In the beginning, podcasting was just the independent podcastersa person, a mic, and a computer, with the whole Internet available to listen. Okay, well, the whole Internet didn't listen. But a small focused niche didmostly other podcasters. We listened to each other and promoted each other. When there were a couple of hundred podcasters, we were small, unknown, and close-knit. We were podcasters, a tiny group, but still a group. We would proudly proclaim that to others just so we could explain to them what podcasting was, because we knew they hadn't heard of it. We'd either get the response, "Oh, uh, that's one of those Internet things, right?" or "Cool! How do you do it?" and thus another podcaster was born.
We knew it wouldn't last. While businesses were just getting into blogs in 2004, podcasts were still outside the radar. Apple sat quietly in the corner, the dormant volcano. We watched it warily, wondering when it was going to erupt. Would it rain lava down on our heads? Or would it create a magnificent new island paradise? We continued to podcast, knowing the day would comethe day we were no longer the only kids in the sandbox. We just didn't know when.
When iTunes v4.9 launched in June of 2005 with support for podcasting, it brought millions of new listeners with it (once the kerfuffle of "How do I get my podcast listed in iTunes?" died down). One unexpected result of the launch was that the majority of podcasters suddenly found themselves wearing a new badge, one they hadn't coined: the indie podcaster. We no longer saw the usual suspects at the top of the podcast heap: Suddenly there was a Disney podcast, and a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy podcast. It had taken 10 or so months, but the big businesses had finally decided to try podcasting out for themselves, and many podcastersnow "indie" podcasterswondered what this would do to their subscriber numbers, not to mention their ranking on the various Top-50 sites.
It took a while for the average listener to catch on, but many of the big media podcasts were nothing but repackaged content. Strip existing content of the ads and convert the audio to MP3, and you've got a podcast! Fans of Queer Eye realized they were just hearing the tips from the end of the show again. Some networks claimed to have podcasts about shows, but just had someone rehashing the plots of the shows on the podcast, which was of little interest to some people. Most, however, were so entranced by the newness of the technology that they eagerly downloaded the content again, and the repackaged shows became popular.
Some corporations got it right. NPR now podcasts many of its more popular shows, and PBS and the Discovery Channel also have podcasts. Some popular television programs have podcasts that add to their content instead of rehashing: Battlestar Galactica (http://scifi.com/battlestar/downloads/podcast/) has DVD-like producer commentary that goes along with the newest episodes, requiring you to listen to the podcast as you watch the episode. The official Lost podcast (http://abc.go.com/primetime/lost/podcasts.html) has interviews with the cast, stories about filming, and discussions of the latest episodes by executive producers.
The key point that big media needs to understand is that podcasting is an offshoot of the brand they are trying to sell. At first it may not make them any money. It was this reason that businesses moved so slowly into websites back in 1995: Where was the money? Now if businesses don't have a website, many assume they're too far behind the times to do business with. Whether it makes them money or not, they need a site as part of their marketing planand they may need to eventually view podcasting the same way. One thing is for sure: Podcasting is catching on with corporations faster than blogging did. In the meantime, what happens to indie podcasting?
Indie podcasting will never die, the same way personal home pages and everyday blogs haven't died, even though corporations have their own pages and blogs. The people who do it, the individuals, do it because they love it. Unlike the corporations, we don't do it to make money, we don't do it to establish or imprint a brand. We find our passion and talk about it, and other people with that passion flock to us. Knitters have their own podcast, as do fans of Celtic music. Gaming geeks (both computer and board) have many podcasts to listen to, and fans of political debate also have content to access.
Several pundits like to turn big media versus indie podcasts into a competition. David versus Goliath is a favorite metaphor, but we don't think it fits in this scenario. Although many popular podcasts saw their rankings fall on some of the sites when corporate podcasts came onto the scene (the independent podcasters in the top 20 in iTunes are few), we don't know any indie podcasters who have quit because of the emergence of the corporations. Even if their ranking has dropped, few podcasters have seen their listener numbers drop since the corporations got into podcasting. If your fans love your show, they're unlikely to dump you just because their favorite TV show also has a podcast. Just like choosing among TV programs, people have room for more than one podcast in their lives.
So, now that you've got your crash course in podcasting history, let's go on to personalities. Before you dream of a subscriber base in the tens of thousands, you might want to see how some people actually achieved those numbers.