Thursday, February 21, 2013

Can Podcast Magazines Work?

I like podcasts a lot. I was talking to a friend the other day, noting all the creative projects I enjoy or want to be a part of, and oddly, podcasting is up there towards the top. I listen to many non-fiction podcasts, from news and analysis (The Economist) to interviews and panels (The Nerdist Writers' Panel, WTF with Marc Maron). In the last few years, I've also gotten into fiction podcasts, like the three put out by Escape Artists, Inc.: Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod, each of which puts out a story a week.

I've just recently decided to try out a few other podcasts that seem more like magazines, so that each episode contains several different segments: for instance, the most recent episode of Geek's Guide to the Galaxy started with an interview with Karen Russell and segued into a panel discussion on the weird in speculative fiction. This episode of StarShipSofa that I'm listening to started with a look at the boom in utopias after Bellamy and now has a story by Ken Liu. So I'm only beginning to listen to magazine-like podcasts, but, surprise surprise, I already have some thoughts.

First, on iTunes, it's a pain to see the whole description of the episode, which means that I am often starting an episode without knowing what's in it. Second, if you have a multi-part episode, you should consider putting in chapter breaks so the user can see a quick table of contents as well as how long each segment is.

Third, I don't know how long the multi-part anything is long for this world. There is something nice and serendipitous about downloading a podcast for one reason (oh, a Ken Liu story) and then finding something else of interest (oh, Utopias). But in a world of entertainment on demand and discrete units, I'm not sure this magazine format has a long life. Why not go the route of various podcast empires (Maximum Fun, Earwolf, Escape Artists, etc.) and separate out your podcasts, but include them under one corporate umbrella?

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