In the space of 24 hours, two of the biggest conferences for women-identifying podcasters have announced they’re scaling back on upcoming events due to lack of industry funding and support.
While podcast conferences are expensive, they’re important to the industry. This is how the podcast community celebrates and recharges itself. If these conferences can’t go ahead, we need a new strategy to celebrate the work of women and other marginalized podcasters.
The High Cost of Podcast Conferences
Podcasting and podcast conferences sit in diametrically opposed corners of the digital content landscape. Producing a podcast isn’t supposed to be very expensive. Allegedly, anyone with an idea, communication skills, and a computer can succeed. That theory has proved true for many creators early on in the industry.
Podcast conferences, however, are expensive. Convention centres insist on payment in full upfront. So, unless the conference organizer is a known entity with a track record, they can’t get a line of credit. As Jess Kuperfman, CEO of ShePodcasts, recently pointed out when her own conference shifted to a digital-only event, “We aren’t the New York Times or American Express.”
Of course, there’s no getting around it: podcast conference organizers must find venues attractive to ticket buyers. But this can get expensive, and the bills need to be paid. As a result, people who can afford to attend podcast conferences tend to be those with something that sells, such as gear, software, or services such as hosting. The cost of podcasting conventions doesn’t make them affordable for many people outside the tech industry.
Among tech industry executives, about 80% are men, and 20% are women, with a workforce – according to the EEOC’s Diversity in High Tech report that is 68.5% white and 48% female. Add in the wage and caregiver gap, and making an affordable podcasting conference for women or other marginalized creators on par with others in the industry is nearly impossible.
Education & Networking: Why People Really Attend Podcasting Conferences
Ask any podcaster why they’re attending a conference, and they’ll say it’s all about two things: education and networking.
On the learning front, they’ll mention whose panels they want to attend, what they hope to pick up from those, and how they might contribute to knowledge-sharing and spurring new ideas in the sector. Collaborative problem-solving helps people thrive.
When people return from a conference, they’ll have blurry memories and a runny nose because of all their time meeting other people. I had a cup of coffee with Mischa Stanton years ago at Podcon 2 for fifteen minutes, and I still remember it happily. We go these events to network, and we come back exhausted because the most important thing, for good or for ill, is the time we spend in face-to-face communication with others.
In other words, community is the most persuasive reason to attend any podcasting convention.
She Podcast’s’ conferences, for example, are known for their daily group yoga sessions. I’m not an avid yoga practitioner by any stretch of the imagination, (no pun intended!). But I was looking forward to taking part in this event. Did I expect to impress anyone with my headstands? No. I thought the group energy would be fun. It’s about the shared effort, not the vinyasa.
But women and other marginalized groups are shut out of this community-building. Yes, virtual conferences are still viable and can be a more affordable option for those looking to participate in conversations about the future of podcasting. Consider the difference, though, between watching a point-of-view video of Pirates of the Caribbean and riding the actual ride. You get the point, but it’s not as meaningful.
In Elsie Escobar’s blog post, Thoughts triggered by She Podcasts LIVE going virtual, she mourns the loss of such in-person communication; “The world is doubling down on rapid creation, release and implementation.”
“The slow, the depth, the nuance, the refinement, the human will be and is already being overlooked.” As she wisely asks towards the end of her blog, “How can we know a situation through tweets, posts and headlines?”
Why the Podcast Industry Needs More Women and Marginalized Voices
But it’s not only female and marginalised groups who lose out when podcasting conferences become exclusive. The podcasting industry loses out too.
For starters, if only a small portion of all podcasters can support a podcasting conference, those who do attend are at risk of falling prey to siloed thinking. Groupthink doesn’t help anyone, and may even have deleterious effects on the sector’s ability to remain creative without the constant influx of new ideas.
The industry is also arguably losing out on market share by not making its conferences more open to women and other marginalized groups. The Women’s 2022 Podcast Report, conducted for Edison Research for SXM Media, showed that women are an important segment of the podcast audiences.
48% of female podcast listeners are aged 18-34, so they have many years of avid listening ahead. Many of these women are also parents, so they’ll pass on podcast loyalty to their children. 73% of the women surveyed said that they discovered new podcasts from friends or family, and 84% recommend them to others. Finally, and most importantly, over half of those surveyed said that they would listen to a podcast if a woman hosts, or if the show focuses on women’s perspectives and stories.
In short, women are hungry for substantive podcasts with female-identified hosts and exploring female perspectives. If a podcaster wants to make a show with a loyal audience, focusing on women is the smartest thing they could do. As Melissa Paris, Vice President for Sales and Analytics at SXM Media put it, “Women Have the Mic, But Need an Amplifier.”
Corporate Support Has A Great Opportunity With Women
So, how can women and marginalized podcasters with tight budgets celebrate their work and rejuvenate their inspiration? Where do we go from here?
It would seem that corporate sponsorship may be one way to make podcasting conferences more accessible to women and other marginalized groups. There are some useful models here.
Following George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Sony Music pledged $100 million to create its Global Justice Fund. This fund subsequently helped renovate a recording studio in the Watts-Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club of Los Angeles. Similarly, big corporate sponsors like Sony could support podcasting conferences aimed at women and other less-heard voices. Such a move would tell these groups that this company’s products or services are for people like them.
Of course, giant companies like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google are already active in podcasting. But there are growing frustrations that they’re not doing enough to support the industry as a whole. Yes, they are very good at promoting themselves and their own apps, but they have the power, influence, and financial clout to do so much more. Again, they’re missing an opportunity to build trust… and listeners.
What More Can We Do to Improve Podcast Conferences For Women?
But corporate sponsorship isn’t the only way forward for female and female-identified podcasters. They can also put themselves in a position where they don’t need sponsorship at all.
Many woman’s podcasting companies already offset the cost of their podcast with consulting services, online workshops, book sales, and more.
Fancy new AI tools are released in podcasting each week. They can do things we only dreamt of doing a few years ago. Why not exploit these tools to come up with innovative new ways to help women be podcasters together?
We don’t have to be at the end of the road for female podcasting. We could be at the very beginning. But we need to seize the moment to think in bold, new ways.