Podcasts are great. As a full-time podcaster I believe in their power to democratize media and diversify the kinds of content we're able to find. And as a Catholic podcaster, I love the ability to connect with a wide audience to share a faith-filled content. But podcasting has a huge flaw: Our dependence on big tech companies.
On the one hand, anyone can make a podcast. All you need is a way to record your voice and if you have a smartphone, you have a very capable digital voice recorder in your hand. There are apps available on phones that let you record directly into them and the app does all the hosting and posting work for you.
At a slightly more advanced level, there are podcast hosting specialty companies like Libsyn and Blubrry and others that act as online repositories for your podcast. There are also directories that connect you with listeners. Apple Podcasts is the oldest, but there's Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Amazon, and dozens of others. Each one gives listeners listings of podcasts of every kind and genre. The listener clicks a button to follow and they get fed new episodes as they are posted.
But that's where the flaw is. If someone comes to my site and clicks a play button for an episode, the episode is played from the file I host. But when they open the podcast app on their device, that's another layer of abstraction. Ultimately, yes, the app/directory is giving the listener the file I'm hosting, but not until after some under-the-hood stuff happens. And that's stuff I don't control.
I regularly get emails from listeners who have encountered one problem or another listening to our content:
- "This episode on Stitcher from a year ago gives me an error message when I try to play it."
- "None of your episodes will play on this directory you hadn't heard of until my email. "
- "Your podcast has suddenly disappeared from Apple Podcasts."
- "Multiple random episodes of your podcast are suddenly missing from the listings on this directory."
These are paraphrases of just a sample of the kinds of messages I've received.
The problem is that these directories are mixed bag. They give us exposure to listeners, but they also introduce complexities we can't control. Listeners don't know that. They just know that they can't listen to the latest episode and they expect me, the podcast producer, to fix it. Unfortunately, most of these intermediary sites don't give me the tools to fix it and I have to submit a support request alongside the 500,000 other podcast creators who are also looking for help in making sure their shows get delivered.
This isn't unique to podcasting. In fact, it's even worse for YouTubers because they have one big company they rely on to get their shows out. If YouTube/Google has a problem with their show, they're out of luck. There are other video platforms, but they are fleas compared to the YT behemoth. Even regular old web sites suffer similarly. If Google and the other search engines don't list your site in searches, you may as well not have a site at all.
As much as the internet has democratized media, it still suffers from a gatekeeper problem. The question is how do you manage thousands of individual creators all wanting to be found by millions of media consumers without being some kind of gatekeeper?
I don't know. What I do know is that people want to listen to my shows and sometimes they can't due to an issue totally out of my control and that's very frustrating.