Episode 49: Podcast Saga Part 2 - The Beginning


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            I’m going to start this episode with a very strong statement. Any investigation or deconstruction can only be successful if one steps back and away from the position they have always held, allowing them to take in more of the view. Now, I know that might be a bit of a heavy declaration, or at least, it might be too heavy to make without a citation or strong substantiation. But it’s a belief I’ve come to hold rather passionately. Experience is a pretty stern teacher, you could say. I actually wanted to say something that was going to require censorship, right there, but that also didn’t seem all that fair to say. It was just a little too strong.

            But, look, if I hadn’t stepped back and take in more of the view back when I was in college, a view that now included the spot I had been standing in, my life wouldn’t be anything like it is today, and this podcast, anything I have made or anything I could soon or will make also would never have happened. And maybe you don’t care about that, but I personally think I’d be worse off if I’d gone that route and not the one I did.

           And maybe that statements makes some logical sense too. You know the view in front of you, the view from the spot you are currently standing in and perhaps have always stood. And if it has given you anything, you likely don’t have any more you could get from it whereas you also don’t really have anything to lose. have anything to lose from it whereas you always don’t really have anything to lose. After all, everything you had is still in front of you. But there’s also more of it, including reminders of the way you fit in within the larger universe. Hint: you’re not at the center of it.

            I promise this is all relevant for podcasting and its defense. But if you’re anything like me or if your viewpoint was anything like mine, you’re going to need to take a step back.

            I probably should watch my word choice on something like that because it seems a little dramatic to phrase it that way. But I think it’s a good reflection of where my headspace was as I was doing the research for this episode. Because, yeah, if I took what seemed as obvious for granted, we’d be having a very different episode. A worse one. Not that this one is particularly great but… you know.

            Basically, I think it’s important to go more into the history of “podcasting” and how it came to be. In part because, when you think about it, it seems like podcasting was set up to be the creature that it currently is particularly when you compare it to other (quote) “new media” type products. I’m talking specifically about YouTube.

            Both landscapes could be considered “wild west” type environments. Or they were. YouTube has diverged from that dramatically, but the still very independent and unchecked nature of podcasts can—in many ways—feel inevitable.

            For content creators in this particular medium, this can then be a two edged sword. For one, we might be immune from some of the perils video producers on YouTube face, but we always face a different set of drawbacks. But that’s all a topic for a different time. For now, I want to take an episode to lay out this beginning moment. Because without fully understanding it, we might not know exactly where we are now, never mind where we may ended up.

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            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to episode 49.

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            For many people, or at least for me, “podcasting” and Apple’s iTunes are going to feel intertwined to the point that “synonymous” as an adjective will come up in one’s thoughts even if it isn’t accurate and something you can immediately recognize as inaccurate. But human minds like connections. After all, the world around us is an interconnected mess from time to time, making this habit or perspective something vaguely akin to a survival mechanism. And I promise that this is relevant. In this context, the temptation—the easy to make connection—that the history of podcasting has a hard start when the iPod really became popular in the early 2000s.

            After all, the term looks like it was originally a portmanteau of the word “iPod” and the word “broadcast.” You see, when the iPod began what would turn out to be a life that would bring plenty of innovation while still being a slow march to redundancy when all its function were swallowed up by the smart phone that are now just called phones, Apple was also maximizing the potential of a related distribution platform known as iTunes.

            While the main draw of iTunes was the ability to download and pay for single songs and television episodes, the other side of this appeal was the universality of it all. Users had a plethora of content to consume, on their own terms, that wasn’t explicitly tied to Apple products. You could use this service even if you—like me initially—didn’t have an iPod to use but a cheap mp3 player. Yes, it can be hard to imagine—in the age of dongles—that there was a time or any Apple Product that was designed to be universal across all potentially related devices. But with mp3s becoming more readily available and able to be incorporated into our daily life, Apple had the chance to be at the forefront, and they ran with it.

            In terms of purchasing songs as individual tracks, if you still do it or if I was inclined to do it, I would still probably go to iTunes. In fact, I don’t know what an alternative would be. I do use iTunes from time to time if a movie I’m looking for isn’t on Netflix. Sometimes it isn’t on iTunes either, but it’s an option.

            But mostly, I use iTunes for podcasts on my computer, which is part of the point. While iTunes and podcasts will always be strongly linked, the relationship isn’t as strong as you might be—or I was—inclined to think

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            The reality is that “audio blogging” was always possible as long as we could transmit audio across the internet in a serialized or generally organized manner. And we did. For quite a while before the modern podcast came to be.

            In terms of the actual birth of the thing that is the podcast, Source 1 in the notes is an LA Times article that better captures the full spirit of that creation, but basically, the story goes that a former MTV video jockey Adam Curry worked with a software engineer Dave Winer to create the final piece necessary to bring audio blogs onto any mp3 device in an easily sortable way (Miller 2006).

