This thread over at Tea and Podcasts got me thinking about the nature of podcasting and listener figures.
Many people, especially when they start use the listener figures as a guide to how well they are doing; more downloads = better right? And inevitably, in this capitalist world where self worth tends to be measured by external things, get disenfranchised that they don’t have more listeners, or enough, or aren’t increasing. And sometimes that leads to podfading, even death (only joking).
Thing is, this is an old media thought process, leftover baggage from the likes of RADAR (the UK radio ratings body). In broadcast media, which is usually advertising supported, you want to transmit to the maximum amount of people, to please your advertisers or fulfill your charter/remit. In podcasting this isn’t the case. Why?
Well in podcasting it’s not about width it’s depth. You may ‘broadcast’ to only a few people, but the show means much more to those people than a radio playing in the background – the connection is deeper, more meaningful and more direct. This cannot be accounted for in listener figures, or judged at all by ‘industry metrics’.
A sign of this is what happened recently to Martin (Green Dragon) with his stalker/spamming situation. It turned out to be a 15 year old disgruntled listener. Now not glossing over the fact that this was an upsetting and worrying sitation (as anything involving anonymous allegations and stalking would be), the interesting thing for me is the connection that this kid formed with Martin’s show.
In this case it’s disturbing (and I have to add thankfully rare) but is it a symptom of a deep connection forming between audience and podcaster? I think so – obviously not all connections are going to be positive, but breaking the broadcast rule about personal information (haven’t you noticed radio DJs rarely give information about their private lives?) and talking more 1-on-1 leads I think to a more direct emotional connection with the listener. Yes there are risks with that approach, but then again there are risks talking to anyone on the Net, and from my experience the gains far exceed the rare problems you come across.
It’s one of the reason I love podcasting.
Sadly though, I get the impression businesses involved in podcasting ignore it because it’s not easily measurable (like beauty, art and truth, all the other reasons why you live which are intangibles to that world) but that myopia doesn’t mean it’s not there. Chasing figures like ambulances might make the accountants happy and make the ex-radio people all warm and glowy, but it does underestimate the strength of podcasting, and is applying an outmoded model onto a very new media still in it’s infancy.
I’ll be probably switching to libsyn soon (Oi libsyn, any freebies going? I’ve gotta get some benefit for being one of the first UK podcasters still going so I’ll be able to find out more about who’s downloading the show – but figures aside, be it 1, 100 or 1000 listeners it’s about the connection you have with your audience, it’s far more meaningful and deeper than probably any other media.