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Tracking: July 19, 2019

Peak Peak. So, I’m thinking out loud on this one. Might expand and repackage this out for Tuesday, maybe spin it out for Vulture, but I just had to work through it, and I’m one of those people who thinks by writing.

You’ve probably read, or at least heard about, that New York Times piece that went flying around the blogosphere yesterday. I’m quoted in it, by the way, and my recollection is of speaking to the reporter back when the article hadn’t yet arrived on a defined angle. Anyway, the piece struck a nerve, obviously, and subsequently became one of those Twitter lightning rods, with clusters of folks — within and beyond podcasting — laying waste on, in no particular order, the subject of the anecdote that leads the article (who I suspect has now become a Jon Ronsonian figure), the article itself, and also, apparently, the New York Times.

From what I understand, a good deal of the hubbub seems to come down to two things. First, I think it comes from a general frustration with the assumptions being held by a certain kind of podcast maker: namely, the notion that “anybody can start a podcast, therefore you should start one, money will come.” Which, by the way, is a notion that gets pushed a lot in areas of the podcast ecosystem I don’t usually write about. (It is in these areas, by the way, where the term “podfading” was coined and somewhat practiced. As I’ve said before, for what it’s worth, I find the concept nonsensical, and more than a little paternalistic.) There are, additionally, further issues of entitlement and privilege embedded in this line of thinking, which are worth unpacking elsewhere at some point.

I suppose you could say that that notion is a mutation of the original gene. And there are ways that you can tie that thinking back to the historical ideology of the publishing technology and the first communities that were formed around it — the audio-bloggers, for whom the entire point of podcasting was for anyone to say and make and publish whatever you want — but only if you run that connection through techno-utopian and techno-capitalist filters. In any case, while the notion that “anybody can publish” remains a true and important sensibility for the ecosystem, at some point that ideological position became, for some people, linked to the idea that the money will come by virtue of the practice itself as opposed to the quality of the things being created. Indeed, that participation itself is the prerequisite for reward. (Again, the topics of privilege and entitlement apply here.) Part of it is a probably affectation of the type of classic magical thinking that’s common in American capitalism, but part of it, I suspect, is also a holdover from the experience of mid-2000s blog monetization: there was a time where, based on a certain generation of ad tech tools, even blogs that trafficked in low page views could still churn out some amount of money.

Anyway, the other thing that ticked folks off, I think, lies in a specific frustration with the piece: the fact that the article took a specific type of podcast maker — which, to be fair, probably makes up a good deal of new participants in the medium as it’s become more popular — to be an adequate general representative of podcasting. The question of representativeness is key here: why is this person’s failure being taken to be the face of what I do? Indeed, why is this person’s failure the framework of this story? Don’t they know that the proliferation of this idea has material effects on the actual podcast businesses being built, that we’ve all been fighting a long battle of client/advertiser education? Why not the people who actually spend significant resources and hundreds of labor hours in creating high quality podcast products?

Secondarily, my sense is that people also took issue with what they’re interpreting is the article’s conclusion: that it seems to be suggesting some impending decline, because of the prominence of this particular type of podcast maker. So, I’m not sure that’s exactly what the article is trying to say. A “shake-out”, as mentioned in the subhed, is somewhat different from a decline, though maybe the issue lies more with the use of “Peak,” as used in the headline “Have we hit peak podcast?”

But that’s semantic banana-peeling. It’s probably not useful to comb over the use of this or that word, but to identify and think through what people are feeling. And mostly, what I think a lot of people were feeling about the New York Times piece is mostly the whole: why is this specific person being taken to be the face of what I do?

Somewhat relatedly, and interestingly enough, I hear similar constructions of that question being asked in other parts of the podcast ecosystem when, say, narrative podcasts gets all the mainstream media shine.

[Insert pun on beloved Disney song here].

From TechCrunch yesterday:

Spotify this morning announced a new partnership with Disney on the creation of a Disney Hub on its streaming service. Here, Disney fans in select markets including the U.S. will find a selection of Disney playlists, like soundtracks from Disney, Pixar and Marvel movies, Star Wars instrumentals, classics, sing-alongs and more.

The Disney Hub is also live in the U.K., Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It can be discovered by doing a search for “Disney” in the Spotify app.

This is super interesting, and as any parent with a child will tell me (I’m not one such parent, but I have many friends who are), this is a really smart move. I’m thinking of two things:

  • Broadly, a pie-in-the-sky theory around the convergence of genres and brands/IPs, particularly as corporate media organizations continue to consolidate everything into tighter and tighter balls of brand networks.
  • Seems to me that this is an example of Spotify, the platform, behaving as a staging ground for… other mini-services, I guess? I feel like there’s a theory to be spun out here, but I can’t seem to put it in words just yet.

Meanwhile, in the UK… So, a while back, Caroline wrote a story about the BBC planning to soon scrap universal free TV licenses for the-over 75s, in a move that signals a substantial shift in the way the corporation is managing its funding.

I was poking around yesterday when I bumped into this strand of the story that we missed, and which I find utterly fascinating: it’s a handful of the BBC’s uppers discussing, purely theoretically, the prospect of a BBC built on a Netflix-style subscription model. Here’s the Telegraph on the matter.

“I actually think the BBC might do very well under a subscription model, but it would not be the BBC you and I know,” Sir David Clementi, chairman of the BBC, told the House of Lords Communications Committee. “It would be there to serve its subscribers. And the subscribers by their very nature are those who are better off.

Wild, wild, wild.


  • Another revolving door item: Ray Harkins, a sales marketing manager at Midroll, is moving to iHeartMedia, where he will be the company’s West Coast Lead for Podcast Sales and Strategy.
  • From Variety: “Sony Unites Recorded Music and Publishing Under One Company.”