We all have heard of it. Someone, perhaps even you, starts a podcast. It’s exciting. It’s going to be chart-topping, have a massive impact, and dominate the niche. You get all the right equipment, you take the best advice, and start laying down the audio adventure you always dreamed of - golden nuggets of soundbites and storytelling that just might change the world.
The first 3 episodes are uploaded, you got the form letter from Apple saying you’ve been “accepted”. The show dances around the New & Noteworthy section for a week or so. Then, you start seeing a handful of positive reviews come in and it’s time to start cutting the next couple of episodes.
Then it happens. Rather, it doesn’t... You decide to skip a week. Your guest cancels, you’re behind on work, and you're just too tired. Heck, you don’t want to spend another 3 hours in post-production. No matter - you skip a week. And then the next. Suddenly, you start to Podfade.
It gets so far gone that little justifications for not continuing begin to creep into your inner dialogue... “I didn’t have that many listeners anyway”. “I really don’t have time for another passion project”. “The podcasting space is still to small”. “There’s no money to be made”.
So can something be done? Are there preventative measures? Is there a cure to Podfade? Yes, yes, and yes! Let me introduce The Podfly Cure for Podfade, as we call it, “short-run podcasting”.
Why does a podcast have to go on and on in the first place?
Well, it doesn’t! There’s a still misnomer floating about that a podcast is an online radio show that has to happen every week. Further to this, a lot of folks will tell you that in order to grow your audience, you need to have consistent releases. False, and false!
Not only have Serial and StartUp both proved this to be incorrect, but the podcast hosting companies who will back up that many of their most popular shows have tremendous followings of listeners, and truly inconsistent release schedules. (Check out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History release schedule!) They don’t release shows because it’s Tuesday. They don’t release shows because people in a Facebook group said John Lee Dumas does it that way. They release shows because they are ready.
By extension, it’s fair to consider that not only you do not have to release your show every week, you don’t even have to consider podcasting as an indefinite activity.
Once you start, you don’t know how to stop.
Starting a podcast is starting a relationship. You’re entering into a spoken contract with your listeners that you intend to stick with it. This often begins with the best of intentions, but can slowly disintegrate into a diminishing return. How so? Well, we can become consumed with our commitment and fail to step back and examine whether the podcast remains aligned with its initial goals. This can lead to focusing on quantity and consistency, rather than on quality.
In many cases, the best choice for a podcaster is to simply stop. It’s OK to pivot. It’s OK to move on to something else. Your listeners will forgive you. Sunk cost is indeed a fallacy. They’ll miss you for a few weeks, but they’ll find something else to fill the gap. Record your final show, thank listeners for their loyalty, and share with them in the most authentic and clearest way possible that you are moving on to new projects.
Now that we’ve got that pesky show of yours out of the way, let’s consider releasing short runs of episodes.
The short-run approach.
You don’t write a book and release endless chapters, right? Well, perhaps if you’re writing Game of Thrones. But those of us with worldly responsibilities aren’t able to commit to an open-ended project schedule that podcasting tends to demand. So why not approach a podcast as an encapsulated experience? Set a specific number of episodes, schedule the pre- and post-production in batches, and set a clear marketing strategy for a finished project.
This method has numerous advantages. Let’s outline just a handful:
Is it still a podcast?
Yes. It’s media delivered by RSS feed over the Internet that users can subscribe to. Podcasts are not defined by release schedules. Is House of Cards still a T.V. series even though it comes out all at once? You betcha. (Season 4, March 4th #justsayin)
What’s the marketing advantage?
You can employ tried and true marketing techniques that you would use for the release of any short- or long-form media. The big difference being you can have a total project budget for marketing, rather than ongoing monthly expenses.
What’s the evergreen advantage?
It will sit there, forever. After you’ve released your show, a hosting account for as little as $5/month can keep your RSS feed active and your content available. Listeners can discover your show for years to come. Led Zeppelin stopped making records years ago (sadly), but the back catalogue continues to garner sales. Your podcast is now another part of your body of work for folks to discover when the time is right.
What are the benefits to the listener?
Having a set amount of material that an audience can consider for consumption demonstrates that you value their time. It can be a tough sell asking someone to commit to a weekly show, for ‘who knows’ how long. However, seeing 5 or 6 episodes that are a tight 40 minutes each in iTunes is an edible elephant.
But how can I get all my awesome info into a short-run podcast?
Constraints spark creative solutions. Setting parameters for yourself results in a more focused approach. Though attribution for the quote is debated, it nevertheless rings true, “always leave them wanting more”.
Most of us strive for listeners to visit our website, sign up for our services, or buy our products - not stick around and just listen to our podcast forever and ever. If you give them just enough to be interested, they’ll find their way to your brand online. If you concentrate on one topic for the release, it exhibits your expertise in a narrow discourse. Either way, it’s always good to save some for later.
Everyone knows where they stand. Expectations are set and met. Perhaps this isn’t a miracle cure for a systemic issue in podcasting. But it can be an effective strategy to deliver your message to a broader audience, and not spend too much of your most valuable resource - TIME.