Throwing stones at the Death Star

There will have already been takes aplenty on yesterday’s news of Spotify buying Anchor and Gimlet (the former coming as something of a surprise to many of us who were just coming to terms with the latter). As the owner and operator of the tiny podcasting machine that is Podiant, I went through all of the reactions yesterday.

It’s great to see the marketplace enter a new phase. In a recent interview on the Wolf Den podcast, producer Renay Richardson talked about how the podcasting ecosystem is still “nice”, and while I disagree that this is a negative, I share her view that we need a shake-up. But as Helen Zaltzman discussed yesterday, creators who’ve been quietly working away for years need to see the benefit of some of this new money that’s started sloshing around, and for it not just to go to comedians who already have TV careers. That’s not the kind of shake-up anyone needs, least of all Avalon, or whatever other London talent agents are working with Acast.

For me, this news came at the tail end of a lot of introspection I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks, as opportunities present themselves and then mysteriously disappear, and we see the marketplace slowly congeal into a solid mass, centralised in Sweden. I’ve been so focused on “growth” and wondering how I can compete with dynamic ad insertion, massive marketing budgets and talent acquisition staff, that I sort of lost sight of who Podiant was originally created for: people like me, who actually care about the medium and want to retain control over their intellectual property.

I’ve been an aspiring and ambitious podcast creator since day one (for me this was 11 years ago), and built Podiant to serve my needs. It grew into a business after the project became too popular to simply run as a hobby, and as anyone who’s run a solo software-as-a-service business will tell you, juggling the business, creative and technical aspects is almost impossible without occasionally dropping a ball. As it were.

What I thought I was seeing was a shrinkage in the market for services like mine. I mean, how do you compete with free? But if we follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion, why in the world would Podiant still have customers?

  • Well, we have customers because we don’t force a production or monetisation methodology on our creators. You choose how to make your show, and you come to Podiant to upload it. You don’t use a fancy gimmicky interface to stitch your audio together, because you want to edit with precision, not with boxing gloves on.
  • We have customers because we don’t try and own your content or your feed, either by attempting to claim ownership of content we had no part in making or by obfuscating your RSS feed so you’re unable to move away.
  • We have customers because I wanted to allow podcasters to create their own little corner of the web, so if they didn’t want their web address to end in .podiant.co, but they still wanted a simple website for their podcast, they just had to hook up a domain name.
  • We have customers because they trust that I know my shit, and I didn’t just come to podcasting fresh out of business school. I come as a creator first, and a developer and founder second.
  • We have customers because we have services that literally no other podcast hosting company provides, like our episode planner, scheduler and studio mode to share scripts and keep track of recording times.

And while there are other companies servicing a similar market, few of them make it as easy as we do, which is why we have such a breadth of experience within our customer base. We make our customers’ lives easier by dealing with ID3 tags, metadata and even chapters, but never in a way that messes with the actual content. We’re also a real part of the community in a way some of our similarly-positioned friends just aren’t, and as a founding principle, we value the user experience not just of our customers, but of their listeners.

I also put my money and reputation where my mouth is. This year, Podiant co-created a category at the British Podcast Awards to celebrate shows that get less than the threshold of listeners most of the dynamic ad companies will even consider.

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OK, but why the sales pitch? Partly it’s a self-serving rallying cry to help me remember just what makes Podiant special, but also to talk about some ideas for 2019.

Podiant, like the landscape of podcasting in general is going to change over the course of the year. But I don’t think this change is going to be scary. We’re going to continue to serve the market we always have, by providing a toolset that, like our customers’ work, is always striving for better, never satisfied with good-enough.

I’m explicitly saying here that I intend to continue providing the same hosting service for our customers, with no plans to change pricing or introduce limits. It’s what I founded Podiant to do, and it’s what I’m going to continue doing.

But I also want to extend Podiant’s reach, and grow into a services company rather than simply a hosting one (partly this is just about the company maturing, and needing to diversify a little). I expect to see more podcasts produced and edited by Podiant this year (which is a service we’ve offered since last year), and I’m cooking up something exciting that I’ll announce in the coming weeks, but that our customer-base will already be familiar with.

Podiant remains the thing I’ve built of which I’m most proud. And that’s not because of the nice interface or the cool tech that goes into it, but the integrity, ambition and passion with which I’ve always conducted business. Bigger companies will come and go, each wanting their seat at a table in a party they were late to, while the rest of us — the people who were here before 2014 when “podcasting came back” — will still be creating compelling content for our audiences, and occasionally taking pot shots at the Death Star.

love podcasting, but hang the industry — let’s go and make some noise.