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So, what IS a podcast?

It’s such a simple, basic question isn’t it? What actually is a podcast?!

It almost doesn’t need answering, right?

Well, there are plenty of people out there who still don’t really know. I’ve done a few webinars and presentations at virtual networking events over lockdown, and each time made a point of emphasising that there’s no shame in admitting you’re not actually sure what a podcast is. You only know what you know, and it’s my job to help fill in the blanks.

I talk to my mum regularly about my podcasting work. I’m never quite sure if she has the foggiest what I’m talking about.

But then, there’s also a category of people who have a definition of podcasting which maybe I would challenge.

In reality, it probably isn’t as easy to define as it once was. I’ll often have enquiries from people interested in ‘podcast’ services – except when we get talking about things, it turns out what they’re looking for is something else.

And look – in the great scheme of things, ‘podcast’ is a relatively new term. Maybe it means whatever you want it to mean. But here, I’d like to give you my definition of what makes something a podcast. Thankfully, there are only two main criteria:

1. It’s an audio file (NOT a video)

This is simple enough. A podcast is an audio file – be it an MP3, a wav, an m4a, or some other format. It’s a piece of audio.

OK, OK, but what if it’s a video? Well then, it’s a video. I hear the phrase ‘video podcast’ quite a bit, and personally, I don’t think that’s a thing. Yes, you can set up a camera and film when you record your podcast – then release that as a video version of your podcast. Or you can make an all-singing all-dancing video, then strip the audio from it and release it as a podcast.

I’m probably sounding a bit daft at this point, aren’t I? But let me explain – for a podcast to be a podcast, it needs to be completely accessible. This is an absolutely key point. Someone should be able to consume it pretty much anywhere – while they’re driving, out jogging, at their desk working, relaxing in bed, or maybe cooking the tea at home. Visuals don’t work in those situations. A podcast is entirely portable, and therefore necessitates being an audio file.

2. It should be in my podcast app

Not just MY podcast app – YOUR podcast app. And your other half’s podcast app. And the dog’s podcast app.

My point here is that a podcast should be accessible on the platform someone normally gets their podcasts from. Chances are that will be Apple Podcasts or Spotify, but it could be any one of dozens of others.

I shouldn’t have to go to your website for it. I should be able to listen to it on my terms, in my own time, on the app I usually use. If you make me jump through hoops, I’m out. You lose me as a potential listener.

Get it on the podcast apps – it’s really that simple. Now that isn’t to say you shouldn’t ALSO put it on your website, because you should – and often that’s the best way of pulling in someone who’s never listened to a single podcast before. But you wouldn’t write a book then only sell it from your own garden shed on say Tuesday and Thursday afternoons – you’d get it in Waterstones and WH Smith’s and on Amazon. The theory is the same. Put it where people will find it.

And, well, that’s it.

That’s my criteria for what makes a podcast. You’ll notice there’s quite a lot I HAVEN’T set down as a criteria, and that’s entirely deliberate.

For example, I’d not mentioned anything about podcasts being free – nearly all are at the moment, but in time we’ll see more subscription models or paid-for ‘bonus’ episodes (just as soon as Apple introduce them), and that’s fine. I don’t think ‘free’ will be a criteria for podcasts in the long term.

It doesn’t need to be a minimum or maximum length.

It doesn’t need to be recorded in a studio, or even using any sort of professional equipment. Podcasting is open to anyone, and that should never change.

It just needs to primarily be an audio file I can listen to anywhere, and using my podcast app of choice. That’s it.

What do you think? Do you agree? What is YOUR criteria for what makes something a podcast?

About the author, James

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