Podfade: A More Responsible Approach?

I love singing on karaoke. I’m a product of the 80s so anything fronted by a guitar typically gets me singing. But am I a singer? No, no I am not. I also love playing golf, I find it relaxes me and allows me to spend some uninterrupted time with friends. But am I a golfer? No, no I am not.

Which begs the question: if you create a podcast, are you a podcaster?

In particular, if you create a podcast and then stop, are you a podcaster?

With over 700,000 podcasts available as of right now, according to Chartable, we’re presented with two trains of thought:

  • Wow, that’s a lot! I probably shouldn’t podcast, right? Wrong; or
  • There are over 505 MILLION blogs, podcasting is a great chance to have my say on whatever the heck I want to have my say about whilst it’s still pretty quiet! (Yay!)

The challenge is, potential podcasters are consistently being told that podcasting has “never been easier”.

Well, guess what, building a house has never been easier, but it’s still really hard for me because I don’t have a clue how to do it and sure, I can learn the skills, but can I master them enough to build something long-standing that won’t collapse under its own weight?

Sure, I can record my podcast pretty easily, I can find a podcast host, I can create a solid podcast marketing strategy and focus on my core audience but the moment that my download numbers don’t instantly jump up or that I realise that I didn’t experience the famed “hockey stick” of stats that startups so readily chase, I realise that podcasting is really actually rather difficult.

Or should I say, podcasting is difficult because life can get in the way – I have to work, I have to live and do everything else that I usually do, I get sick, my family needs me, my friends need me – just like being in a band or hitting the gym, podcasting is not a project, podcasting is a commitment.

So, let me ask you again: if you create a podcast and then stop, are you a podcaster?

Honestly, who really cares? I don’t. Nor should anyone in the podcasting industry, really. With a caveat…

We should be asking: “Did you enjoy it?”, “Did you create something, no matter how short, that you’re proud of?”, “Did you produce something that will entertain people or add value to their lives for the long-term, no matter how short-lived it was?”.

And: “Did you podcast responsibly?” – I’ll get to this later.

Right now, it’s time we talked about “podfade”.

When a podcast begins putting out episodes more and more sporadically and at greater intervals. Typically begins with only one episode missed, but if a podcast isn’t careful, it can compound, sometimes as severe as one podcast every other month. Podfade often leads to podcast death.

Many podcasts deny their podfade until it is too late.

Urban Dictionary

People who podfade sometimes get a bad rap from other podcasters because it’s seen as a negative thing.

Being frank, many of the reasons behind giving people who podfade a little stick are actually pretty valid, and responses that I’ve seen in the industry about people who podfade range from really defensive “This is our industry, let’s protect it.” to “You can’t be a serious podcaster if you podfade”.

Well guess what, folks, maybe people don’t want to be “serious” podcasters. Let me be clear: That. Is. Ok.

Podcasting is a community and we welcome new community members readily, so there is never a need to make someone feel bad for podfading because if we do that, it completely undermines the community that the industry has built, a community that has such a supportive feel to it, especially amongst indie creators.

Podcasting can be a hobby to people, and just like my foray into karate at age 6, my desire to be a rockstar at age 14 and my recent desire to learn the Jurassic Park theme tune on piano, I can dip in and out of it as I see fit and no one can tell me otherwise.

But, when you podcast, you do become a podcaster for one simple reason: your listeners, no matter how few, trust you and so, you have a duty to podcast responsibly and to make sure that you do your bit to preserve everything that is good about the industry.

The podcast directories are getting busier and whilst they work on solving those discoverability and recommendation issues that the industry still faces with the goal of making podcast consumption even easier, we have to look at that “This is our industry, let’s protect it” bone of podfade contention through an updated lens.

Instead of bundling all podfade into one bucket, we have to consider that three types of “podstop” occur:

  • I created great content that is valuable, entertaining and simply cannot or do not want to podcast anymore, either forever or for right now. But, that content is great and deserves to be heard by people it may appeal to, for as long as I want it to.
  • I created some content that I’m not continuing with and I’m not interested in people being able to access that content after I’ve finished with it.
  • I created some “test” content and didn’t pursue it. (This is becoming particularly relevant as platforms like Anchor encourage speed of production over the quality of process and content, at times.)

