My roommate and I are what you call “attached at the hip.”And as best friends go, we have a pretty good banter. Our friends joke that they love to just listen to the two of us argue and go back and forth. For a while we have had this running joke that Kelsey and I are going to start a podcast. We have even thought of various segments we would do including: animal facts, obscure meme lore, and my personal favorite movie swap. Movie swap would consist of us watching each others movie pick. Kelsey would be forced to watch my latest favorite Netflix Original rom-com, while I would be stuck watching an indie-foreign film with subtitles. But I digress. Well we haven’t started recording yet, stay tuned for the Kelsey & Jackie show.
It’s undeniable that podcasts are everywhere now. And everyone has an opinion on what there favorite is, or what random fact or story they have heard from them. Just this morning I got a call from my sister. She told she had a present for me. The present: deodorant. Not too exciting, and maybe a weird jab? Turns out my mom heard on her favorite podcast that the aluminum in deodorant can give you cancer, so she bought my sister and I aluminum-free deodorant.
Welcome back to Everybody’s a Creator, and this week we are tackling podcasts! When did this phenomenon all start, and why? Who are big names? How do these people make money, do these people make money? Basically is this a sustainable post-grad choice for Kelsey and me to pursue full-time? Let’s start at the beginning. Based on internet lore, the inventor of podcasts is a software developer named Dave Winer. Winer created RSS, or Really Simple Syndicating. However, podcasts were popularized by Adam Curry, a MTV personality and host of Daily Source Code. He is referred to as “Podfather.” In June 2005, iTunes started carrying podcasts, and they rest is auditory history.
However, it feels as though only in recent years have we seen a true “explosion” of podcast listenership. People are proclaiming this to be “The Golden Age of Podcasts.” In my opinion, this all started with Serial. Serial is “an investigative journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig, narrating a nonfiction story over multiple episodes.” It captivated the nation in 2014 with its first season that focused on the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. Since then those first dozen episodes have been downloaded almost 100 million times. So how real has this phenomenon become? Let’s talk stats. There are 555,000 active podcasts, with 18.5 million episodes available in 100 languages. 26% of the US Population listens to podcasts monthly. 17% of people listen weekly. These 48 million weekly listeners listen on average to 7 shows per week, which is a 40% increase since 2017. The top 5 genres that listeners are interested in include: society& culture, business, comedy, news & politics, and health. This audience is growing at a consistent rate of 10-20% per year.
But why now, why can’t we get enough of them? An interesting theory I found was that it is the story-telling nature of these narratives that keep us coming back for more. Humans gravitate towards stories and narratives. It’s how are brains think. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, “found that character-driven stories cause our brains to release oxytocin, a neurochemical which plays an important role in feeling empathy towards others.” And Jennifer Aaker of Stanford, found “we remember information more when it is conveyed as part of a narrative up to 22 times more than facts alone.” Podcasts are often upwards of an hour long, this attracts listeners who are deeply interested, highly engaged, and willing to listen for long periods. This allows plenty of time to develop the story.
Podcast in the Goldie Locks scenario are the “just right” of audio listening options. They offer more substance, and discussion of niche topics, than radio. While at the same time you are able to be distracted for 30 seconds, and jump right back into the story. Meanwhile, audiobooks require your constant, focused attention. This combination makes podcasts the ideal entertainment for commuters, any car or train ride is made infinitely more enjoyable.
In this customizable world we live in, podcasts are right at home. The sheer breath of this entertainment is fascinating. You can literally find a podcast for anything. No matter how obscure or niche, “there are podcasts written to scratch that narrative itch.” News, pop culture, politics, beauty/healthy/fitness, true crime, science, economics, sports, you name it someone is talking about it.
So who’s who of the podcast-universe. This was a hard question. As mentioned, with such breath of topics, it’s hard to say who the best is. You would have to look within your genre of interests because if not you are comparing apples to oranges. However, when in doubt look who’s topping the iTunes charts.
I grabbed this screen shot at the time of writing this blog. A few of the shows I want to highlight are Stupid Genius with Emma Chamberlain, The Joe Rogan Experience, and Call Her Daddy. Emma is a prominent YouTuber, and the basis of her podcast is “in every episode she takes a puzzling question, like “Why do onions make us cry?” and is given three guesses to try to solve it.” Emma has only posted one episode this past Thursday, April 11th. She is currently the number 1 podcast. And already, 11.4k people have rated her show, with 10.7k of those ratings being a perfect 5-stars.
While Emma is new to the block, Joe Rogan is a veteran with 300 hundred episodes, 81k 5-star reviews, and a huge fan base. Rogan is a comedian, UFC commentator, and TV host. The show is described as “a long form, in-depth conversation with the best guests from the comedy world, the sports world, the science world and everything between. One of the most popular comedy podcasts, this show has something for everyone.” Rogan also has a national live-show tour, where tickets are going for upwards of $80 a piece.
The final podcast is run by vlogger Alexandra Cooper and best friend Sofia Franklyn. The two girls have nearly 30k 5-star reviews. They are a sub-series of the popular internet sensation Barstool Sports. The show is “risqué.” The show is described as the duo diving “into the explicit details of their life in NYC. In their 20s, the two exploit the f*ck out of their lives, making you feel a hell of a lot better about yours. Relationships, sex, the NY social scene, embarrassing moments, and more are all addressed.”
But this begs the real question, can you make money? The simple answer is yes, but no. The key to supporting yourself as a podcaster is multiple streams of revenue. This should not be surprising considering what we have learned from other platforms. Let’s discuss the options. Sponsorship, like all forms of influence, is what comes to mind first. The going rate, based on what I could find, is $25 to $40 for every 1,000 listeners. However, it takes time and ingenuity to get these paying sponsors. So what else can you do? Donations and crowdfunding from sites such as Patreon, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter are popular. Successful podcast build dedicated, invested fans, willing to support their favorite creators. Many, if not most, podcasts are available for free, but we are now seeing creators offering paid content. Some podcasters might charge $4.99 per episode, the incentive? The fans gain access to episodes early — or bonus content with their ad-free experience. Finally, much like YouTubers, they are branching into branded merchandise and live-tour experience.
In conclusion, if you want live off a podcast, you have to make it BIG. If not, it’s a great side-hustle. It is far more common that this is one of many things that an influencer does. Yes, there are people that are exclusively podcast stars, but more often than not, someone has notoriety already and one of their gigs is hosting a podcast. Maybe Kelsey and I will make it big, but probably not. Either way, this is just the beginning for podcasts. Comment your favorite binge-worthy podcast below!