Will Clubhouse Kill Podcasting?

the bonus content you didn't ask for

Short, bonus newsletter today. I’ll start by answering the following question, in detail:

And the answer is: no. Thanks for being a subscriber.

OK, fine, let’s get you your money’s worth for this newsletter. No, it won’t kill podcasting. But it might kill your podcast.

We have now established that there is a significant demand for pre-produced spoken word content, distinct from live radio broadcasts. At last count, a quarter of Americans listen to podcasts every week, and on average those listeners consume well over six hours of podcast content each week. Think about the things you spend at least six hours a week doing—are any of them going away anytime soon? Eating: nope—we are now eating up to 18 hours per day. Sleeping: Maybe less, in quarantine, but still a solid choice morning, noon, or night. Watching Videos: If Netflix dropped Bridgerton Tiger King’s Gambit 2 right now you’d find an extra hour a day, I guarantee it. Raising Children: already outsourced to Alexa and wolves. So, we aren’t all of a sudden going to stop doing something that regular consumers spend 6+ hours a week doing—let’s get that right.

Also—if you look at the top podcasts, there is not much on Clubhouse that competes, really. The shows that are driving the most listens and downloads are heavily produced and scripted, and largely feature narrative storytelling. There are exceptions—maybe you could do a daily news show on Clubhouse like The Daily, but at that point, is it really Clubhouse? Or just another coke machine for your existing content? This American Life and Radiolab could be “rebroadcast” on Clubhouse, I suppose, but certainly not originated there. And I doubt the management at Clubhouse would cotton to people just using the platform as a place to blast existing audio content. That’s kinda not the point of this unique audio platform.

So, the leading podcasts—and podcasting in general—aren’t really competing with Clubhouse. But think about what Clubhouse IS providing—unedited and unscripted interviews and discussions of varying content and audio quality. If that sounds like your podcast, well, then I guess you do have some competition, and that competition comes equipped with a live audience who can also participate in the show.

If that is the kind of show you do, it might actually be better on Clubhouse, because (as I mentioned in my last newsletter) the closest analogue to Clubhouse is not podcasting, but good-old-fashioned “go ahead caller” talk radio. It only lacks a facility to screen calls before they “go on the air” and you’ve got your very own syndicated talk show. But if your podcast pretty much is Clubhouse, only on-demand, then I would submit Clubhouse is a valuable kick in the pants to do better. The ability to truly put on a show—to plan roles and goals for characters, repeatable benchmarks, consistent audio quality, a propulsive narrative, judicious editing, and decentaudioforgodssake—gives podcasting the edge over Clubhouse in creating a consistently entertaining show (the kind people subscribe to.) Think about your show through that lens. If someone can replace your 30-60 minute show by filling that time on Clubhouse, Clubhouse didn’t win that listener; you lost them.

I know, I’m sorry. This is some tough love. But to me, Clubhouse can’t kill podcasting as long as podcasts continue to produce compelling, quality content that Clubhouse can’t replicate in a live, participatory setting. But time spent on Clubhouse could kill a show—maybe your show. It could kill it if you aren’t providing a better experience. It could voluntarily kill it if you decide the way you structure your content might be better suited to Clubhouse than as a podcast. And, as some of you may have already figured out, it could kill your podcast if you spend so much time on Clubhouse that you neglect your own content. Which is why you are getting a Tuesday newsletter, so I too do not fall into that dangerous slough of despond. Because Clubhouse, when it is good, can be fun. And it has something to teach us.

Hopefully I’ll still be back at the end of the week with my usual newsletter, if the fates decree. Have a great week.