent at the end of last year to 16 percent in June. That brings podcast listening back to the levels they were at a year and a half ago.
“We can’t say U.S. podcast listening will break through the ceiling like it has in recent years,” wrote Gabriel Soto, senior director of research at Edison, “but what we can say is something my girlfriend always says with relief after checking in on her pets at dinner: the [pod] cats are doing alright.”
Lana Del Rey releases poetry as a podcast, and it’s catching on
A surprise test case for Spotify’s audiobook ambitions, brought to you by Lana Del Rey. The singer published a collection of poetry in 2020 called Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass in audiobook and print, with extremely Lana poems like “LA Who Am I to Love You?” Last month, it was stealthily re-released in podcast form on Spotify, and that format change seems to have given the book a surge of popularity.
The poetry collection has cracked Spotify’s top 100 podcasts, where it has lingered all week in the bottom five spots (it is charting higher in the UK, where it sits at number 59). Violet is not going to beat Joe Rogan (that honor goes to Back to the Beach with Kristin and Stephen), but it does indicate Spotify might be right about there being an appetite for audiobooks on the platform. That feature is forthcoming now that Spotify has closed its acquisition of audiobook creation tool and distributor Findaway.
I am curious what’s in it for Lana and her publisher, Simon & Schuster. Spotify told Hot Pod it had nothing to do with the release, which means the re-release must have been at the discretion of the publisher. Simon & Schuster did not respond to a request for comment (though, to be fair, the company has had a rough week). The podcast poems do not feature ads, and data from NPD shows that book sales have not gotten a boost. Maybe Lana just wants to share her art for free — what a concept!
Desus and Mero reportedly fell out over their manager
Details are starting to emerge from the Desus and Mero split that sent the internet into a sadness spiral early this week. Matthew Belloni at Puck reports that the rift started in November over the pair’s longtime manager, Victor Lopez. Showtime reportedly asked that Lopez stop attending show meetings because he bullied the staffers, resulting in multiple formal complaints. Desus sided with Showtime, and Mero backed Lopez, according to Belloni. Showtime did not immediately respond to Hot Pod’s request for comment.
If true, this tracks with the stop of Bodega Boys production, which, unlike their late-night show, the comedy duo controlled themselves. The last episode was posted on November 15th. Since then, they grew more estranged, and Mero got a new agent and lawyer for himself. Since the split was announced, Desus teased a new project, while Mero has yet to comment.
Have a great weekend! I am going to the beach this weekend, so see you Tuesday if I don’t make a new carnivorous friend.