Episode 50: Podcast Saga Part 3 - Barriers of Entry, What Are They?


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            I’ve spoken about this before on a past episode, but it might be worth reiterating. Because this fear hasn’t changed. At all. But I’m terrified being misunderstood. Not like in the way surreal type of horror way where your sense of reality falls apart but nobody believes you that it’s happening. Not even in the dramatic, Hollywood-worthy, tragic narrative sense. Or the more light-hearted misunderstandings lead to hijinks of the romantic-comedy variety. I mean, irreparable damage done to real people and real relationships because a word I said didn’t land right.

            Two things help this fear thrive. For one, its ambiguity. It’s open-ended enough to adapt to the figurative “flavor of the week.” What’s important to me right now? My fragile relationship with a friend from graduate school? A budding friendship with someone who works in a different office at my workplace but likes the same anime? Not looking like an idiot at the taco place I’ve started frequenting and whose staff is starting to recognize me as a regular? All of that? All of that. And it could all burn down seemingly at any time and unsettlingly easy.

            And that’s the second thing. This sort of thing is a surprisingly possible, at least in my mind. You see, I think there’s an element of language that depends on the context in which we learned those words. It goes beyond what is acceptable to say and what isn’t. Have you ever been shooting the breeze with people who want to pretend their deep and suddenly they throw out the question “What would happen if you purposely incorrectly taught your child the wrong names to all the colors? Or if you swapped them, specifically.” We think we see colors the same way, but that’s somewhat hard to prove.

            Existential crisis aside. Case in a point I finally cut to. There’s a phrase I use when I talk about podcasting and its appeal. I use it in regards to almost every aspect or topic, and I am very concerned that it’s not working at all. Or worse yet, it’s working against me. Because I’m not being understood.

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            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to Episode 50.

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            It’s probably fitting that on what likely is a milestone episode, I’m going to be talking about something that essentially made it possible for me to podcast. And that is: the simple fact that there really wasn’t anyone or anything to stop me from doing it. There’s no distributor I have to audition for. Like I explained last week, Apple does check the podcasts submitted to their directory, but I get the impression that it isn’t a very in depth check. After all, it didn’t take that much time, and you do it when you’ve got your first episode or entry on your RSS feed. It seems more than likely that they only check that the premise isn’t too heinous. Or that plausible deniability would still apply. And that RSS feed is set up properly, and it won’t break their system.

            To further sum up last week’s episode, Apple didn’t create podcasting. They fell into it as a way to protect their own corporately interests, but because they weren’t too financially invested from that beginning moment, they could keep their hands somewhat off of things.

            This lack of a fiscal incentive led to a somewhat neutral playing field. Apple might need to lead with established names to maintain a sense of respectability, but that just means plastering certain names across the front page. That’s it. It’s not like YouTube where the need to maximize adsense created an algorithm that has likely killed numerous channels and created tiers of favored content creators only to slowly bleed their channels and then likely outright kill those channels.

            For podcasters, Apple’s disinterest set industry-wide norms whose existence has been further proven by certain, current events, to be polite about it.

            One of them is podcasting’s openness both for audience and creators. In this episode, I want to talk mostly about the creators or how universally available podcasting is to them. That isn’t to say that the audience doesn’t matter. The opposite is true. I think the expectation that the base level of content is free and additional features could be purchased or gained through merchandise or Patreon accounts is significant. All of that is incredibly important, but it doesn’t fit here.

            Right now, this needs to be about podcasters her and the barrier of entry they face, or lack thereof. Depending on your perceptive.

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            Basically, this episode is the product of the various tweets I see and my own thoughts and experiences. So out of all the episodes of the podcasting series, this one is going to be the least grounded. But basically, to create something, I see two major considerations a potential content producer needs to think about: the tools they will be using and the space in which they will exist.

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            Now, I’ve never put emphasis on the tools of the trade part of podcasting. This has been partially my fault and partially my blessing. I’ve been fortunate to have a full time job throughout my podcasting escapades. And it’s been a great job with a very good work environment with an amazing manager. I’m in good health, and I can even take a certain number of paid-hours-off if I need to focus more on a podcast that day. I certainly understand all of that, and I also understand that with my shows being what they are, there’s a good many expenses I’ve been able to avoid. for the sake of fairness, let’s take some time to lay out some of the costs a podcast producer can run into.

            First and foremost is the equipment, which can be relatively in expensive compared to For example, you can get a microphone off of Amazon for about twenty dollars. The editing software I use is Audacity. It’s free and open-sourced with plenty of tutorials available for free on the internet.

            The main fee I’ve been facing is the hosting costs. For The Oracle of Dusk, my audio drama, while it might be on a weekly release schedule, the episodes are never more than 16 minutes. So I can get away with using the lowest tier of Blubrry hosting for twelve-dollars a month. For this podcast, it’s a little more complicated. I use Squarespace, which I initially paid about $200 to have a year of that service, but it can house multiple feeds and serves as an actual website. I had used a tax refund to pay for that and the web domain name And that leads some fees involved with podcasting that are somewhat optional. There are ways to get a free website and a free domain name. But if you want a customized domain and website, that’s when the costs start to mount.

