A podcast is an episodic form of digital audio content that a user downloads locally to a device or streams over the internet. It is similar to talk radio in many ways, but with podcasts, listeners have more control over what they listen to and how and where they listen to it. Additionally, podcasts can be used in a wider variety of ways than talk radio. Businesses, media networks, and individual content creators can use podcasts to educate, entertain, or distribute information to their listeners—with the ultimate goal often being revenue growth.
Podcasts can be centered around a niche subject like Dungeons and Dragons or broader topics such as foreign policy or true crime. Some podcasts air daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, and some are organized into seasons that cover a specific story or theme. Podcasts can have one host or multiple co-hosts and can be structured with interviews, panel discussions, or non-fictional storytelling. A narrower genre of podcast is fictional storytelling, which is somewhat of a cross between audiobooks and dramatic television.
History of podcasting
Podcasting started in 2004 with the launch of a program called iPodder, which was developed by former MTV video jockey Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer. This software enabled a user to download radio broadcasts from the internet using Winer’s RSS format and add them to the user’s iPod.
Podcasting continued to make news headlines in 2005:
- Apple released a version of iTunes that added native support for podcasts
- U.S. President George W. Bush started delivering his weekly address via podcast
- The first six-figure podcast deal was signed by the hosts of Mommycast and Dixie Consumer Products
- The New Oxford American Dictionary chose “podcasting” as its Word of the Year
Many public radio networks like BBC, NPR, and Radio One quickly began offering their radio shows as podcasts to listeners who wanted to access past episodes online. In 2006, Apple CEO Steve Jobs did a live keynote demonstration of how GarageBand users could make their own podcasts and make them available on iTunes. Radio personalities and comedians began creating their own podcasts, and podcasting as a whole experienced slow but steady growth.
In 2014, podcasting gained unprecedented momentum. That year, This American Life launched an investigative journalism podcast called Serial. The series host Sarah Koenig explored the complex details of a 1999 muder case and sought to determine whether the man accused of the crime had been falsely convicted.
As the popularity of Serial skyrocketed, so did the popularity of podcasting as a means of content consumption. Since then, podcasts have become a major channel for news media, popular culture, and business marketing.
How podcasts work
A podcast depends on three pieces of technology to work: software to record and edit audio, a platform to distribute the podcast’s RSS feed, and an application or service through which people can download or stream the podcast.
First, a podcast creator records and edits audio using software applications like Apple Logic Pro X, Apple GarageBand, Audacity, and Avid Pro Tools. Online platforms like Zencastr and Soundtrap, or even video conferencing software like Zoom are also useful for recording, but the editing capabilities are often less advanced.
Then, the creator uploads the audio files to a podcast management platform or publishes them to a self-hosted website. With the latter option, creators are responsible for manually configuring the podcast’s RSS feed, distributing it to the major podcast platforms, and tracking its performance metrics. Podcast management platforms like Buzzsprout, Simplecast, and Spreaker, on the other hand, simplify these efforts for a monthly fee.
Finally, listeners can access new podcast episodes from audio platforms like Soundcloud, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify. Listeners who subscribe to a specific podcast will be notified when new episodes are available. Most of these platforms offer the option to stream podcasts over the internet or download them locally to the listener’s device. Some of these platforms have more sophisticated user interfaces than others, and some offer better algorithms for discovering new podcasts based on listener behavior.
In addition to software, podcasters use special hardware to record each episode. Although most smartphones come with voice recording capabilities, most podcasters opt to buy professional-grade equipment. This typically includes a computer with memory and processing speed sufficient to handle audio recording, mixing and editing. The podcaster also needs an external microphone.
Other optional podcasting accessories include:
- An audio interface if the microphone can’t connect to the computer with a USB cable
- An external mixer to control input and output levels
- Closed-back headphones so podcasters can listen to themselves as they’re recording
- A pop filter or windscreen to minimize plosives, which are small air blasts that accompany certain mouth sounds
- A microphone stand or shock mount to prevent unwanted sounds caused by vibrations
- A portable digital recorder for recording audio on the go
Are podcasts free?
Most podcasts are free for listeners to stream or download, but not all. Some creators gate-keep some of their podcast content using tools like Patreon, a service that helps creators generate revenue from paid subscriptions. Apple announced on September 14, 2021 that it would be introducing subscriptions to its Podcasts app, which means more creators will likely start charging money for access to their podcasts.
How do podcasters get paid?
Aside from paid subscriptions, podcasters make money primarily from advertising and affiliate programs. These types of revenue streams can be difficult for new podcasts to establish until they have a sizable audience that will attract advertisers.
Advertisements are typically sold using the cost-per-mille (CPM) structure, meaning a podcast earns a certain amount of money per 1,000 listeners depending on how long it is and where it appears in the episode. Sixty-second ads at the very beginning of an episode, for example, typically cost more than shorter ads that appear midway through.
Affiliate programs are slightly more complex than CPM advertising. When a podcast creator becomes a brand affiliate, they get paid when a listener uses a unique URL or referral code to make a purchase from the sponsor. For this approach to be successful, the podcast creator must have a highly engaged audience that naturally aligns with the brand’s target customer.
How to create a podcast
The following steps are a general overview of how to create a podcast and the key considerations at each point.
- Brainstorm your podcast topic and name. It should be unique enough that it will capture your audience’s attention, but not so specific that few people will be interested.
- Create a content calendar. Once you’ve decided how often new episodes will be released, fill in the specific content details of what each episode will cover.
- Find relevant guests. Most podcasts gain more exposure and notoriety if they interview guests at some point in an episode.
- Plan out episode coverage and interview content. This could look like a script or specific talking points, and should include any advertising details.
- Record and edit the podcast audio. Minimize long pauses and microphone feedback, but make sure the conversation still feels natural.
- Upload the episode to the host platform. Include relevant graphics and an episode description.
- Promote the episode on social media and/or email. Social media and email marketing are two of the most common ways listeners stay engaged.
Examples of podcasts
Examples of popular podcasts include:
B2B Nation: The podcast for B2B marketers by B2B marketers (Source: Apple Podcasts)
Crime Junkie: A weekly true crime podcast (Source: Apple Podcasts)
The Daily: A daily twenty-minute news podcast (Source: Apple Podcasts)
This American Life: A weekly public radio program and podcast (Source: Apple Podcasts)
The Beef & Dairy Network Podcast: The number one podcast for those involved or just interested in the production of beef animals and dairy herds (Source: Apple Podcasts)