Whether you’re starting a podcast for the first time, or you’ve been producing for a while, self-doubt will always show up at your workstation. The more podcasting grows, the more ammunition that demon has to throw at you. Avoiding impostor syndrome takes work. You might feel like you’re spending time and money playing a game without a level field. Many people stop and say, is podcasting worth it? This is a question worth asking, and it’s important that you answer it in detail.
Is The Emperor Naked?
if you don’t know the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, you should. It’s an allegory for groupthink and trying to convince oneself that something is true.
Tech companies use podcasts as loss leaders to sell advertising and gather user data. Not only does this provide income, but it also drives up their stock prices. Plus, tech companies want people to make podcasts and buy the gear to make them. The global Audio Equipment Market was valued at $12.13 billion in 2020, and it is expected to reach $17.01 billion by 2026. This is more than the GDP of Malta. The Infinite Dial 2022 report shows that online audio consumption is limited to very few brands: nearly 60% use Spotify and YouTube.
The tech industry can use this power and money to convince a lot of people that podcasting is an “easy side hustle” to gain quick money and fame. They benefit from podcasters using their products for creative expression. Podcasters make their products evoke productivity, creativity and talent. If tech companies are The Emperor, podcasters aren’t just his subjects. They’re also the weavers making his invisible clothes.
The attention economy can also take a toll on our health. While you’re trying to make a podcast, there are a million things competing for your attention. It’s hard to make anything when you’re pressured to consume everything.
When you look around and see a lot of podcasters putting in a lot of time, money and effort for little reward, you can start to wonder, is podcasting worth it? Don’t let this slow you down.
Note the Negativity, Then Move On.
Bearing all this negative stuff in mind, how can we (podcasters) use this to our advantage? Let’s take a look at some parts of this puzzle.
Who Cares About Your Podcast?
When you have thoughts about “so what” and “who cares,” stop, and answer the question. You know who does care? Your audience avatar. Your ideal listener is the person who needs your podcast the most and can’t find it anywhere else. Figure out exactly who this person is, when they listen, what they do when they listen, and what your podcast does for them. This can help you determine, for example:
- how long each episode should be
- what your sound design should be like
- the best way to present your topics
- where and how to promote new episodes
Your ideal listener has a mirror-universe doppelganger, just like Mr. Spock wearing a goatee. This audience troll is horrible. They’re the one who says irritating, negative things while you’re working. Grab that troll by the scruff of the neck, and let them spit out all their nasty little statements. Figure out exactly who they are. Not only does this give you a clear idea of who your podcast is not going to motivate, but also by contrast, it tells you more about what not to do. And, when you’ve heard from your audience troll enough times, it becomes easier to shut them up. You know your podcast isn’t for that kind of audience.
Don’t Buy All The Gear, All The Time
There’s a joke in the zeitgeist about the podcaster who finally made money from his podcast, by selling all of his podcasting equipment. Podcasting can be expensive. The more money you spend, the more pressure builds. For years now, everyone here at the Podcast Host has tried to be the Jedi Knights of podcasting, saying, “you don’t have to buy all the gear.” There’s a lot of podcasting equipment we do recommend. But, we also try to find ways for people to make a podcast with the minimum amount of equipment. We also search for a balance between quality and price.
Take the pressure off yourself. Don’t buy tons of expensive gear, expecting it to make you sound good. Instead,
- research gear before you buy it
- experiment with technique before replacing or upgrading your kit
- be smart and careful with your purchases.
It’s easier to feel like your podcasting is worth it if you don’t have a big chunk of credit card debt hanging over you. The reverse is true, too. It’s easier to feel like your workout is worth it if you treat youself to a new pair of running shoes or workout clothes occasionally. if you have a few extra bucks and you want to buy yourself a gift, do it.
Attention is a Valuable Resource
The same mindset is true for our attention. Columbia University Law professor Tim Wu wrote a book called The Attention Merchants, all about who profits from, and engineers, grabbing and holding your attention.
In a 2018 interview with Vox, Wu said, “I’ve been very interested in…feats of concentration that people used to perform all the time — [such as] writing a book in six weeks or a computer program in a few days… I do think it’s become considerably harder in our environment to enter important and deep states of focus and concentration, because we surround ourselves with technology, whose business model is to distract us…. Our computers are ostensibly productivity-enhancing machines, but they also are loaded with platforms whose business model is to consume as much of your time as possible with ads and noise and distraction.”
Not only is it hard to produce a podcast (because you’re competing with distractions), but also, it’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to your podcast, because they’re distracted too. So, how can you make your podcasting worth it with all that nonsense?
- Treat the audience like the valuable resource they are. Thank them in your intros and outros. Make it easy for them to get in touch.
- Guard your time and focus like the valuable resource it is. Practice digital minimalism. Minimize your social media use.
- See other independent podcasters as potential collaborators, not competitors. Swap trailers for each other’s shows, write social media posts promoting each other’s content, partner up to produce special episodes.
- Consider what podcast production tasks you can do without electricity. Many distractions run on it. Try using a tool like a planner or journal for some tasks.
Podcasters are part of the attention economy, which makes it hard to avoid distractions. Knowledge is half the battle. Build boundaries between your podcast and whatever keeps you doing what you need to do.
Why Are You Doing This?
This is the kind of question my mom would ask when she caught me drawing with ballpoint pen on my dolls’ faces at age four. It doesn’t mean, “stop it.” Every podcaster should know why they’re producing a podcast. Once they know the answer, they can take steps to get there. And, we can apply some realism to the answer. Why are you producing a podcast? Maybe it’s:
- to tell a story that no one else can
- so you can make money or get a better job
- to enhance your existing career or business
- because experimenting with immersive or dynamic audio is interesting
- so you can be famous
Once you know why, that reason helps you with every aspect of your podcast workflow. There are so many really good reasons that podcasting is worth it.
The “famous” part is one that you may have to reframe. While Andy Warhol said that everyone wants to be famous, for about fifteen minutes, it’s not sustainable or realistic. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be Rogan or Oprah, because they’re statistical outliers who each had a big following before they started. You can, however, be your own amazing self, and have a unique podcast niche with a loyal audience.
Would you rather be famous, or respected? They’re not the same thing. At times, the steps you take to get a lot of attention can dilute or undermine getting sustainable, meaningful engagement.
Podcasting Is Worth It When You Keep It Simple
Think of podcasting as a communication tool, just like mailing a letter or drawing a picture. You have interests, skills and talents. There are topics and stories worth sharing. People, out in the world, who you have never met, can benefit from your podcast. You should be aware of the reasons that podcasting might not be worth it. Knowledge is power. This will help you make strategies to dismantle that cycle of negativity. Life is short. Share your story.