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Notes From Los Angeles

The scene from out west.

“Are we too late?”

The question came up in more than a few conversations throughout the week and change that I just spent in the city. Who’s asking runs the gamut: from big organizations that have yet to step into podcasting to those who have been in it for a long time, from individual producers to steward-executives, from those at the center to those at the fringes. These are those who worry whether they should be cashing out, and there are those who worry if there will be future buyers should they choose to wait. Hollywood casts a long shadow, the reportedly greener pastures of film and television offering the perception of relative durability.

Many were reacting in the long wake of Spotify’s blockbuster acquisitions from earlier this year, of course. There appears to be a distinct belief that the purchases signalled the end of something; whether it’s the end of a cycle or podcasting as we know it is the thing being debated. Many wondered what, exactly, Spotify had acquired, if the assets were actually worth the dollars paid. For what it’s worth, I’m in the camp that the acquisition sum was more a reflection of the buyer’s intent and ambition than the inherent, literal value of the assets. That’s how markets work, I think, and specifically, how they tend to work in the technology industry.

In any case, there’s a pervading sense of being on the outside-looking-in, of what’s happening over there, even though it strikes me that a good deal of Spotify’s post-acquisition podcast activities are happening in Los Angeles itself. The company’s recently hired Head of Creative Development for Podcasts, Liz Gateley, is said to oversee teams in New York and Los Angeles, though her operational roots, as the former programming head at Lifetime, feel distinctly LA-centric. New York may have claimed to be the Podcast Capital of the World at one point in the recent past, but the center of the universe seems to be swinging west.

Amid the uncertainty of the new, there is also uncertainty of the old. I continue to hear some skepticism about whether a proper business can be built around podcasting, even as the source of skepticism themselves express marvel at how much they hear Joe Rogan or Dax Shepard or so and so is making. (Sometimes in the same breath.) Those positions haven’t really appeared to change in the post-Spotify acquisition landscape, just the specific expression. It used to be “I’m not sure if podcasters can live off the advertising dollars,” now it’s trending towards “I’m not sure how podcasters are going to make money off Spotify.” (Hope continues to be held out for Luminary as a long-term buyer of podcast goods, but only tentatively.)

Frankly, I like the doubt. I’d rather this than an environment of froth, of unqualified optimism. I can trust this more. Still, this contemporary iteration of doubt feels rooted in a new anxiety. It’s of a kind that I haven’t quite encountered before, and it’s palpable and thick. But I wouldn’t say it’s entirely unpleasant, and it is also, maybe, not unproductive. (Double negatives, baby, that’s how I roll.)

On a personal note… Los Angeles seems hard to live in!!