Just about one year ago internet entrepreneur and paid blogging pioneer Jason Calacanis announced that he was getting out of the podcast business, declaring “moderate success is the enemy of breakout success.” Although his podcasting company ThisWeekIn.com was already breaking even, he said that it wouldn’t scale, concluding “Very, very few podcasts have made it to scale, and to me that says this business will never be big.”
So I was a little surprised to read his post on Tuesday explaining why he invested $250,000 in a podcasting app. He says nothing of his earlier comments about podcasts not being able to scale. Instead he focuses on the merits of the app, called Swell, and its founder, as well as his own knowledge of the podcasting space.
Now, I’m not accusing Calacanis of doing a 180 on podcasting. In fact, producing and distributing podcasts is a very different business from creating a better podcast listening app. His reasons for investing in Swell are clear-eyed. Quite accurately, he hones in on podcasting’s principal challenge: “The biggest problem in podcasting is discovery, as in getting the right people to your podcast.” But, despite his “addiction” to podcasting and talk programming, “Swell helped me discover a bunch of new programs I didn’t know existed.”
Calacanis makes another point that I think is particularly notable. He says the concerns of Swell’s founder “were around two important people in his ecosystem: the listeners and the content producers.” But, “Too often Silicon Valley companies are obsessed with the former and not the latter.” On the other hand, Calacanis thinks Swell’s founder understands the need to support content creators, e.g. podcasters, which he says “made me feel like their heart was in the right place.”
I strongly agree with Calacanis on this point. For most independent content creators–whether a filmmaker, blogger, photographer or podcaster–it often feels like you’re just stuffing your work into a bottle and tossing it into the ocean. While platforms like YouTube offer an unprecedented opportunity to be seen by a world-wide audience, traversing that ocean is perplexing, and neither YouTube nor Google provide a good map. Calacanis says he’s a fan of the podcasting app Stitcher, too, and I agree that the company provides constantly improving tools to podcasters to offer and manage their programs on the platform.
In contrast, iTunes is much more hands-off. For the average podcaster you submit your feed and metadata and hope for the best. Good luck getting back any analytics or stats on how many subscribers or listeners you have.
I have to admit that Swell has been on my “to try” list for a little while now, and I only just installed the app before writing this piece. I don’t know if it yet offers that crucial podcaster support along with a better podcast discovery and listening experience. I will definitely put it to the test and report back.
In other podcasting stories…
- USAToday’s PopCandy is a consistent source for podcasting coverage, and writer Whitney Matheson has published her favorite ’casts of 2013. There are few surprises in the list, most of them being fixtures in the iTunes top podcasts list, with the Low Times podcast being a notable exception. However, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m quite glad to see this list in such a relatively prominent forum, rather than reading yet another “hey, remember podcasts?” piece.
- Arun Rath of NPR’s All Things Considered gives a listen to Judge John Hodgman. He says it’s “a better way,” than daytime TV judges like Judge Judy. Oh, he also talks to the Judge, along with Bailiff Jesse Thorn.