Along with video and private messaging, the return of and explosion in podcasts is one of the major success stories of digital media in the last couple of years.
About eight years ago, podcasts looked like they might take the marketing world by storm. The agency I worked for at the time invested in broadcast quality podcasting equipment in anticipation of it taking off. It was not cheap at that time, but it sat in a drawer gathering dust and, to my knowledge, was never used in anger.
By 2014, podcasting was all but dead from the mainstream. And then, seemingly overnight, a resurgence was under way. And boy did it resurge!
Last year, podcast listening grew by 23%. Around 6000 new podcasts are now launched every single month. The total number of podcasts now stands at around 450,000, half of which are active.
Regular listeners tune in to an average of five shows per week, and it’s estimated that there are in the region of two billion podcast subscriptions on iTunes alone. That’s a lot of audio.
So yeah, podcasting is popular.
Why Did Podcasts Go Mainstream?
A perfect storm of technological and cultural shifts saw people suddenly start to take interest in streaming audio a couple of years ago. Spotify had already brought music streaming to the masses, as Netflix had done for TV and film. We’d become accustomed to the idea of on-demand entertainment, but it still relied on either a computer or, at the very least, a good wifi connection.
During 2014 though, mobile technology took a leap forward with 4G. Suddenly streaming audio onto your smartphone reliably, on-the-go and without a wifi connection was possible, and our on-demand culture started to heavily impact commercial radio.
Then along came Serial, one of the most extraordinary audio series ever produced, and the world of podcasting went stratospheric.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Prior to 4G, most podcasts were listened to on a computer. Now, 64% are listened to on a mobile device. Podcasts are a commuter’s best friend, and I now listen to four or five hours of podcasts in my car every single week.
The podcasts I listen to are extremely varied in topic and tone. I subscribe to about 20 and they vary from professional interest (digital and communications) to personal interest (football/soccer) to general interest. Some I listen to sporadically, some I never miss an episode, and I’m always on the lookout for others.
I use podcasts to widen my knowledge across a variety of topics as well as for entertainment. What follows is a list of 11 of the best podcasts I’ve discovered that I recommend are very worth your time. So on with the show!
1. Reply All
One of the first podcasts I ever listened to was StartUp, a show about the trials and tribulations of setting up a business. In this case, a podcast business called Gimlet Media. Reply All was the first podcast that Gimlet produced (other than StartUp) and I’ve listened to every single episode in its near two year history.
Reply All covers, in a broad sense, stories about the internet. The team digs up some fascinating stories on a variety of topics, but what perhaps makes the show stand out is the warmth and humour of the two hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman (pictured above). If you only listen to one podcast, make it this one.
Recommended starter episode: #64 On the Inside
Freakonomics is kinda difficult to pigeon hole. It bills itself as ‘the hidden side of everything’, which sort of sums it up but sort of doesn’t.
Essentially, host Stephen Dubner digs into a massively diverse set of topics from an economic perspective. But although that sounds heavy, it really isn’t. It could be the economics of sleep, for example. Freakonomics is one to get you thinking about stuff you’ve not thought about before.
Recommended starter episode: When Willpower Isn’t Enough (31/12/2015)
3. Science Vs
One of two recently launched podcasts from the Gimlet Media studios, Science Vs grabbed me from the very first episode. Host Wendy Zukerman pulls apart a variety of topics from a scientific angle to dispel (or prove) common myths about subjects as varied as organic food, gun control and the G spot!
Aussie host Zukerman is an outstanding presenter whose infectious enthusiasm and sunny disposition can brighten even the dullest of drives down the M40.
Recommended starter episode: Organic Food (26/08/2016)
4. Death, Sex & Money
It does what it says on the tin, more or less. Personal stories about death or sex or money. Anna Sale addresses lots of questions and issues that we don’t, and probably should, talk more about. With a soothing voice and laugh that you never tire of, it’s an interesting exploration of the human psyche.
Recommended starter episode: Siblinghood (01/07/2015)
5. Stuff You Should Know
Ever wanted to know all about Polar Bears or Caffeine or The Great Wall of China or Anesthesia? Then Stuff You Should Know is the podcast for you. With a new and (seemingly) completely random topic of conversation each week, Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant unpick, investigate and interpret all the information they can find on a subject and provide the low down on common things and, you guessed it, how they work.
It can be hit and miss depending on the topic, but I’ve learned loads from some of the episodes.
Recommended starter episode: How ESP Works (03/03/2015)
6. The Nerdist
I’m not into celebrity culture at all, but The Nerdist is refreshing in a field of fake stories, fake pictures and fake everything. Essentially, Chris Hardwick (pictured above with Gillian Anderson) invites big name actors and musicians into the studio for a chat about life, the universe and everything.
His interviews go off on wild tangents and you get a real sense of what Butch Vig and Quentin Tarantino and David Schwimmer and Jodie Foster are really like. It’s like having a beer and chewing the fat with an A lister.
Recommended starter episode: #623 Gillian Anderson
The third Gimlet podcast on this list, Heavyweight only launched a couple of weeks ago but became a ‘must-listen’ for me within three episodes. Jonathon Goldstein tells stories of people whose lives have been led one way by a specific decision or occurrence in the past and who would, perhaps, like closure on ‘how it could have been’. Fascinating listening.
Recommended starter episode: #2 Gregor
8. Song Exploder
At only 15 minutes per episode, Song Exploder is fantastic for filling in those gaps near the end of your journey. Hrishikesh Hirway asks musicians from CHVRCHES to U2 to pull apart a song and explain how it was made, piece by piece. If you love music, you’ll love this.
Recommended starter episode: Bjork, Stonemilker (17/12/2015)
3 Podcasts for Communications People
I don’t subscribe to very many communications podcasts, preferring to spend my limited listening time on things that broaden my wider knowledge. But there are a handful that I try to tune into, three of which are:
9. The Marketing Companion
I’m a long-time listener to Mark Schaefer and Tom Webster’s weekly podcast, which seeks to delve deeper into some of the more complex digital marketing topics and trends. Both Mark and Tom really know their stuff, and the result is a podcast that more often than not is informative and, importantly, thought provoking.
10. The Science of Social Media
A new launch from Buffer Inc, The Science of Social Media interviews one thought leader each week on a relevant topic. The strength is in the quality of the guests, and if Buffer can maintain that it’s onto a winner.
11. Beer & Bytes
Beer & Bytes is, for me, a ‘normal’ person’s view of the week’s digital marketing news. Not that there’s anything normal about Michael Taggart and Amy Rowe and they way they deliver their podcast! Invariably informative and entertaining, Beer & Bytes is relatively new and relatively raw, and that’s what gives it its charm.
What am I missing? Let me know what you’re listening and what you recommend…