You shouldn't start a podcast

As we get further into the Podcasting Boom (or whatever we’re calling the current audio land grab today), the more confident people feel about starting their own show. That’s good — by and large, the tech and expertise required is becoming more accessible, and there are some useful services out there making it easy to host, distribute and monetise. However, just because you can start a podcast, should you start one?

I feel like fewer and fewer people ask themselves this question before starting to record. And I don’t just mean you and your friends you play boardgames with; I’m including people who work for media organisations, production companies and even YouTubers in this as well. Just because podcasts are “trendy” now doesn’t mean you need to have one, or that your idea for a new thing is best suited to audio.

Occasionally, people ask me for advice about starting a podcast. Normally what they mean is “what microphone should I buy?” and “how do I get on iTunes?”, but what I like to do instead is find out why it is that they actually want to do this at all. Here’s a small checklist of things I like to ask:

  1. Why should this be audio and not, say, a series of articles or an email newsletter?

  2. Will you keep doing this even if never makes any money?

  3. Do you find recording and editing audio fun?

  4. What will your podcast have that I can’t get from another one on this topic?

  5. Are you prepared to do prepare, record, edit and promote your show every week/fortnight/month for as long as it takes to get the audience you want?

I generally say that if the answer is “no” or “I don’t know” to any of the above, you shouldn’t start a podcast. For all that I love audio and the myriad ways people are innovating with it, I am also a bit of a Podcast Grinch. There’s far more money washing around in podcasting now than there used to be, but apart from a very tiny fraction of people, most podcasters are making their shows for free, or for vastly less than would be profitable for them. If that doesn’t matter to you, that’s great. I love listening to passion projects — they are often some of the best shows out there. You should just be clear when you start that that’s what you’re doing.

Of course, money is not the only reason to start your own show, but I increasingly find that the people who ask me for this advice have inflated expectations that they will at least cover their costs immediately (they will not: plenty of big media organisations are still subsidising their podcasts as a way of bringing people into their other paid subscription offers). You probably won’t get paid very much, but it is a lot of work.

Are you ready for that? The Podcast Grinch didn’t think so.

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