a16z podcast

A Podcast About Podcasting – The a16z Podcast

Check out the a16z Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • One-third of Americans have listened to a podcast in the last month
  • Among the U.S. population ages 12 and older, the total number of people who have ever listened to a podcast just passed 50% for the first time
  • From the advertising standpoint, it’s still really hard to measure the ROI of sponsoring a podcast
  • We’re in the very early stages of podcast monetization
  • Podcasting Improvements:
    • We need better ways to identify and share the best clips from a podcast episode
      • This is currently a huge problem – creators have no idea which parts of an episode the audience likes the best
      • “One of the biggest limitations in podcasting is the lack of a screenshot equivalent”
    • We need better ways to consume short bites of a long podcast episode
    • Podcast show notes should be interactive
    • We need better ways of discovering and searching for podcast episodes by topic 

Books Mentioned


What exactly is a podcast?

  • Technically it’s an audio file delivered through a RSS feed
  • But the definition is expanding – now anytime someone records the audio of a conversation you can call it a podcast
  • Perhaps one day a podcast might just be thought of as a self-published audiobook

The Podcast Industry is Booming

  • The Infinite Dial Study from Edison research just found:
    • Both podcast and audiobook consumption is on the rise
      • Podcast consumption has been increasing for quite some time, with audiobooks flat-lining until this year – perhaps the popularity of AirPods really increased the amount of people listening to them? (or maybe it was the boom in wireless speakers)
    • 70% of Americans have heard of podcasts
    • More than 50% of Americans have listened to a podcast (~144 million people)
    • One-third of the U.S. population reported having listened to a podcast in the last month (up from 26% last year) 
    • Among Spotify listeners between the ages of 12 and 24, 53% of those listen to at least 1 podcast per mont

Podcast Advertising

  • The ad revenue that podcasts generate is really a small amount given how many hours people are spending consuming this kind of content
  • “From the advertising standpoint, it’s still really hard to measure the ROI of sponsoring a podcast” – Connie
    • Let’s expand – Podcast advertisers currently pay per guaranteed download
      • This is fine for “direct response advertisers” who give out promo codes 
      • But for brand advertisers who need to form an impression on the consumer over a long period of time, the current analytics aren’t sufficient

We’re in the Early Stages of Podcast Monetization

  • “We’re in such baby phases of how podcasters should be able to monetize. They shouldn’t be having to ask their listeners to go to other sites (like Patreon) to pay them.” – Connie
    • Instead – it should all be done in the same app
      • Things like Patreon and direct revenue pathways need to be brought straight to the listening point
  • Future monetization strategies:
    • Some platforms may roll out subscriptions 
    • Other platforms may specialize in allowing people to pay for certain bundles of content
      • Something like this may allow creators to specialize, and shift their focus away from a mainstream audience to a niche audience
    • Perhaps you’re able to pay within the podcast app to unlock exclusive audio segments from the creator
    • Tipping:
      • What if it was possible to tip a creator within the podcast app?

There’s So Much We’re Not Even Tapping Into

  • Nearly every time you’re listening to a podcast, you’re doing it on an internet-enabled device
    • Think of all the possible interactive features you could build just knowing this 
    • “Right now, there’s very little interaction with a podcast which I think is such a shame” – Connie

We Need Better Ways to Identify and Share the Best Clips from a Podcast Episode

  • “I would love a world where in the future you’ll know which parts of the podcast the audience liked the most” – Connie
    • This is currently a huge problem – creators have no idea which segments are a listener’s favorite
    • Imagine a podcast platform rolling out a new feature, instructing the listener to just tap the screen if they like a certain part
  • Someone should create a platform that aggregates the best audio clips from all the top podcast episodes 
  • Overcast just enabled the sharing of short audio clips (made by the listener)
  • “One of the biggest limitations in podcasting is the lack of a screenshot equivalent” – Sonal

Nothing Sells Books Like an Author’s Appearance on a Podcast

  • “There’s nothing that moves books the way podcasts do” – Sonal
  • “The same way that QVC is a great way to sell physical stuff, a podcast is a great way to sell written content” – Connie

The Podcast Weblink Ecosystem

  • “It’s crazy to me that podcasts don’t have context built into them…it’s crazy to me there isn’t a weblink ecosystem for podcasting out right now” – Sonal
    • Show notes should be interactive – as you’re listening to an episode, the relevant books/reading materials should present themselves and you can then click on them if you choose

We Need Better Ways to Consume Short Segments of Podcast Episodes

  • Another reason this might matter:
    • People have different commute times – if they have a 20 minute commute, they might prefer to listen to a 20-minute podcast/segment rather than something 30 minutes in length
      • It just serves a natural stop off point 
  • Podcasts are great in long form, but what if you prefer to consume short clips while you’re waiting in line at the store 
    • Connie adds that in order to incorporate a feature like this, you’d need really good discovery tools to increase the likelihood that the listener lands on a clip they’ll actually listen to

Startups and Platforms Need to Experiment

  • “This is not cutting edge science or technology that doesn’t exist yet, it’s just that a platform hasn’t put all these things in place” – Connie
  • New startups and new platforms need to experiment with how people engage with podcasts
    • “I think it’s a given that everyone would prefer to have no ads in their podcast. It’s up to all the platforms to figure out how to create the tools so creators can still make money, and make better money than what they’re making now. I actually think podcast creators are vastly underpaid.” – Connie
  • It’s not all about the money, we need better ways for creators to see who their real fans are:
    • “Right now it’s a one way conversation. Why can’t the platforms that allow you to listen to podcasts allow you to record a quick message back to the creator and then use algorithms to figure out which comments are valuable or not?”

Apple and Spotify

  • A few months ago, Spotify acquired Gimlet – why?
    • They’re pulling their business model away from being completely tethered to the music industry
  • For the longest time, Apple has been the primary distributor of podcasts (upwards of 80% of them)
    • But now, their share has dropped to ~60-75%

Paid Consumption Podcasting Platforms

  • The main players:
    • Sticher Premium
    • Luminary – they’re trying to be the Netflix of podcasts 
      • “To do so is going to be difficult because they’re trying to build a private catalog of things that you could argue has free alternatives almost everywhere else”
  • Some history – 60db tried to be the Netflix of podcasts before they were acquired by Google

The Taxonomy of Podcast Shows

Podcast Discovery

  • We need better ways of discovering and searching for podcast episodes by topic 
    • Right now, we can only search for specific shows
    • We should be able to search for a specific topic (like real estate) and find every single podcast episode related to it  
  • Note – Google is working on something related to this by transcribing pretty much every podcast episode in existence and indexing them all within their search engine
    • What does this mean? – You’d be able to search for something like “oura ring” and see which specific podcast episodes it was mentioned in

Tips For Creating a Podcast and Building an Audience From Sonal

  • Know where you are in the taxonomy of shows
  • Attention is scarce – you HAVE to differentiate
  • The number one way to get a lot of listeners is to release a lot of episodes

Additional Notes

  • Andreessen Horowitz is an investor in Descript
  • Connie and Nick are both proponents of podcasters releasing their episodes in seasons (just like a TV show does)
  • Food for thought: What if the advertising model for podcasts was flipped, and listeners got paid for their attention?
  • One reason ads work so well on podcasts is that they come from the voice of the creator rather than the brand (or some other random voice) 
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