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Zimbabwe’s Podcasters: Challenges and Opportunities

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Like other African podcasters, podcasters in Zimbabwe face a lot of challenges. There are over 50 podcasts in Zimbabwe, but the medium is growing slowly. it’s an unpopular preference of media among audiences. They are also content-selective when they listen to podcasts. On the other hand, podcast production faces challenges of technical issues, unreliable electricity, and an inflation-fueled lack of listeners.

However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for podcasters to explore In Zimbabwe. The challenges can easily be turned into opportunities with solution-based methods. These methods include podcast awareness, improving podcasting skills, and availability of funds and energy alternatives. The solutions can trigger a speedy growth of podcasting in Zimbabwe. And they can also serve as long-term solutions.

Rutendo Maturure, host of ‘My Voice Express’ podcast, says, “podcasting is not popular in Zimbabwe.” And here’s why:

Media Preference

Digital media rules over the media ecosystem. But this hasn’t stopped die-hard fans of conventional media. They still tune in to their favorite shows on radio or TV. In South Africa, audiences are shifting to audio formats, but this has not dethroned radio as the most loved media. Just like many South Africans, Zimbabweans are still fans of traditional media.

Rutendo Maturure says Zimbabweans prefer media that is flexible and available when they want it to be. They do not want to go online and learn something new altogether.

Media preference then becomes one of the challenges for podcasting in Zimbabwe. However, this behavior is normal since podcasts are new and rising media in the country and Africa at large. Right now, it’s normal to mention ‘podcasting’ and have some people ask you what it is.

People are accustomed to watching TV, listening to the radio, and reading newspapers and magazines. And given how long these media have existed, they are now habitually ingrained. They are a part of our daily routine. We do not have to think or plan before we can tune in to a show on TV or radio. Thus, media preference cannot be changed overnight.

Unlike other online media like websites, blogging, and vlogging, many people know little or nothing about podcasting.  Podcasters across Africa recognize this as a setback to the growth of podcasting. Hence, audiences in Zimbabwe and Africa at large should be presented with opportunities to learn about podcasting and get used to it.

What to Do to Ease This Challenge?

Community building is one way to achieve podcast growth and awareness. Over the years, podcasting communities have been useful to the growth of the medium in Africa. Podcasters in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria have experienced it firsthand. Podcasting events and associations like Africa Podfest, Podfest Cairo, APVA, Zedpod hub, etc., bring African podcasters together to support each other. The communities offer learning, networking, and collaboration opportunities. They also allow podcasters to register their podcasts in the community database for exposure. Podcasting is popular in some African countries because of the close-knit community they have created within and outside their bounds.

Content Preference

Popular podcasts in Zimbabwe are linked to current events of the country and  “gossip, juicy and trending” news. Their popularity is influenced by celebrities and social media influencers who talk about what the audience “wants to hear”. This threatens the flexibility of online media production. It shows that not everyone can wake up, create and run a podcast in Zimbabwe. It also shows that connections to important people improve podcasts’ listenership. While podcasters see this as a challenge, it guides you to what you should do.

Training, Planning, and Community Support

Any content is capable of gaining preference. But not everyone can be a professional media creator, especially without skills or training. Podcasts are just not about creating content. They must be lovable, engaging, and relatable. Like radio, podcasts have no visuals or text. This makes them more complex than other media too. Hence, podcasters should be willing to go the extra mile to create lovable podcasts. While the difference between radio and podcasting is clear, they are audio formats. A few techniques like Content Layout and Presentation can be borrowed from radio hosting. These techniques ensure that radio shows are more personal and engaging to listeners. And the trick can work for podcasts too.

For instance, Voice training is as important to radio hosts as to podcasters. This is an opportunity to prepare your vocals. The way your voice sounds can achieve listener retention. It also improves the quality of your audio.  Also, additional content preparation and planning before recording are important. You can either write an entire script or just a few notes to guide your recording. Writing a script or notes for each episode improves orderliness. It also improves content delivery and reduces post-recording edits.

Listeners are attracted to interesting content even when it is not the usual content they love. Davy Sims’ golden rule is “you start with the story and the passion to tell the story. Get to know your audience and understand what they want to hear,” However, we should add ‘how they want to hear it.’ because your voice matters too.

Celebrity-popularised podcasts should not be seen as a challenge but as an opportunity. Popular podcasters should be mentors and role models. Upcoming podcasters should learn from these veterans (from their planning and content layout to their sound). It is difficult to rub shoulders with celebrities and influencers out of the blue. But this is why podcast networks or communities exist. When you join or create a community, you will have opportunities to network and collaborate with other podcasters. You will also get guest and endorsement opportunities and success tips from popular podcasters. 

Knowledge is power. The more skills you have, the more challenges become opportunities, and electricity and technology won't be obstacles.

Electricity and Technical Issues

Zimbabwe and Zambia recently faced power outages. While Zambia is cleared, Zimbabwe continues to face this challenge. Unreliable electricity is a challenge to quality podcasting. It makes recording almost impossible. You can use a phone to record your podcast, but it does not guarantee quality recordings. And it also needs charging at some point. You cannot do anything when there is no power, but you can take this opportunity to plan for your episodes adequately. Take time to write one to three episodes of your pod series. This way, it will be easier to record all of them when you have power.  Investing in solar power and generators can also help.

Technical issues are also another challenge of podcasting. And they can be frustrating for listeners. Imagine tuning in to your favorite podcast, and the sound is inaudible or breaking. Worse off, there is background noise. These are just a few examples of what Rutendo detects in some of the podcasts she listens to. And listeners will most likely lose interest and switch to something else.

What Podcasters Can Do to Cope

Investing in a high-quality sound system can ease this challenge. Money can be a problem here, but buying low-quality equipment increases the problem. So you are better off saving money to buy the best equipment. It will guarantee you quality podcasts. This is why it is an investment.

Data and time spent online can be expensive for podcasters.

Inflation and High Cost of Data

Nothing is as discouraging as creating podcasts for people who cannot afford them. This a challenge that Rutendo faces as a podcaster in Zimbabwe. She says podcasts in Zimbabwe are “a privilege of some sort”. This is because of the high cost of internet data.  There is an improvement in internet penetration in Africa now. This comes as a great opportunity for digital creators. But the challenge may still be prevalent in selected places. And inflation is making such challenges worse. Meanwhile, podcasters can teach one another to make quality podcasts using smaller file sizes, like uploading mp3 files instead of wav files. They can also make short episodes that are easily downloadable.

What Next?

Podcasts are not as popular as creators want them to be in Zimbabwe, but this has not stopped them from podcasting. The industry is growing slowly, and people are learning about it. Improving podcasting skills, podcast awareness, and the availability of energy alternatives and money will speed up the growth of podcasting.  The country already has a list of the top 50 best podcasts. This is encouragement enough for content creators who use podcasts to educate, entertain, and inform their audiences.  They can take advantage of this audio opportunity to collaborate with other podcasters within and outside Zimbabwe. These include APVA, Africa Podfest, etc. These communities can enhance the position of podcasting in the country as well as the continent and the world at large.

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