Lots of the podcasting-related discussion taking place in the blogosphere over the last week or so has been about whether or not you can build a sustainable business around it (or even just whether podcasting is here to stay or not). No doubt Scoble’s move to PodTech has fueled some of the discussion, as have comments like Larry Borsato’s:
People talk about podcasting as if it is some amazing new technology, forgetting that we’ve had radio and books on tape for decades. The only difference is that we store the thing in a digital file now.
To say that podcasting is an “amazing new technology” is far too broad a statement to make, I agree. I would argue, however, that podcasting is a great new communications technology (or more accurately, the repackaging of existing technologies (MP3, RSS, the web) to create a great new communications technology). I touched on this idea in my National Post article in May, but I actually developed the theory much more completely back in March of this year. During that month, Paramagnus was heavily into our two business plan competitions, and one of the things I wrote was a introduction to podcasting, which explained how the technology fits into the overall communications picture:
Podcasting is, at its heart, a communications technology. The essence of podcasting is creating audio-visual content for an audience to listen to or watch when they want, where they want, and how they want.
Around the same time, I wrote an essay for a class at the University of Alberta, which explored the impact of the diagram above:
Communication can be broken down into four main methods: real-time text, real-time audio/video, time-shifted text, and time-shifted audio/video. Until very recently, only the first three of these methods had been made available to the masses in digital form by modern technology.
Podcasting fills a great void in communications technologies by enabling everyone to communicate digitally using time-shifted audio and video.
In the diagram above I chose videoconferencing (because of the ability to include both audio and video, and the ability to communicate with more than one person at a time), but you could just as easily stick the telephone in there as well. You might find the diagram simplifies communication, but that was kind of the point. When the average person is going to communicate with someone else, they’re either going to see them in person, call them, email them, maybe instant message them, perhaps post something to their blog, or something similar. Until podcasting came along, it was really hard to use audio and video to do any of this.
As for sustainable business models around podcasting, I think they exist, even if they are hard to see at the moment. Unfortunately, everyone seems to be focused on podcast directories and podcast advertising, the two models I don’t see as being very sustainable (at least not for the incredible number of companies each segment currently has). Advertising is for content companies, which might choose to use podcasting as a delivery medium. I don’t think to be a podcasting company you need to have a strategy to sell advertising. Like most communications technologies, I feel the bulk of the money in podcasting will be on the creation side.
Basically what I am saying here is that podcasting is all about communication, and that’s why it is relevant/important/going-to-stick-around. I don’t think we’ll ever have too many solutions to the problem of communication. And what I said in my last podcasting post still applies – you’ve got to choose the right tool for the job. Sometimes, you’re going to use email or blogging or instant messaging. Other times, you’re going to use podcasting.