Lend Me Your Ears

Podcasts, Audiobooks, Influencers & the Creation of A $2 Bn Media Economy

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With a plethora of avenues enabled by digitization and the internet, the old complaint “ I don’t have the money to start a business” is becoming an outdated cliche. This article introduces readers to two growing platforms i.e. podcasts and audiobooks that are delivering knowledge through active listening, democratizing influence, enabling a zero marginal cost (but not zero marginal opportunity cost) business and fueling an alternate economy that typically relies on loneliness to create a fertile listening experience. It also provides readers with an introduction to creating their own podcasts, audiobooks and ultimately a bankable brand based on influence. Money, however, should never be the ultimate goal. Helping people imagine or understand the world around them should be the intent. It will become a business only if society sees value in your content.

Surviving A Lonely Commute

In 1961, Roy Orbison crooned “Only The Lonely (Know the Way I Feel)” which established him as a hit singer. The song reached №2 on the Billboard Pop music charts and spent two weeks at the №1 spot in the United Kingdom (UK). “Only The Lonely” keeps playing in my mind each morning as I open the door to my car and step in to begin my commute to work. At first, my solution to loneliness was an ever increasing playlist of songs chosen from the 40 million songs available on Apple Music. While the music was a great way to start an early morning commute, I started feeling an urge to have a companion to chat with during the roughly 45 minute commute. So, I requested a colleague if he would car pool with me. We did carpooling for 2 months until coordinating times became too burdensome.

So, I was back to square one. On a bright evening in July, I accidentally clicked on the podcast icon on my iPhone which I had never used prior to 2017. I remember downloading the Tim Ferriss show and tuning in to Tim’s conversation with Nick Szabo and Naval Ravikant on cryptocurrencies. To this day, it remains my #1 choice for an engaging podcast. I was suddenly transported to a recording studio where I felt like I was in the same room as Tim, Nick and Naval. All this time, I was gaining knowledge through an engaging interview. My second best podcast series is Conversations with Tyler.

The Breakfast of Active Minds

Typically, I am not a morning person unless my professional requirements compel me to become one. It takes me an hour to get adjusted to a new day. During that hour, I choose to not talk to anyone. However, past that time, my mind is more receptive to conversation. So, I found listening to a podcast every morning for 45 minutes on my way to office an incredible breakfast for my mind. My personal recommendations of podcasts to listen to include the Tim Ferriss show, The James Altucher show, the Joe Rogan Experience (its explicit), TED talks, The Ezra Klein Show and Conversations with Tyler Cowen. As per Statista, the most popular categories of podcasts worldwide are Christian, Music and Comedy followed by TV and Film, Literature and News & Politics.

Nowadays, I have started listening to Podcasts on my way back so that adds another 45 minutes to my listening time. I listen to what I call very dry content primarily non-fiction but a lot of listeners love to listen to mystery/thrillers or comedy which follows a central character in a story arc over multiple episodes just like Game of Thrones on television.

The Low Down On Podcasts And Audio Books


Audio blogging, minus the iPod, dates back to the 1980’s. The iPod ws born in the year 2001. However, as per Wikipedia, the word “Podcast” is a portmanteau, invented by BBC journalist Ben Hammersley in 2004, of the words “pod” — from “iPod” and “broadcast”.

The history of audiobooks predates that of audioblogging by more than 50 years when the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in the UK was testing ways to produce “talking books”

Why You Should Care About Podcasts and Audio Books?: The Trends

1/ Podcasts and Audiobooks are a growing category. As per Audio Publishers Association and Edisonresearch.com, users consume these types of audio primarily at home followed by the car during commutes. These locations are followed by public transportaion, listening at work, gyms and others mostly by smartphones

2/ As per research by the Audio Publishers Association, there was a 33.9% increase in audio books sold in 2016. More than 67 million Americans listen to audio books every year. Audiobook industry revenues were approximately $2.1 billion in 2016 which is almost 10 times larger than podcast ad revenues.

3/ As per a recent PwC study, Podcast industry revenues are estimated to triple from $69 million in 2015 to $220 million in 2017

Source: Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), PwC

4/The top companies in the audiobooks industry are amazon unlimited, Scribd. Although, major book publishers have a difficult relationship with Amazon. However, the most successful audio book seller is Audible. Other vendors include audiobooks.com, Findaway and TuneIn. Overdrive is the largest company that powers 75% of all Canadian and US libraries audiobook and e-book collections (source: goodereader.com).

5/Traditional publishers such as Hachette, Harper Collins have also committed efforts to audio books. Publishers typically control pricing of audiobooks

6/ For the producer or host of the podcast, revenue from endorsements cam vary depending on listenership. It can range from $25 to $100 per 1000 listeners. The American Life podcast for instance ranges from 80,000 to 1 million downloads per episode thereby drawing $50,000 minimum per episode. Besides ad revenue which is the biggest source of revenue, podcasts can also obtain money from listeners via donations and by cross selling products using a promo code. Each time, someone uses a promo code aired during the podcast, it is construed to be a marketing campaign aimed at cross selling.The key is to keep costs down which can quickly spiral out of control as more professional equipment and staff is employed.