            There are things I have been able to avoid. If I hired other artists or actors. That’s another expense or many. Music licensing can get expensive as well. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll notice I shout out Sounds Like An Earful on twitter a lot not because I’m paid to, (I’m always paranoid that it seems that way) but because his website provides some good resources for cash-strapped podcasters. Licenses are tiered and easy to purchases, and he does have several high quality “Pay what you can tracks that can go a long way if you’re careful. I’ve bought a great deal of music from him that I’m able to use from episode to episode.

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            Now here’s where I have another advantage. All my podcasts are scripted. And scripts can become transcripts with a little bit of time and effort. But a respectable portion of podcasts out there are essentially recorded conversations, so any transcript will needed to be started from scratch. And if you want to keep a decent publishing schedule as a “two-dudes-talking” podcast, you’d likely have to hire a transcriber or utilize a transcription service. And those fees can vary wildly, and the actual cost will depend on—quite obviously—the length of each episode.

            On that note, I do have to point out that it isn’t entirely a relevant fee considering how often it gets cut and how few podcasts opt to have a publically available (not locked in a Patreon tier) transcript for their show. If a podcast doesn’t offer transcripts at all, it’s possible the fan community will rise to the challenge and make them themselves, shifting the cost—in terms of time and effort—away from the creator and onto the audience.

            Now the question somewhat remains is if transcripts are necessary. An issue that’s surprisingly contested—likely because of the cost and because it’s not something most people in the podcasting community use. And if you have a strict understanding of podcasting tied to the medium, it may be harder to see where transcripts and the people that utilize them fit in this larger picture.

            On that note, I do have some episodes in the works about the significance of the medium for storytelling. The idea of audio-only entries lends itself to certain types of narratives that might not have the same appeal in other art forms, and in the case of sci-fi stories, audio-only makes it easier to tell those stories because you don’t have to worry about manufacturing those visuals, but more on all of that later.

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            None of that means there isn’t a purpose for transcripts though. Some individuals have a problem processing auditory stimuli, particularly speech, or might not be completely comfortable with English. They can follow along, particularly after they’ve been listening to a speaker for a while and/or with the bit of guidance a transcript can provide. And for someone who is completely deaf or hard of hearing, transcripts provide a way to join the community that they would otherwise be excluded from, involving a story they deeply relate to per another aspect of their identity.

            As I see it, this isn’t even a matter of the philosophical justification behind accommodating people with different limitations, regardless of what they are. It’s something deeply related to the core of what the podcasting community, particularly the indie podcasting community has become.

            But for now, to tie this section up, there are many costs associated with podcasting, though they might be lower than what you would see in other mediums. The cost of the equipment and tools might be less, but that doesn’t even begin to approach the issue of time and effort. Of multiple people. When you take this approach, there is still a real barrier to a first time podcast producer. In a later episode, I’ll explain the role the fans play in financially supporting podcasts. Also, by the way, my Ko-fi account is in the description if you would like to, you know, offset some of my expense.  

            But for now, here’s what I need to say. While the expenses of podcasting are still very much real and something not everyone can afford, this is not what I think of when I think about barriers of entry or when I invoke the sentence, “Podcasting has a low barrier of entry.” It’s this other aspect that I think is more significant—as in, more important—to the story what podcasting has come to be.

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            In the last episode and earlier in this one, I pointed out that for Apple and really any established podcasting body, there isn’t an incentive to decide what content lives and what dies on their platform nor was it ever really their place to do that. The product they offered to creators was simply a space to exist, and to consumers, they offer additional bells and whistles either—for Apple—other content they can purchased or—for other podcast players—additional functions on their apps that might make their lives easier but aren’t deal breakers if they don’t have them.

            This norm has set podcasting apart. Because, yes, there may be a gate to enter that space, but no one is staffing it in any meaningful way. And the absence of a gatekeeper lets podcasting avoid a very serious problem. Namely, the lack of what a man in an over-priced suit would call, “an unconventional set of characters and narratives.”

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            Now my phrasing here is not meant to be dismissive or flippant, but it seems like every week the lack of meaningful representation in media comes up in digital conversations. Exhaustion led me to the dead-panning that because this is something that never seems to go away. Now clearly the demand for new stories is there, so wouldn’t logic say that this demand would be met? Isn’t that what economics tells us.

            You’d think, but let me commandeer something from political science to help explain the problem.

            Source 1 in the notes is the article I found this concept in, and if you want a different way of envisioning what I’m saying, then this might be your best bet. Dennis Thompson, a Harvard professor, developed this concept he called “presentism” to explain a major limitation politicians—even well-meaning ones—face when they try to implement future-oriented policies. You see the general public has a preference or a bias, as he calls it, for immediate results. Yes, the future them—not even a future generation but their future selves—would benefit from one policy decision, but because the pay-off isn’t immediate, politicians make the less beneficial decision, believing that catering to this irrational demand for present results is how they can guarantee their own career.

