The podcast industry is a 15yr old teenager.

15 years ago, The Guardian was the first major publication to use the term “Podcast” and on June 28th, 2005, Apple announced its intention to take podcasting mainstream by adding it to iTunes. The rest is history.

By these calculations, the podcast industry is a 15-year-old with all of the symptoms of a teenager: promising, trendy, not growing in proportion, with little money, great talent, wants to be independent, and is not sure what to do with her life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m betting on the podcast industry. But for now, it’s still a teenager.

  • She grows disproportionately. Like the growth of a teenager, the podcast industry made great progress in content creation and awareness but is still lacking in a monetization, community, discovery, and infrastructure.
  • She has little money. Monetization continues to be a core struggle for podcasting, which generates 10x less per listener hour than the closest rival, radio. Big brands are still hesitating to open their wallets and trust a teenager.
  • Her voice is changing and she struggles with identity. 10 years ago everyone understood exactly what a podcast is, but now the lines are blurry. A podcast used to be an open RSS feed featuring audio produced by indie creators. Now there are massive production companies creating global hits like Serial along with the garage-show produced by your friend down the street. To make matters even more complicated, RSS feeds are now no longer open and becoming exclusive to large distributors.
  • She’s trendy. Despite any shortcomings, the podcast industry is hot. All the celebrities want to create a show and it’s quickly becoming a new channel for self-expression and storytelling that hasn’t existed before.
  • She’s becoming independent from her parents. Apple is arguably the family which gave life to podcasting but it’s leaving and finding new friends.
  • She’s growing up fast. These teenage years have shown a growth spurt as the podcast industry is adding 20% year-over-year growth. Now, nearly a quarter of American adults have become weekly listeners.
  • She’s at a major crossroads. The social pressures to find a stable and conventional career are strong. The desire to start making money is strong. But she’s still wild at heart, aching to remain free, creative, and able to say what’s on her mind without thinking about the Overton window.

In 2019 large distributors began acquiring podcasts for hefty sums, Luminary is signing big checks to podcasters and bringing them into their walled garden, and Spotify flexed enough money to buy out entire media publishers like Gimlet, Anchor, and Parcast.

What now? Will podcasters sell out or remain free? Will the podcast industry end up in a cubicle obeying the orders of overlords or a touring as an artist? While it’s exciting to see more money in the industry, what will be the cost?