If we consider removing shows because they experience podfade, we begin to lose the nature of the industry – that one episode that you produced five years ago may well be the one show that I fall in love with or the one episode that changes my life.

No one has the right to tell you that your content should be removed from any podcast directory, but as a podcaster you have a responsibility, to be honest with yourself about which bucket your “podstop” falls into, acting accordingly to maintain the quality of the industry and its overall content.

As the medium grows, there’s the need to expand our layer of common sense.

Podcast common sense thought #1:

Podcast apps and directories are beholden to serving the best, most relevant content (note: not always the most recent) and creating filters/mechanisms to identify “test” content so that the directories are not cluttered up with content that isn’t actually, well, content from places such as Anchor (where it’s easy to hit a button and say “Hey, just testing, yo!”) should be pretty high on the agenda.

This is an actual search that I did in Apple Podcasts for the keywords “Anchor test” – some of these shows produce actual content, but these episodes need removing, which leads me to my next point…

Podcast common sense thought #2:

As a podcaster, we have to be honest with ourselves and act upon our content using the “true north” decision-making question of:

“Is this really something that should be in a content directory?”

And we should apply that question to both episodes and to our overall shows, too.

Have you created some episodes that just aren’t great, or are tests?

Be honest with yourself and remove them from your show to help new listeners get to the good stuff, because you sure as heck ain’t keeping a subscriber if the first thing that they hear from you is “Hey, this is an Anchor test” (side thought: Anchor should probably take a bit of responsibility for this).

That idea works well for episodes in your library, but what about if you podfade after prpducing some actual content?

Taking responsibility for that and doing your due diligence in making the right decision for you, your content, your listeners and the podcast directories is actually pretty easy:

  • Decide if your show should stay in the directories based on the three buckets I mention above.
  • If yes, then:
    • Tell your audience that you’re stopping, when you’re stopping and why by recording a “Closing” episode.
    • Consider marking the podcast as “closed” in your podcast host to tell Apple Podcasts (which supports the “<itunes:closed>” tag) that you’re ending the podcast (this could be permanent and you may have to contact Apple Podcasts et al if you want to ever reactivate that show, FYI).
  • If no, then:
    • Tell your audience that you’re stopping, when you’re stopping and why by recording a “Closing” episode, leave it a little while so that your subscribers have a chance of hearing this before you pull your show from the directories.
    • Log in to Apple Podcasts Connect et al and mark your podcast as either hidden or fully deleted. Note: if you remove a podcast from Apple Podcasts, it isn’t automatically removed from apps or directories that get data from Apple Podcasts, such as Overcast, etc (Thanks to James Cridland for a note on this, too!).

Neither of those things is hard, nor do they take any time to do but they ensure that you podfade responsibly.

Everyone should be encouraged to try podcasting and everyone should be able to try their hand at being a creator, just like they can on YouTube, for example.

Although the industry’s tough love style response to podfade is somewhat justified, we shouldn’t make people feel bad for ending shows or even concern them with the potential podfade worry during the creation of a show, because it can easily put them off even beginning if they can’t 100% commit to being a “forever podcaster” –  there’s no sense in repelling people before they even start.

Sure, the industry has to get vigilant on the “test” shows, too, but we also have a responsibility to nurture genuine creators to try podcasting without fear of reprisal if they choose to end their show, as long as we help to discuss and educate them on the right way to podfade so that potential listeners for years to come can enjoy something that creator once loved.

There is a range of resources about podfade and much more inside the Podcast Success Academy, too.

Cheers,

Mark Asquith

Mark Asquith

Mark is the CEO and co-founder of Rebel Base Media whose journey into podcast technology began in 2013. An accomplished founder, Mark is also a passionate podcaster, TEDx speaker and wildly approachable Brit. Twitter: MrAsquith. Instagram: MrAsquith. Podcast: The 7 Minute Mentor.