Venture Capital Investment in Podcasting

Overall, VC’s have not shown much interest in podcasting as an investment.It’s easy to understand the reluctance from the chart below:

However, Gimlet Media attracted $15 million recently from venture capitalists in a round led by Stripes group. Gimlet is a podcasting company that produces a series of podcasts. It had raised $7 million before.

7/ Estimates about the number of podcasts and downloads put the numbers at 250,000–3,50,000 podcasts with 2–3 billion downloads.

Creating Your Own Audio Content

More often than not, podcast hosts and their guests are celebrities in their own right. Ira Glass is considered a podcasting legend. Some were recognized experts, successful TV show hosts, entrepreneurs or writers even before they began pod casting. Therefore, past accomplishments lend a lot of credibility (through experience) to a podcast and make it more marketable and easier to monetize depending on an established fan base. In other words, being a celebrity makes pod casting easier but is not absolutely essential to create influence. In the next few paragraphs, I will walk you through some ingredients that are.

The A’s and B’s: Altruism and Business

As with most business, if money is your main motivation, don’t start a podcast or create an audiobook. Almost always, creating content should be a way to add value to society, to teach without expectation. For most people, the biggest gift is life itself. So, think about what gift you have that you can share with the world. Maybe it’s cooking or reading or writing or learning from your professional managerial experience.

The C’s and D’s: Content, Duration and Directories

For a podcast, have 5–6 episodes worth of content before you start recording. Podcasts can be 90 minutes long. However, some of the podcasts are 90 minutes, others such as Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History can be up to 6 hours long. The duration of a podcast depends on who your audience is, what subject matter are you dealing with, the frequency of pod casting. My average commute is 45 minutes. As per the US Census Bureau, the average American commutes for 25.4 minutes. So, 30 minutes could be a good duration. Although iTunes is the default directory (yellow pages for podcasts), there are a number of other options such as Stitcher, 60Db, Blubrry to consider.

For an Audiobook, you need to have written an ebook or a hard copy to be able to convert it to audio. A person to lend voice (narrator) to the book would be another requirement to think about.

The E: Equipment Needed

Besides the host and the guest of course, a basic laptop, USB microphone (such as the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB) that plugs into the laptop , a quiet space and headphones would be the minimum hardware requirements.The headphones are not mandatory but are advisable if you want to monitor yourself.

A podcast editing software such as Audacity would be needed from the software perspective. For a definitive guide to get started, refer the Audacity To Podcast site.

Measuring Success

Podcasts and audiobooks can be released on iTunes. Audiobooks can be released on a variety of platforms including Amazon, Audible etc.

With iOS 11, Apple recently announced in it’s WWDC that it will provide listener ship metrics very soon. The only measurement metric today is number of downloads and quality of reviews. However, with iOS 11, Apple will offer in-app analytics to show how many people are listening and when they are stoppoing or skipping.

With Audiobooks, there is a lack of quality review websites and centralized research which makes comparison and bench marking success difficult.

The Future is Almost Here

The kicker, in this entire discussion though, is the advent of driverless or autonomous vehicles. Imagine a scenario where entertainment becomes central in driverless cars. Granted, there will be a plethora of options. But, in the short term, the relaxing driver will have to keep eyes on the road until machines become self sufficient and autonomous vehicles become completely mainstream. Also, podcasts are not just entertainment. They are informative too and users could divide their time between pure entertainment and infotainment.

As life becomes more stressful, the importance of meditation or transcendental meditation will grow. The driverless vehicles could be the perfect place to recharge batteries before working. Podcasts aimed at health and wellness could be a great focus area.

In fact, podcasts could become subscription based and may come bundled with the car — part of an entertainment package.

Final Thoughts

As per Edison Research, Americans, on average, listen to 4 hours of audio which is divided among various sources below:

Source: Edison Research

Knowledge is half the battle won. The other half is execution. While you may not be a writer, blogger/influencer, celebrity or a great cook, you should know that digitization has reduced capital requirements for starting a business. It has removed the boundaries to gaining influence as long as you have compelling content to share with the world. In my forthcoming articles, I will talk about other zero marginal cost businesses.

While pod casting has gone mainstream, it still represents only 2% of 4 hours each day which is roughly 5 minutes. However, 40% of weekly listeners listen to podcasts for 1 hours to less than 3 hours. It is a nascent medium but it also holds a lot of promise.Today, the wisdom of the crowd is widely recognized as indispensable in many disciplines because the world is becoming increasingly complex and a view from multiple vantage points is required to understand it. Audiobooks, on the other hand, are an almost necessary complement to your hardcover or paperback.

Although, remember that time taken to build influence and a zero marginal cost business has an opportunity cost. It could eat away at the time spent with family, friends or other important priorities. So, in a sense, there is always a price to pay and the old wisdom about hard work still applies.

In any case,

If you can unbundle complexity and tell a story, there will always be somebody who will lend you his ears. So, the question is: are you ready to share your gift with the world?

Writer @ The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba

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