Is that absolutely true? It’s difficult to be certain. In fact, I’m starting to doubt that anything can be truly absolute in the digital age.

            When you read the LA Times article, or when I did, there was something remarkably telling about this narrative, and that is that Curry was seeking—in part—an escape to what he thought of as a more restrictive atmosphere at MTV (Miller 2006). Back in the day, MTV would have been seen as a dream company for creative types, but it was still a company with its own obligations, hopes, and corporate policies. Much like YouTube currently is.

            But back to the actual;story, Curry and Winer developed a system that didn’t just send out or make their own work more readily available (Miller 2006). It was kept, perhaps out of necessity or some sort of other limitation, a universal means of distributing content.

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            Source 2 is a press release from Apple sent out in late June of 2005. With that, Apple took on more responsibility with regards to podcasting by building in the podcast directory and related functionality into iTunes (Apple 2005). Now, it’s hard to say—just from the press release alone—exactly why this was done. The more cynical explanation could be that Apple just wanted to protect their trademark, that the term “podcasting” might have been infringing on. It’s hard to say if it is or not. Granted, this is coming from a lay person’s perspective.

You can make the argument, like I did earlier, that word “podcast” is a portmanteau including the word “iPod,” but given that part of the technology that makes podcasting possible is the ability to encapsulate an audio blog entry into a confined, digitally sealed up space or “pod” of some kind, it’s not a full proof argument.  Consequently, planting a flag into the proverbial ground while they had the advantage might have made more sense than a simple legal defense.

            But I think it might go behind that. As in, there might have been another benefit tossed around in that meeting when this direction was initially proposed.

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            This is where the actual set up of the iTunes Podcast directory, now Apple Podcasts, comes into play. If you don’t make your own show, you probably haven’t needed to think about this. And if you’re also a fan of any YouTube creator, you might have a very different set up expectations that reflect the relationship YouTube has with its content.

            In reality, unlike YouTube, you don’t upload your podcast or any episode to iTunes or Apple Podcasts directly. In the beginning, you submit your RSS feed for consideration through an Apple Podcasting portal. And by “consideration,” I get the feeling they glance at your show’s premise to make sure it isn’t too heinous but focus more on making sure your feed is compatible with the larger system, and that it’s not going to break down their computer system, a listener’s computer system, or even your own.

            It’s a simple review for a simple relationship, and this set up keeps the operating costs of the Podcast directory relatively minimal compared to something like YouTube that has to maintain a more intense infrastructure to support all the requirements of digital video storage and sharing on an inconceivably massive scale. In fact, given that the directory infrastructure already existed and some of the resources came from outside developers, potentially lowering the costs further, the Podcast directory didn’t need to generate much revenue to cover its expenses.

            It’s this obligation that sends YouTube into the many tail spins it has experienced. Advertisers on that platform are YouTube’s lifeblood, and while they are looking to diversify, making those revenue streams viable is going to take time that YouTube and Google can’t afford to waste given the sheer scope of their website and expenses therein.

            But for Apple, podcasting could simply be a way to pull people into iTunes, and if a few people made a few impulse purchases while they are there, well, it was more revenue they weren’t previously going to have. Yes, it’s pennies compared to what the rest of Apple is making, but even so, digital marketplaces need users, and users needed a reason to go to those marketplaces.

            Ultimately, a huge appeal to incorporating podcasts into iTunes from a company’s perspective might have been that it pulled in its own consumer base with minimal effort and costs to Apple. And this created a status quo that could operate completely independent of advertisers.

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            And that’s the variable that has sent YouTube down the path it’ currently on. Now, there are certain YouTubers would are able to make quite a bit of money off of their portion of the money generated by the advertisements that run on their content. This isn’t even just going off of a speculative list. Many creators incorporate their wealth into their content.

            Every luxury car or house a YouTuber is able to buy is a testament to the revenue they’ve also been giving YouTube: money that YouTube would desperately need to cover their cost. This desperation has fueled the various unpopulare business decisions YouTube makes, but I’ll readily admit, this is not something I’m going to be able to prove but something I’d readily call common sense. YouTube’s operating costs—because they host the content—are absurdly high, never mind all the other expenses they have incurred like on branding, marketing, and trying to minimize harmful content on their platform, which creates a constant PR battle that can be incredibly expensive.

            Consequently, if a video or content creator demonstrates the ability to generate income, then out of desperation, YouTube jumps to pushing that style, genre, video, or content creator into the public space where even more revenue can be generated. In other words, they focus on making profitable videos even more profitable. Yes, there are videos out there that could also be successful if given a chance, but in the model I just described, YouTube gets to skip a step. Rather than seeking out potentially profitable content, YouTube just lets the algorithm—that they also had to pay for—identify the money makers, creating a favored tier of content creators and potentially burying other creators before they’ve even had a chance to get their legs.

