The Future of Podcasting
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century setting in motion the process of releasing the typewritten word to the general population that eventually developed into webpages such as the one on which you are probably reading this.
Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 setting in motion the process of recording sound that eventually developed into the podcast.
The internet grew from the written word on bulletin boards and in an echo of technological development through the centuries gradually incorporated pictures, sound and video. The podcast was named for the ipod and was one of the best reasons to have an ipod. Podcasts took off. As is so often the way on the internet everyone was talking about podcasts and everywhere you looked there were companies setting up podcasts. The podcast was the future; a way of delivering content to a different audience, the people who listened rather than reading or viewing.
The problem was that everyone read on the internet, especially once the internet became filled with the communications of their friends on social networks. Those who didn’t read wanted something like the television that they were accustomed to watching through the evenings in the pre-internet world. The people who liked to listen to podcasts wasn’t such an attractive audience for whom to produce content, the profit wasn’t there. Gradually the podcasts have begun to disappear. A lot of people who spend time on the web are fans of technology; for these people the disappearance of Stuff magazine’s podcast, followed by Cnet’s main podcast, and most recently by T3 magazine’s podcast has been notable.
These 3 big companies of technology have decided that podcasting is not worth the effort involved. In times of austerity the natural way to save money is to cut back on those expenses that are not profitable enough. Is this the best plan.
Companies are ruled by their shareholders and at regular points they must release details of their profits. The problem with this is that if they do not continually try to save money and build up good dividends then they will lose value in the shareholder’s eyes with the result that funding will become harder, expansion will become harder, even staying afloat will be harder. Lose too much value and you risk being bought out and liquidated.
However the internet has been with us for a while and there are many people who are beginning to feel swamped by the intensity of information that is delivered. A short while ago Facebook was developing into something massive. It was so massive that when it made its initial public offering on the stock market its value ballooned to ridiculous levels that were totally disproportionate to its ability to earn money. Even though this has now died back Facebook is still left with having to sell a lot of advertising to create the necessary profit to maintain its value. The result for Facebook users is that newsfeeds are filled with sponsored posts. Chosen pages are having their posts suppressed if they don’t pay to promote them. Facebook has become chaotic and time consuming to read. Those who love facebook are finding that it is eating up too much time to justify its place in their life.
Facebook is only one example but in general the web demands too much of those who live there. 200 years ago the average reader would own a few books in their lifetime which they would read and reread, eventually memorising them. There is now more information uploaded to the internet everyday than any one individual could hope to read in a lifetime. A lot of it is tripe but a lot of it is stuff that we want to read, in fact most of it is designed specifically to pull all the strings that make us want to read it.
A lot of us spend our working lives sitting at desks interacting with computers; we carry phones which have the same functions; it is possible to spend hours conducting a social life under exactly the same conditions. For the first few years of the internet it was an intriguing mystery. When the world wide web was created it started to become something that ordinary people would use. As more people have begun to use it the web has become a potential target for corporate profit. The result has been the explosion of exciting and enticing content crying out to be seen. If television was ever the drug of the nation then the web is the crack cocaine that was even more addictive.
I am not saying we should all become Amish and reject modern technology but when we find it stealing our lives we have to take something back for the sake of our health. However we can learn from the internet and besides, we enjoy the information. The beauty of a podcast is that we can run in the woods while we listen to them; we can go shopping; we can travel to work or to visit friends; we can sew and paint. All those things that we have lost to the internet can be given back to us by the podcast. As people start to become disillusioned with the theft of their time they can take it back but still enjoy the benefits of news, reviews and opinion.
It seems to me that we are just reaching the point at which the podcast is going to be the solution many of us are looking for. The demand for profit of corporations is going to drive us away from the internet that we have been enjoying for the last few years, but ironically the demand for profit is what is taking away the refuge that the podcast offers. There is a future for the podcast but the companies are throwing it away ahead of time. Like so many things that have come before it, the podcast was invented a little bit ahead of time. With the right approach the podcast could make a comeback with a vengeance.
Having lost three of my favourite podcasts, Stuff, Cnet and T3, I am glad to say that when the Times newspaper decided to shut down its hilarious Bugle podcast the presenters thankfully took matters into their own hands to seek sponsorship and create merchandise to keep it running. The people who will profit when podcasting again attains a height of popularity will be those people like this who do it because they enjoy it and because it is who they are. The companies that were only doing it because they smelled a profit may all have ducked out by that point. There is still a future of great content to be developed and it will be developed by the real enthusiasts, and perhaps that is the best way it should be.