The podcasting world has changed quite a bit since I downloaded my first show over ten years ago. I was using a tiny mp3 player that was not anything close to the ipods and iphones of today. I would download the podcast to my computer then transfer it over to my player to listen to while working. Now all I have to do is search for a show on itunes and I can download it directly to my listening device. No transferring and it is as simple as can be.
There has been another big change to podcasting since I was rocking a Sanyo player with about one gigabyte of storage. What was once a niche that was mainly inhabited by independent podcasters has been infiltrated by big corporate types with studios, well-known names, and a ready-made audience. Sure there were some big names that got on board with the podcasting train early on, but mostly podcasts were for hobbyist doing it for little to no pay. Now you have no problem finding mainstream radio shows that have been infused with a podcast to go with the radio broadcast. The independent shows are still a big part of the podverse, but it appears that the window is closing on the opportunity to make a mark starting out as a noname. That is a shame, since it is important that the small independent voices are heard along with the big media types.
We have no problem getting the mainstream view of the world. All we have to do is flip on the TV and we can hear what the known names are saying. We need to hear alternative voices about the topics we care about. Podcasters who operate with an inexpensive studio or just a decent mic and a passion for their craft are vital to us as listeners. There are obvious reasons why these independent podcasts are critical to the public. Guys and girls with no link to corporate talking points or restrictions are a vital part of getting a different perspective on newsworthy topics. Some would say independent podcasters are vital for getting to the truth. I would trust a podcaster with no corporate ties talking about Apple products over one sponsored by Apple. The same goes for a news podcaster. CNN podcasts don’t carry much weight among the tech savvy public. But a guy with no big network ties can sometimes gain the trust of the multitudes simply because of his detachment from corporate money.
I am not saying we should boycott any and all podcasts that have big money behind them. There are high quality shows out there that are deserving of our attention. We should just make sure that we give the little guy the chance to thrive as well. That means trying out new shows instead of just going with the top of the charts each time we search for new podcasts. Seeking out alternatives to what the masses are choosing or itunes is choosing for you is your responsibility if you want to be informed from different perspectives.
How independent podcasts are funded is the biggest issue for these pioneers of internet audio. They need fairly big audiences of a few thousand to make a dent with sponsorships. But to get to that point they need to survive long enough to build an audience. Podcasting is a great hobby, but most folks can’t afford to put much effort into it without any financial backing. They can work off donations from dedicated listeners for a while. But that may only pay the hosting bills and for a bit of their time. And dedicated listeners can only support so many podcasts. Even tiny monthly donations can add up when a listener is trying to support several podcasts. There is only so much money to go around, especially with an economy that is tight for most Americans.
The competition for ears will not slow down anytime soon. Podcasts were once on the outskirts of everyday society. Now the listening experience, once reserved for user geeks like myself, is opening up for many more people through itunes and other podcatchers. I just hope that the little guys and gals don’t get weeded out of the podcasting space. The tiny voices are just as important as the big time voices, if not more so.