            Source 3 isn’t exactly a source I’m referencing, but it better illustrates the struggles of the creators on the platform. It’s a YouTube video from the channel The Game Theorists. I definitely recommend it if you want to better understand a YouTuber’ plight, and I just, in general, recommend the entire channel and sister channel The Film Theorists.

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            This is where the comparison falls apart. I fully recognize that. iTunes is a store. YouTube tries to be a social media platform. But in terms of content we can then consumer, I still think it’s a fair comparison, particularly if you want to make money off of podcasting like some people do YouTube.

            But consequently, Apple doesn’t have to promote free podcasts in this intense make or break way. Now, they still do have an image to maintain and leading with established figureheads might help that, figures like NPR or Night Vale Presents even and especially as podcasting grows more and more. It gives the appearance of respectability, something that YouTube has to constantly fight to maintain. Ultimately, Apple doesn’t have the same directive to get and stay involved in the content on its platform as long as there’s no truly abhorrent content on it. As long as things are relatively mundane, then everything is fine.

            Therefore, it’s almost a space without an intense corporate interest. Partially because Apple was never in complete control of the medium and partially because it never needed to be.

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            In terms of the other players that are out there now, many have replicated this model not just because it’s industry standard but because the industry was built up to reflect this. All podcast players are just directories, they connect you and the RSS feed that lives elsewhere. The cost of maintenance is then on that hosting service which might also be an RSS feed directory if that’s where you decide to house your content. For example, The Oracle of Dusk, my audio drama, is hosted on BluBrry which is also a podcast directory. I pay them a certain amount of money each month to hold my files for me and maintain the intricacies of an iTunes compatible RSS feed. There are other players that don’t house content, but typically, their model is to give you the option to pay for premium features.

            In most cases, the cost stays on the producer. Each podcast therefore can come with a cost-benefit analysis of its own made by very the person most affected by it. Even if this technically isn’t fair, more on that next week, it can certainly feel that way. Or I’d call it fair, but there is an argument contrary to that point.

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            Ultimately, I think all of this sets up for a situation wherein a potential creator faces a minimal to no-barrier to entry to the medium of their choice. It’s a phrase I use when I talk about podcasting that I genuinely think is fitting, but at the same time, it doesn’t always land right with the person I say it to. I’ve come to think it’s a matter of perspective, you could say. It depends on which aspect of the process do you think is more important, particularly in an age defined by the creation and recreation of new works.

            Neither perspective is wrong, I think. Rather, we end up likely having two different conversations simultaneously it could just be that we need to be more mindful of supplementing that expression to be more reflective of what we actually mean and where our perspectives lies.

            I’ll explain all of that next week when I try to deconstruction this particular phrase. But for now, I’ll leave you with the second trailer of my audio drama The Oracle of Dusk. Maybe it’s something you—as a person who is interested in podcasts—would be interested in yourself.


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I saw you in the store today. I didn't follow you in or anything like that. I was already there. Then you walked it, and I saw you. Once I did, I'm sorry, but I couldn't look away.

I was getting some medicine. You see, I've been having trouble sleeping lately. The… the dreams... are getting harder to ignore. They've been getting more intense and more frequent. I've never fully understood them. And even if I did, that doesn't mean I would know what to do. I just know that if I sleep deeply enough, I don't dream. Or--at least--I don't remember my dreams, and that counts for something. So for a while, I tried something I started calling sleep cycling. I'll be awake for twelve hours and sleep for two. When you're freelancing, a sleeping schedule like that isn’t impossible. It’s just not advisable. And you're right, the numbers aren't adding up on that front. It's the only thing that has worked so far, though. Even if it's not sustainable.

Or it did work, for a while. But now I’m dreaming of you again. I don’t know what to do.

Melatonin is supposed to help you sleep, right? That's Plan B. And it’s a completely safe as a plan B. Maybe it’s not the best Plan B I could have. I know what I should do. But I can't do that. It would be too hard for me. I know what I can do, though. The question is: (Music cuts) are you listening? (music fades in)

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1. Miller, Martin. “'Podfather' Plots a Radio Hit of His Own.” LA Times, 21 May 2006, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2006-may-21-ca-podfather21-story.html.

2. “Apple Takes Podcasting Mainstream .” Apple, 28 June 2005, www.apple.com/newsroom/2005/06/28Apple-Takes-Podcasting-Mainstream/. \

3. The Game Theorist. Game Theory: Is YouTube Killing Pewdiepie and H3H3...and Everyone?, 10 Dec 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyHaMVRgBV0