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A few scattered podcasty thoughts
Baby Yoda, Nieman Lab, and Radiotopia's best video
Happy Christmas Eve or two days post-solstice! Are you making your show? Taking a break? If you’re like me, you’re overeating. This week I have a couple funny videos to share along with some thoughts about a few Nieman Lab pieces that are among the best podcast and journalism writing I’ve read this year.
This came up on a slack I’m in, and it’s the best commercial for podcasts. I’m also jealous of that tagline!
Nieman Lab stories
I am not admittedly a regular reader of Nieman lab but they’ve been crushing it lately. First, I loved Taylor Lorenz’s story about independent journalists (including journalist podcasters) becoming journalist influencers and how hard that will be. Even as we look at the huge success stories around Substack and Patreon we have to know there’s not enough patrons out there for all of us to make a go of independence, right? It’s just obvious math. Lorenz talks about Substack writers banding together to make bundles. Reminds me of magazines. Maybe this is the way we find the path back to the old model of paying for the value that reading brings into our lives? That would be a nice outcome.
The other Neiman lab piece that caught my eye is this one by Eric Nuzum. The article is Nuzum’s predictions about what will happen after the big wave of podcast consolidation. He’s not wrong about the acquisitions being too small for the skilled-at-kite-foiling VC crowd. My favorite part about the piece, though, is where he talks about the combination of uncertainty in the world and lots of money flowing into the podcasting industry causing decision makers to lower their risk tolerance and produce more sameness, less novelty in 2020. Who knows if this is really true, but it definitely tickles my brain thinking about it. I’ve been so busy thinking about the work that goes into making a great show, I didn’t consider that part of that work is risk taking. Staying creative when the stakes get higher is def more difficult. Am I right, Disney? You making more Star Wars shows where nobody important dies?
I had already written about these two Nieman Lab stories when another great one came out today. Juleyka Lantigua-Williiams wrote about what an awful metric download numbers are, and how she likes the listen-through rate much better. I haven’t even had time to fully digest her thoughts, but I whole heartedly agree that we’ve not given listen-through enough importance in our collective conversation on podcast success measurement. If you make a truly great work, why would anyone ever abandon it part way through? So in the name of making great shows, I love this metric too.
The CIA is on my mind
I just finished listening to Wind of Change which was a hit on many many top lists this year (including the one from Elle which, since the Pharma Bro story, I’m considering myself an avid reader of). Wind of Change, about whether the CIA wrote the famous Scorpions song of the same title, was beautifully produced and very entertaining. It caused me to ask Alexa to play the title song at last a half dozen times. The show did get at some important themes about what propaganda really is and where conspiracies start and stop, but it fed me those veggies in the form of a thriller with a bad ending. Plus, doesn’t it just make you loath the CIA? A club of assholes that spend their entire lives trolling Americans with hints of the amazing secrets they’ll never tell you? And when you do occasionally find out one of their secrets, you’re like, “Wait, you were torturing people in the name of freedom and liberty?” Can we all just agree to like spy stories but not let our kids join the CIA?
Oh you think I’m being too hard on the CIA? Am I being unpatriotic? Before you go full unsubscribe on me, check out this book I just read. Poisoner in Chief caught my eye (ear?) because of an interview on Fresh Air. Author Stephen Kinzer was telling Terry Gross about some CIA thing involving LSD and prostitutes in San Francisco in search of the recipe for mind control. So, as I’m sure you would have done, I pulled over and bought the book immediately. If you can listen to Wind of Change and read Poisoner in Chief and still feel warm feelings about the CIA, then maybe you can go ahead and click that unsubscribe. Wait, noooo!
Why even bring these up? Well both the book and show were incredibly well researched. They were both shining examples of journalism and storytelling at the highest level. It’s what we celebrate at Timber, so I think that’s why they fit here.
Netflix and podcasting
I don’t expect Netflix audio-only to go mainstream or threaten podcasts, but I do think that it will have a very dedicated user base. And to me that fits with Netflix's whole brand. They make very specific stuff for very specific people. They work hard to 'know us'. And in so doing, they probably discovered that there are a bunch of people that don't look at the screen while they watch. I wouldn't be surprised if they were able to look at gyroscope data from mobile phones to figure out who is already playing shows and not actually looking at them, so they already know down to +/- 10,000 how many people will use this service.
Also thank you, Netflix, for The Crown. I know every part of it is true even down to the parts that I was like “no that can’t be true,” and googled to some disappointment. It was still so good.
Stay safe and healthy and thank you so much for reading and sharing.