A year ago, Mark wrote about the factors that were limiting the growth of podcast adoption. Some of the problems include the difficulty in finding quality content, a lack of understanding of the medium, and a general impatience in getting podcasts to work. I can relate. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to make podcasts a part of my daily life, and have often asked myself why.
After an initial false start with podcasts a couple of years ago, I recently decided to give them another shot. But after trying again, I just don’t feel like podcasts are my thing. Here are the six main reasons why:
1. Podcasts go on too long. I admit that I’ve been impatient with podcasts in the past, so over the last several weeks I’ve been downloading ones related to my topics of interest — mostly technology — to try to integrate podcasts into my media diet. The problem I always encounter is my own impatience. The podcasts on topics that interest me are produced by people with a palpable passion for the subject matter, but a limited grasp of the limitations of the audio or video medium.
On traditional radio, shows take special care to set a pace and create a rhythm that hooks in the listener. The average podcast (outside of the professional ones) seems to disregard all that. Time constraints aren’t an issue. I found that podcasts that could deliver value in 3 minutes languish on for 20. Some last up to an hour. At the risk of sounding like an impatient grouch, who has that much time to spare on just one podcast?
2. They need to get to the point. I’ve found that in many of the podcasts I’ve tried out, hosts rarely cut to the chase. As a Mac user, I read several blog posts a day about Mac news, so I thought I might like a popular podcast, MacCast, around that topic. I was surprised to find that the host spent the first 3 minutes telling listeners why the current episode would be so great and stressing how much he hoped we would like it. The next 2 minutes or so were dedicated to mentioning several sponsored products, describing them in detail, and plugging an advertiser URL again and again.
Not until several minutes into the podcast do we get to the real content, which would have been interesting if it were 6 and not 60 minutes long. The host’s penchant for beating around the bush made me tune out completely. I know podcasts give me the ability to skip through what I don’t want to hear, but there’s a risk I’ll miss what I actually do want to hear. I prefer blogs because clicking through RSS feeds, you see a headline, skim a few lines and you know whether it’s for you or not.
3. Good content is tough to find. While I occasionally enjoy listening to news podcasts from traditional media companies, sifting through the amateur ones on topics of my interest is difficult. Apple’s iTunes suggests things I might like and I almost always don’t. Obviously podcasts are like anything else: There is the good and bad, the marginally decent and the terrible. But the accessibility of the medium to any and all — the spirit of the democratic web — might be podcasting’s downfall when it comes to quality content with solid production values.
In a perfect world, great bloggers would also be amazing podcasters, and content would work well on all mediums, but it doesn’t. I know not everyone cares about how engaging a host is or how well organized a show is, but for me these elements are essential to keeping my attention.
4. Some audio podcasts should be seen and not just heard. Some podcasting friends of mine defend the medium, saying it’s a great way to get information while you’re commuting. Admittedly I don’t commute nor do I have a car, but I’ve found that if you download a podcast to a portable audio MP3 player you might not have what you need to enjoy it.
The other day I decided to subscribe to a popular podcast about Photoshop tips and take it along for a ride on public transportation. I was surprised that the tips — quite specific to the Photoshop tool palette — were presented only over audio. It just isn’t that useful to get software tips on your portable player while you’re not at your computer. And while I’ve called into question the value of doing video for the sake of doing it, there is subject matter that demands visuals.
5. I want quick access to the info I want. Perhaps RSS feeds and blogs have spoiled me for quick, easy-access content that lets me control my time, but I don’t have many spare minutes for inefficient media these days. If I use RSS feed readers to be able to manage my time when consuming lots of different written media, why would I take the time with an experience that forces me to sit back and listen passively, with no indication of whether or not it will be useful or entertaining?
I’ve adopted efficient ways to find what I want when I’m online. With podcasts I can’t control the speed of delivery nor can I be sure of the nature of the information I’m about to consume. While some podcasts have blogs that lay out the content beforehand (and there are even the generous souls who give us time-stamp information so we can skip through what we don’t want to hear), that’s adding another step to the process. Compared to written media, podcasts seem slow.
6. Managing podcasts on devices isn’t streamlined. I am fine with listening to certain podcasts on my home computer, where I have space to spare on my hard drive, or through a feed reader. But I can’t take the constant synching and deleting required to keep my MP3 player up to date. I still have some Ricky Gervais podcasts from 2006 on my player that I forgot to delete, eating up a bunch of disk space. It’s hard to keep up with what’s new and what’s old. Or I’m just too busy to constantly sync my player to my machine. Even though it seems as if podcasts were made for iPods, it isn’t convenient for me to put them on or get them off my iPod.
Call me a podcast skeptic, but I’m not alone. Last year, research firm Forrester put podcast adoption at just 1% for North America. While that doesn’t necessarily mean podcasting doesn’t have potential, it does lead me to believe that either there is something innately unattractive about the medium to the average person or there is just a lack of understanding of it.
I do believe there are great uses for podcasts, such as language learning or streaming university classes to those who don’t have access to them, or catching up on news when you have time to spare (like on a really long flight). But they don’t seem to fit easily into my daily routine, so I’m resigning myself to the fact that not every new medium is for every new media person. Everybody’s got their own media diet, and mine continues to be heavy on written media and weak in podcasts.
What do you think? Do you like or dislike podcasts? Why or why don’t you listen to them? Which podcasts have great content and which ones disappoint? How do you fit podcasts into your daily life?
Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.