Is Normal...Normal?

the variety meat of newsletters

Uptown Normal, looking east on North Street, 2011

A bit of a grab bag today. The scrapple of newsletters. Let’s dig in.

I just sent out our end-of-quarter insights note to our podcasting clients, and wanted to share one aspect with you. I was struck by just how stable our Podcast Consumer Tracker data looked by the end of the quarter. Time spent listening was up. Genre rankers had hardly changed at all. You expect data in a project with a large sample to be stable, and, reassuringly, it was. Podcast listening data looked…normal.

But podcasting isn’t “normal,” at least not yet. Since we measure reach, not downloads, we have access to some pretty remarkable data about the humans who are currently podcasting’s best customers. And they like Joe Rogan. A lot. There is a reason I write about the show so frequently—it remains a massive outlier. In fact, in terms of the percentage of weekly podcast listeners who listen to at least one show per week, the reach of just one show—JRE—is larger than the reach of most podcast networks. It’s not quite like having a Super Bowl every week, but it is a significant outlier. And the size of that footprint tells me it is possible to aggregate an audience that size in podcasting. It’s just that only one show has done it. And that is probably not “normal.”

Speculating what happens to that audience once JRE is exclusive to Spotify is beyond my ken. But to me, when podcasting is truly “normal,” there are multiple Rogans at the top of our chart, with multiple, mainstream hits fighting over tenths of a share, as they do in television. About a quarter of Americans listen to podcasts every week. That means about three quarters don’t listen weekly or even at all. Things are not normal, not yet. Normality, if there is such a thing, is a journey. In many ways, even though some of us have been in the space for 15 years, we are just pulling out of the driveway.

A thing I like: On the Ologies podcast, host Alie Ward does something I find highly commendable: when listeners submit questions for the guests, she seemingly reads all of the names of the listeners who submitted them. Like, all of them, and many people submit the same question. This is why I chafe so much anytime people talk about podcasting as an “intimate medium.” It can be, sure, but does it have to be? It’s pretty lonely out here in pandemic land. It’s nice, sometimes, to feel like you are at a party.

Up and Vanished is another example of a show that encourages engagement, with a deep website featuring loads of ways for listeners to continue the investigation, add comments, and even leave voice mails that are featured on special call-in shows. I have caught myself several times as a podcaster myself wishing I had more interaction with listeners. I know there are multiple innovators out there looking for a technical solution to improve listener engagement. But ultimately, it’s not a technology problem, is it? I just didn’t ask for the order.

I caught a little of the New Media Show this week, with hosts Todd Cochrane and Rob Greenlee interviewing Dan Franks of Podcast Movement. Since there are no longer “places,” Podcast Movement is hosting a virtual conference this fall, and once again I’ll be on the roster. I’ve done a few virtual conferences this year, and (continuing on the theme of engagement) some of them have done a great job providing at least some kind of networking. It’s definitely an uphill climb, though. There are some good technology solutions, but it’s hard to reproduce the serendipity of the hallways at a conference, which is what most of us miss more than the sessions.

Some of that, though, is me. I don’t know about you, but since the conference is on my desk, just like my work and my family and my entertainment and my dinner and my whole entire life it just doesn’t feel like I am “getting away.” “Virtual” is the wrong word for these kinds of things. I don’t know what the right word is. To me, when I think virtual, I think about something totally immersive. Maybe I should “attend” these conferences with Oculus Rift (and that certainly IS the future of conferences) but in the short term, I am doing something a little different for Podcast Movement—I’m planning to leave the house, sign out of the office, book a hotel, and be fully present. I miss conferences a lot—they were a big part of my life before [gestures broadly at the outside world]—and I suspect eliminating all of the micro- and macro-distractions of home life will greatly improve the experience.

I’ve always viewed conferences as a kind of mental sorbet: a way to pull myself out of my work routine and refresh my thinking before taking on the next “season” of work. For me, part of pulling myself out of that routine is to physically pull myself out of that routine. Maybe that will help you, too.

That’s grab-baggy enough for an August Friday, I think.

What I’m Listening To: BT, baby. BT is back. The Lost Art Of Longing is bangin’.

What I’m Eating: We are trying a new home meal delivery service (I won’t name it here, lest you think this newsletter is just one long affiliate marketing scheme) but it’s pretty tasty and a concept I think we will see more of—prominent chefs, sharing a single facility, in a “dark kitchen” that serves no in-house guests. Ghostline, in DC, is another take on the dark kitchen concept. Chefs gotta chef, and eaters gotta eat, so I am all-in on supporting innovation. Some of our favorite places are still not back, and may never be.

OK, fine, it’s this one (yes, this is an affiliate link.)

What I’m (re)Watching: Six Feet Under. You forget how good it was from the very first episode. Still the greatest finale in TV history.

Have a great weekend.



Photo credit: By Willjay - Own work, CC BY 3.0,