7 Reasons Why Good Podcasts Fail at Being Great.


Podcasting today stirs up memories of the crazy speculation during the dot com boom in the 90’s, when vast amounts of venture capitalist dollars were thrown at wacky entrepreneurs who didn’t have a clue how to turn a profit.

As podcast consultant Steve Goldstein said recently about our industry: “The velocity at which this has shifted to a business of acquisitions and aggregation by big players is head spinning.”

The current podcast trend won’t end soon. Giant tech and media companies are still playing catch-up, chasing the growing audience. They will be pouring in a lot more money in 2020 and beyond.

But it’s a crap shoot with a lot of pain. Most large investments in podcasting will chase projects that fail to win a large or loyal audience.

So, with this in mind, here are seven reasons why good podcasts fail at being great:

  1. They’re Too Long. The average one-way commute time in the United States is 26.1 minutes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Why ask your listeners to come back and finish the episode later in the day? If you have great stories to share, serve up more shows. One podcast fan told me: “My drive home from work is half-an-hour. When I pull into my driveway, I want the episode to be over.” 
  2. Most podcasts don’t leave you wanting more. Frequently, your listeners aren’t as in love with the content as you are. Producers who have spent many hours listening to their audio need a fresh pair of ears: A ruthless editor who goes through and knocks out repetitive or redundant thoughts and phrases. When making  podcasts, always remember that a listener’s time is precious.
  3. They fail the 30 second test. Make the urgent case for why listeners who stumbled upon your show should listen. Do it right at the start of the show. Each episode should have something interesting, funny or surprising within the first 30 seconds.
  4. Your Host Has Zero personality. This is an intimate, informal medium. Listeners have a deep connection with their favorite podcasters, but too often, compelling interviews and fascinating stories are served up as sound-bites without questions or input from a compelling, trusted host.
  5. There’s Too much noise. Who wrote the memo that said every interesting thought or podcast plot twist has to be accompanied by music? Too often a tinkling piano or sad notes from a violin are a distraction to the narrative. Ambient sound or clips from old newscasts have their place, but they are being used too frequently by many podcasters. Far too often, noise stretches 25 minutes of information into a 40 minute episode.
  6. No audience involvement. Live shows are a great way to build a fan base, but they’re not the only way. Loyal listeners want to feel loved. Ask them for their ideas. Offer swag. Even if your show is made by a big media company, invite your crowd to support you on Patreon or some other fundraising site.
  7. You Never Answered Question One. When launching our first podcast nearly five years ago, I failed on this one! We never seriously considered the question that all producers should ask before they make their first show: Who is your target audience, and how do you find them?

More than ever, smart and highly skilled producers, audio engineers, journalists, writers, dramatists and comedians are jumping into podcasting. Our medium is bursting with talent and ideas. But almost all of us can be better at our ultimate goal: forging a true connection with our audience, one listener at a time.

Richard Davies is a podcast narrator, producer and content consultant. He is executive producer and co-host of the weekly solutions journalism podcast, “How Do We Fix It?”.

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