            For traditional media executives, there’s an immediate pay-off to playing to the status quo, regardless of the broader ramifications. The present says that this formula potentially with a few slight alterations is immediately profitable, so why worry if this stagnates the cultural growth? You have your benefits now. The rest of it is not your problem.

            In traditional media spaces, these are the gatekeepers and the rules they have laid out and why. So if you wanted to enter that space with a (quote) “unconventional” narrative, there’s the reason why you can’t. And it’s a reason so ingrained in human nature that you don’t stand a great chance of overcoming it.

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            Now, those these mean the many podcast creators who have protagonists that come from marginalized communities, that feature unconventional narratives, that continue to reject the norms of traditional media aren’t suffering from presentism? Maybe or maybe not. It’s actually hard to say. Nor do I think I need to say. What’s noteworthy is that—if they are—they have a very different type of presentism.

            They want these stories. And they would like it now, if that’s possible, and it’s possible because of their ability to create these stories themselves or as a group anchored in the (quote) “Hashtag-PodernFamily” or some version of it with a different name. They want it. They want to do it. And in the context of podcasting, no one has the desire or need to stop them.

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            Let me give you an example of this. I mentioned this in a past episode I did on the topic, but Welcome to Night Vale and its meteoric rise point to this unique characteristic both of Night Vale and of podcasting. To repeat it because I doubt you’ll go back and listen to that episode nor do I think you should (I mean, my editing isn’t great now, but wow was it bad back then), the dessert community that is Night Vale exists within a world of complete and utter chaos where every nightmare conspiracy is true, but it is strangely utopia largely because—in Night Vale it is completely acceptable to live and exist as you are. There might be surveillance and a complete breakdown of what you think a democracy should be, but everyone accepts everyone for who they are barring being a jerk or being Steve Carlsberg. If you’re Cecil.

            And you get the impression that maybe Steve kind of earned that. A little bit.

            In many ways, this trait—just like it does Night Vale—has come to define the indie podcasting community. It’s a space you can enter and—barring anything outrageous you do or have done you can find a home there for yourself. The traits that might exclude you from other spaces or even your own family aren’t relevant there. Or at least, they’re not reject there. You don’t have to spend time defending your existence. You can come as you are. In fact, you can base a character on yourself or a story on your experiences and find people willing to coach you through the production process or even participate.

            Personally, I wonder if that’s what makes discussion about podcasting or supposed innovations to podcasting feel so high stakes. This might very well be the only space some creators feel like they can exist without compromise or fear, so obviously there will a desire to protect it.

            And that leads to the whole “Netflix of podcasting” discussion, which I do think we need to have.  Because it’s not completely impossible when you realize that Netflix did a lot more than providing a streaming service behind a paywall. They’ve made a lot of original content, and that might be where salvation lies if you go about it the right way and use the callback to Netflix only as a way to get your foot in the door. After that, you have to be ready to ditch it.

            But that’s… coming soon. For next week, I think it’s more important to go over the relationship—particularly the financial one—the audience has with the content they love.

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            And side note. If I am obligated to bring that back to YouTube, it’s harder to say what the presentism of that platform is. I’ve always thought of it as a frenzied panic that leads them to cater to the advertisers who can give them the money to stop the fiscal hemorrhaging a platform of that size has to face. I’ll add some sources into the notes—as I find them—of YouTube’s many panicked moments, if you are interested. Because in some ways, YouTube is the dystopian nightmare podcasting is trying to avoid.

            But for now, here’s the third trailer for The Oracle of Dusk. Find it wherever you are hearing my voice. Because, who knows, you might like it. You’re clearly interested in podcasts.

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            There's something you need to know. (Pause.)  Okay, that's a little presumptuous of me because it seems to be implying that I am the handmaiden of some omnipotent cosmic force, and I'm not sure I believe any of that especially the part about me being chosen. In fact, I'm inclined to hope for the very opposite: that I am a being largely ignored by the entire universe.

            But at the same time… I think…. (Sigh) It's like I overheard some cosmic whisper. Gossip if that is not strictly a human phenomenon. And now I need to tell someone, preferably you, about it. For many reasons but most of all the selfish one: that I can't be alone with this forever. Or even much longer. I don't think it will kill me, per say, but it's not a chance I want to take. Also it hurts. Greatly.


            But on a more altruistic note, I think maybe this is something the universe wants you to know. Take that for what it's worth. Maybe this is a message from a deity or a less defined, all-purpose spirit. Maybe it's aliens, or maybe your long dead relatives are still looking out for you.

            Regardless, if it's a message, then I have to deliver it. The messenger has no say. I didn't want to be the messenger, but I am. You may not want to hear it, but you should.

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