What Publishers Can Learn from Podcasting

It’s been well-covered that podcasts are making a resurgence / resurrection / comeback — call it what you will. There are technological trends that have allowed podcasts to  become popular again; namely, connected devices and phones have made on-demand listening easier, while audio remains a medium that can be consumed while doing other activities.

However, industry experts and podcasters alike point to another reason that audiences have embraced the ‘cast: the intimacy that the medium conveys to its audience.

“That’s what makes podcasts so lovely—you feel like you’re spending intimate time with the subject.” – Actor, model, and podcaster, RuPaul, in “The Podcast Resurgence: Your Definitive Listening Guide

Every other form of media is clamoring for engaged, loyal readers — traits that would certainly be encouraged by intimacy with the media consumed. Just what  about podcasting fosters this, and is there anything other mediums can learn from it?

Alex Blumberg,  founder of Gimlet Media, introduced a panel of podcasters at a recent CUNY event  by talking about four things that audiences want out of podcasts: engagement, learning, entertainment, and connection.

Other podcasters on Blumberg’s panel included Heben Nigatu of BuzzFeed’s Another Round, Greg Young of the Bowery Boys, and Manoush Zomorodi of WNYC’s Note to Self. Each spoke of how their show connected with the audience in ways that could inspire even the non-podcasters among us.

Learning: The Value of Bringing History to Life

Young said that he and his co-host, Tom Meyers, create a connection between the listener and their environment — or, in the case of non-New Yorkers, their aspirational environment. They even refer to the connection as a proxy for monetary value: “We’re all paying a ridiculous amount of cash to live in this city, so why not get your money’s worth by knowing more about it?”

Engagement: Getting Audiences Involved in the Content

Zomorodi highlighted projects that actively engage listeners, like Bored and Brilliant, where she invites her audience to participate in challenges and share their experiences afterwards. The project’s initial run had 18,000 people sign up, and follow-up included data and survey results from all the participants.

Connection: Holding Nothing Back Creates Trusting Listeners

When asked about her favorite podcasting moment, Nigatu spoke about her recent interview with Hillary Clinton. In describing her prep for the interview, she quotes  the advice of her editor: “This is never going to happen again, let’s go all out.” Nigatu didn’t hold anything back with respect to the  questions she asked Clinton. Listeners trust  that they’ll hear Nigatu and her co-host, Tracy Clayton, ask questions they won’t hear anywhere else. Nigatu added that being able to have a drink or two while taping the show helped.

But perhaps it’s not just the drinks that are powering intimacy. Could audio actually a more honest medium by nature?

Blumberg cited a 1995 study done by Richard Wiseman that found radio listeners could pick out a lie 74 percent of the time, while newspaper readers and television viewers only succeeded 62 percent and 51 percent of the time, respectively. The conclusion of the study proposed that, without facial cues, we are more able to distinguish lies from truth — making audio media more trustworthy.

In that case, maybe the best way to grow the intimacy between publisher and audience is to add a podcast to the publisher’s wheelhouse. The New Yorker is taking this approach with its  new podcast The New Yorker Radio Hour.

“We talked about it as being inspired from the magazine, rather than listening to the magazine,” – David Krasnow, executive producer of The New Yorker Radio Hour, in “Shouts, murmurs, earbuds: How The New Yorker is making the transition to radio

Of course, questions remain around podcasting; as programming and audiences grow, will the intimacy remain? Though it seems unlikely that podcasts could fall prey to pop-ups and clickbait, the format may face other challenges. In the meantime, digital publishers will hopefully be able to  take away the successes that have attracted audiences so strongly to the on-demand audio format.