Podcasting is a big deal. Over the last decade, the number of podcast listeners has increased steadily, with double-digit growth each year.
Podcasting is a powerful tool, and it's showing no signs of slowing down. The question is, Why do people listen to podcasts?
Want to listen? There's an audio version below
In the middle of 2017, Pat Flynn, host of one of the most popular business podcasts on the planet, and owner of one of the most-read blogs in the world told his readers that if he had to choose one single medium with which to communicate with his audience, he would pick his podcast.
Why is that?
In the early stages of my business, in a conference room in Las Vegas, a British man with glasses came up to me and asked me how my cat, Boomer, was doing. He felt like he knew me enough, though we were just strangers, to ask me how my pet was doing while my wife and I were out-of-town.
Why is that?
Why Do People Listen to Podcasts?
Unlike writing blog posts or producing videos, podcasting is a real, authentic way to connect with people.
Podcasting vs. Blogging
Blog posts are very deliberate. Writers have tools like spell check, Grammarly, the Hemingway App, and all sorts of other tools to help us write better. Whenever I publish a blog post, though they're not always error-free, the end result is a document that's been through 3-4 rounds of editing.
On the other hand, podcasting is raw. While you can (and should) edit your podcast, most shows aren't nearly as edited as a blog post would be. This “rawness,” this real look at a host, offers listeners the opportunity to really understand what someone is saying and the emotion behind it.
Words on a page have no inflection. Text can be misread and misunderstood. As we facetious people like to say, “There is no font for sarcasm.”
While podcasting isn't the perfect medium of communication for conveying meaning (that would be face to face), it does vastly improve on the written word.
When I'm frustrated and writing, I seldom type what I'm really thinking, and when I do, I revise my words and soften my tone. When I'm frustrated or fired up behind the microphone, my tone, my energy, and my frustration all go directly from my mouth to my listeners' ear.
Although this could be a disaster for someone with attitude problems (though that would attract a certain audience too), when a listener hears the emotions of the host, there's a transference of feeling that writing just can't convey.
When compared to blogging, podcasting is a way for someone with a message to spread their ideas faster and with more feeling than if they were to simply write their thoughts down and hit publish.
Podcasting vs. Video
The next logical assumption would be that if more feelings and more emotion are better for conveying a message, then producing a video be even more effective than an audio-only podcast.
But that's not quite true.
Special effects and Hollywood-style studios have ruined the value of video. On screen, messages are washed out, neutered, and completely scripted and watered down. When was the last time you saw someone get fired up on TV?
While video can offer a real connection between the person on screen and the person viewing it, most on-screen personalities have missed the mark. What we end up seeing is either a diluted and emotionless monologue or an over-acted train wreck we can hardly watch.
Think I've missed the mark?
At the end of 2016, according to Forbes, the #1 TV personality in the United States was Dr. Phil McGraw. (Source). The top 5 are all reality-TV oriented, where the host brings on one or several “real people” to talk, perform, or show otherwise unscripted content. Even when Ellen brings professional actors onto her show, the topic of conversation is real life with no scripts in site.
If you want to connect with people, throw away the scripts. And podcasting does that extremely well.
The Cost of Podcasting vs. Blogging and Video
Of the three ways of delivering a message, blogging has the lowest barrier to entry and the lowest cost of production. You could start a blog in less than 10 minutes, and while only spending about $200.
Podcasting, though slightly more expensive, can also be done on a budget of around $200. The gear I have in my home studio comes to about $600 in total.
Producing video is the most expensive. Despite the fact that any smartphone can record great video, to edit that video and produce it is much more expensive. The amount of equipment required to get great quality video, even on a budget, is still over $1000. I love my Canon 80D, but my mobile podcasting studio was much cheaper.
With that said, it's easier and faster to produce a podcast than it is to produce a video. And starting a podcast doesn't have to cost much more than what it would cost you to start a blog. Here's how you can start a professional-quality podcast for less than $200.
The Accessibility of Podcasts vs. Blog and Video
Even slower internet connections can access a blog. Unless your website is incredibly slow, just about anyone could pull up your website and quickly scroll through blog content.
On the other hand, videos take up a lot of space and use up a lot of bandwidth. Nobody ever complained about a blog post buffering, am I right!?
The sweet spot can be found with podcasting. And, it's because of this that listening to podcasts can be done from almost any device from anywhere. A blog post might be 200 kb, a podcast might be 20 MB, a video might be 200 or 2000 MB.
If you were going on a trip and wanted something to read, listen to, or watch on the airplane, you couldn't download 50 blog posts. If you wanted to download 5 hours worth of video, like through Amazon or Netflix, it would take you several hours. However, if you wanted to download enough podcasts to fill that same 5 hours, you might have to spend 30 minutes.
Podcasts are meant to be listened to while on the go. Blog posts and video are not. And it's for that reason that podcasts win the accessibility competition by leaps and bounds.
Why Do People Listen to Podcasts?
People listen to podcasts to learn. They listen to podcasts to hear stories, tune into what their favorite hosts are doing, and to be entertained.
Podcasting has the distinct advantage of being something someone can do while doing other things. When you're driving, you can't read blog posts or watch videos, but you can listen to podcasts. And, with the average commute in the United States being around an hour each day, you can understand the draw of podcasting.
See how long the average commute time is in your city:
Listeners are tired of the news. They're uninterested in the lies, hate, and negativity spread by the mainstream media, and they want something new they can listen to in their cars. And that something new is podcasting.
Almost everyone on earth has a cell phone, and almost every cell phone can play podcasts. When we listen to podcasts, we feel connected to the host and we listen longer than we'd watch a comparable video or read a comparable blog post.
At the top of this post, I asked the question, “Why is that?” And, to answer that question, it's because podcasting allows listeners to feel like they develop a personal connection with the host. When the person behind the microphone shares their story and invites people to the conversation, amazing things happen. Podcasting enables a relationship that no other medium currently provides.
Question: Why do YOU listen to podcasts?