Podcasting will never die. That’s a bold statement to open with, but in it’s true to say the soul of podcasting is a hardier beast than many give it credit for. There’s been an awful lot of talk lately about the patent trolls threatening the future of podcasting, but before that all the podcast chatter centered around the three words “podcasting is back”. The die-hard podcast fans, myself included, will tell you it never left, but it’s fair to say that podcasting is bigger now than ever before.
So why are we threatened by patent litigation? If it came to pass that syndication of audio through a single URL, i.e. an RSS feed, was a violation of a patent and infringements should either be ceased or be prepared to pay the price, would this spell the death of podcasting? Take a moment to imagine all the podcasters out there right now. Imagine the passion it takes to record a regular podcast for little-to-no gain and more often than not, at a personal loss. Imagine the industries that are seeing a whole new market for their microphones, headphones, software and apps. Imagine the audience that has seen a whole new content stream from their favourite creators mouths to their ears spring up with rich, regular content. Now turn all of that off.
Just take a moment to think of those passionate podcasters, who tomorrow are unable to distribute their podcast to their fans. Imagine those microphone manufacturers who saw that potential industry disappear overnight. Think of the world where lovers of on-demand audio, are suddenly left without their beloved voices and their preferred medium. Now the real test, imagine a world when one of those people, cut off from podcasting as we know it, doesn’t find a way around it.
The problem of the patents is a uniquely American phenomenon. Although I will admit that I would be inconvenienced a little by the worst case scenario, the patent would not affect podcasters operating outside of the US. Theoretically, based on past events, anyone podcasting from inside the US, using a non-US host could still fall afoul of the troll, but the most obvious workaround for the rest of the world is to switch to a hosting provider based internationally (which would be a boom for whoever is first at bat).
There’s way more to it than that though. Although I love to sing the praises of Australian podcasts, I won’t pretend that the biggest producers and consumers do not reside somewhere between the Pacific and the North Atlantic. So, what do all the American podcasters do? Well, find a way around it. I’m not going to pretend to understand on what basis the podcast patent is supposed to restrict usage, but let’s look back a decade or so and you tell me what podcasting was then. Go back a couple more and tell me your experience of the internet. Look how much it’s changed in such a short time. Do you think podcasting will be unchanged ten years in the future? Try 20 years, will you even recognise podcasting to be anything like the delivery method we use today?
Not to say that we shouldn’t fight the patent troll, obviously many people and their business would be hurt by an unwelcome decision, preventing that is a worthy cause. It should be considered, however, that should we end up with victory, how long will we continue to use the disputed medium?
A conversation I had with some Australian podcasters recently was discussing the dilemma of breaking your podcast’s release schedule. In theory, with the syndication format, this won’t be an issue, as your listeners don’t need to tune in at a certain time, they’ll automatically receive your content when it’s published, but in practice that’s not how it works. Any podcasting coach will tell you to be regular and be consistent, you will create a habit in your listeners and you will grow your audience. So then, the syndication is not the factor that we desire. It’s the ease of access for our audience.
Take, for example, YouTube. Which bears little resemblance to podcasting in it’s delivery method, but it’s far-and-away more popular. Why? Because your average podcast listener could care less about RSS feeds and the details of the patent that is being fought for so strongly, they just want to hear your voice. As long as you are producing quality content then you will be heard. That is why podcasting will never die. You can take away our RSS feeds, but you can never take our content. Podcasting will find a way. As long as there’s a microphone and someone who wants to listen to your opinions, there will always be podcasting.
Joshua Liston, a serious name in Australian podcasting has recently launched his sixth concurrent podcast, Social Audio Think Tank, exploring why content is king and the tech stuff should come second. Full disclosure, I’m a co-host, but he’s the driving force behind it, so check out his other podcasts as well.
By Jackson Rogers of OzPodcasts.