The Curse of Preconceived Notions

Until yesterday, every time someone mentioned Joe Steel or his blog, I immediately thought of Terrible Podcast Screenplays. I had equated Joe to this one Tumblr, and that humorous pursuit to Joe. In my mind, they were one and the same. As a result, whenever someone referred to his work, I absentmindedly categorized it as comedic and of little value beyond a source of entertainment, and disregarded it accordingly. Late last night though, I read — and posted about — The Ubiquitous Yak for the Discerning Obsessive because I finally gave Joe’s site a chance, and because he really impressed me with his writing. I then spent the next half hour reading his last twenty blog posts, finally rectifying this egregious lapse in judgment.

Outside of my relatively trite example, a larger point can be made with regards to podcasts. A few weeks ago Paul Riismandel posted an article under the “title” Podcast Survivor: In 2014 podcasting must enter every room in the house, where he posited that the greatest problem facing widespread adoption of the medium lies in a combination of its obscurity and a high barrier to entry. While I do agree with Paul to an extent, for I also believe that podcasting’s enigmatic nature does lend itself to primarily niche adoption, I disagree that a lack of ubiquitous consumption channels compound this problem.

Any television I have time for, I watch on an iPad. Although occasionally I do turn to the large, forty-inch screen downstairs in front of the couch, the time I spend using my iPad for that same task instead dwarfs that of the larger — and thus better, in the majority’s opinion — TV. In essence, this highly portable, much more capable tablet has completely obviated my need for a purpose-built monolith occupying an entire wall of a downstairs room.

At one point not too long ago, I used my iPad to discover, consume, and create. Essentially, everything I described using my iPhone for in My Tools and Toys, I once did on this tablet. However, time has relegated it to the simple job of an entertainment portal, leaving me to discover and consume new content on my phone instead, and create on my Mac. Each of these perform their requisite tasks well, hence their utilization as my go-to tool for each action: although I could use my iPhone to write long form articles, I will produce better writing in shorter time periods on my laptop; while I could watch TV on my Mac, the iPad’s slim form factor and versatility makes it a much better platform for this use case; and even though I could tote my tablet around, listening to podcasts, checking Twitter, and browsing RSS feeds all take considerably less effort with my 4S. So although each device could conceivably do the others’ jobs, they excel at their respective tasks and therefore — pursuant of the best, most friction-free workflow possible — I do not require any one device to overextend itself and fulfill another’s role merely to say that I have done so. Reading Paul’s article, I cannot help but feel this is exactly what asks of everyone in order to further podcast adoption in the coming year.

The crux of Paul’s argument advocates increasing accessibility for the masses. Lest you feel I took this sentence out of context, I strongly encourage you to go read the entire piece: I may disagree with a portion of his ultimate point, but he makes an intelligent case for it nevertheless. In conclusion, he writes: “Closing the accessibility gap is not the only challenge podcasting faces, but it is one of the most important ones.” This is where I disagree with him, perhaps vehemently so. I listen to podcasts on my phone and on my phone only. Although I have Instacast installed on both my iPad and Mac, I cannot remember the last time I used either for this task; podcast consumption is most certainly not the job I hire either of these devices to do, wholly because my iPhone does it better, and to tie this act to another device would be to degrade it severely. Yet Paul advocates this very course of action: give them apps and channels, and they will become loyal listeners.

I doubt it.

For the same reasons I refuse to listen to podcasts on anything but my iPhone, making this medium more accessible on devices and platforms conducive to a poor experience will only leave new listeners with a bad taste in their mouth and forever ruin this incredible format for them. By Paul’s own admission throughout his post, all the popular consumption platforms already have the capability to stream podcasts. The problem does not lie in availability, then, but in viability: why do so few become involved in podcasts relative to other forms of media? In a word, to make another noun from an adjective, approachability: few see podcasts as something for normal people, but instead a thing for nerds or, at the very least, not for them. This is the notion we must work to change in the coming year, rather than a perceived accessibility problem combated by lowering podcasting’s already low barrier to consumption with increased platform adoption in ways favorable to subpar experiences. Sure, like I did with Joe Steel’s website, some may come around at a later date and overcome their negative associations this formative encounter will undoubtedly foster, but can we really bet this industry’s future on that? I say no.