What you will hear throughout this book, and anything else you read on podcasting, is that it's a "free" medium, meaning that you can pretty much do with it what you want. Do you want 5 minutes of swearing nonstop? You can do that. Three hours of reading soup can labels? You can do that too. Not a lot of people would listen, but you're free to do this.
We do not, of course, expect you to know exactly how long your podcast is going to be straight out of the gate. Your first couple podcasts are going to be experiments, and when you get comfortable, you can pinpoint your ideal length and make that your goal to work toward.
There are no time limits on podcasting. You can go as short or as long as you like, which is another yoke of traditional radio we have thrown off. We are not hindered by a schedule to fill exactly 25 minutes of airtime. If you have 2 minutes of stuff one week and 2 hours the next, it's not going to matter from a publishing perspective.
The only thing is, it does matter from an audience perspective. Your audience listens to you for a variety of reasons, and one of which is they like your content. If they like your content, they will learn to expect the same kind of content from you in the future. They will expect consistency, and when you go from one end of the spectrum to another, listeners will get annoyed.
So although you don't need to adhere to any restrictions set by an outside establishment, like radio, you still should consider how long you want your podcast to be and keep to within ±25% of that target. Planning your podcast, as mentioned previously, will help you keep on this target.
Forcing a Constrained Time
Regardless of what people think about radio and its pitfalls, there is something to be said for order. It's challenging to keep every show on the same schedule to the second, and make sure that every show is comfortable and predictable (not in plot or content, but in structure). For the same reason that people can see beauty in the constrained poetry styles of sonnets and haiku, some podcasts can shine if placed under a strict time limit.
Time limits allow you to prepare the same amount of content per week and give people something they can look forward to. Although many people like the anarchy of podcasting, there's no denying that the podcasts that stick to a time limit sound more professional than those that do not (see Figure 6.2). Whether or not this is a good thing, the listener must be the judge.
Figure 6.2. Note the consistent show lengths in this list of Slice of SciFi podcasts.
If setting a time limit seems to be right for you, try it out a couple times before adopting the limit.
Although we advocate editing your podcast, this practice may actually put a kink in your plans for keeping to a schedule. You can record for your set 30 minutes, but when you cut out the pauses, the time you had to answer the door, the "ums," and the sneezing fit you had, you may be left with 25 minutes. Rob solves this by recording long, knowing he's going to edit down, and then cutting to his desired length. Mur is a little more free with her shows, but still manages to hit her target marks within 5 or so minutes on a normal week.
There is one more reason to consider keeping your time consistent: If you have any intentions to move your show from podcast to radio, you need to keep your "half-hour" show to 26 minutes, for example. Moving your show to KYOU radio or satellite radio creates more need for dedicated attention to your length.
Before you decide how much time you think you want to fill, think about this: How much do you have to say? And how much of that is quality content?
Not every MP3 player has a screen that shows how long a file is going to go. Most listeners will likely appreciate the fact that when Dragon Page: Cover to Cover comes on, they know they will be listening to an hour-long show, rather than another podcast that they may not be able to hear the whole thing in one sitting.
Don't worry about sticking to a per-minute schedule; however, keeping an eye on the clock while you prep and record may benefit you.
Media Artist Secrets is a very popular podcast that stays below 15 minutes. It's short, sweet, full of information, and exemplifies the truism that you should always leave your audience wanting more. If the only complaint you get about your podcast is that it's too short, you're doing something right.
College professors bemoan the fact that the attention span of their students is about 45 minutes, which is why most college classes don't last longer than an hour. Although many popular podcasts are an hour or longer, most listeners you talk to will say an hour is too long.
If your audience thinks your show is just a little too short, there is little doubt they'll be back for your next program.
When it comes to really long podcasts, you need to make absolutely sure that the content is top notch and will keep your listeners entertained. As we've mentioned before, most listeners think the ideal length of a podcast is their commute time. So people who have 1-hour or longer commutes might think that a podcast that lasts 90 minutes is ideal, but the rest of the people may think it's too long.
What do they do when they decide your podcast is too long? At best, they'll get bored and stop listening to that episode, but continue to download. They may listen all the way to the end and then send you some feedback. At worst, they'll unsubscribe. There are a lot of podcasts out there, and a listener can choose to download three 20-minute-long podcasts or your hour-long podcast. Therefore, your content had better be compelling enough to keep people's attention.