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More Bubble Talk

A perspective worth considering.

Eric Nuzum, the former NPR exec who recently led the recently laid-off podcast-style production team within Audible Originals, published a Medium essay yesterday countering claims of the podcast bubble, and its supposed bursting. Of particular note was a description of what, exactly, a bubble is and how it’s typically defined — something that I considered doing for my column this past Tuesday, but could not find the space for — as well as an argument around why those frameworks do not apply to what we’re seeing with podcasts.

Nuzum’s argumentation around the structure of the podcast business is compelling, especially the following bit on podcast advertising, which remains the most important source of industry revenue at this point in time:

Many of the “sky is falling” talking heads point to podcast CPM rates, which some believe are unsustainable. Again, a lot of that crazy money has worked itself out of the podcast system. But more importantly, CPM prices are not based on speculation, they are based on results. The reason that podcasts have high CPMs is largely tied to the fact that the ads work. Not only do they work, but they reach an audience who are largely unreachable by traditional advertising. These results are so compelling that they overcome the reservations of those concerned about the historical lack of consistent measurement and data that comes with an open ecosystem like podcasting. And again, ask an ad agency if their podcast budgets are going up or down next year. Almost universally, you’ll find they are going up.

Compelling, because it’s consistent with what I’ve been hearing from podcast advertisers.

To the extent that I differ from Nuzum in his argumentation, it’s any strong faith in the resilience of audio. For what it’s worth, I tend to think audio’s persistence — in whatever form, linear radio or podcasts or whatever — is less the product of innate strength and more the fact it hasn’t, perhaps, been meaningfully challenged yet in the history of media technology. This frame of argumentation is a little too out there, even for this newsletter, but I guess I’m just signalling my own personal philosophies here: nothing are givens, and success — accidental or otherwise — tend to retroactively rewrite the complexity of narratives and volatility of histories. (See: the history of these United States of America.)