By Darren Johnson
This week in podcasting … I decided to follow Alison Rosen around a little bit. The “Adam Carolla Show” castaway not only appeared on her own show, “Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend,” but also the popular “Joe Rogan Experience” and “Fitzdog Radio,” hosted by Greg Fitzsimmons.
It was her 41st birthday week — though I had thought she was much younger, because her Thursday show, with a bunch of friends sitting around her dining room table, usually seems so hipster/millennial — and she decided to get some publicity by stopping by these two higher-profile shows.
The various business models involved with podcasting deeply interest me, as an independent newspaper publisher, because we face many of the same financial challenges. Podcasting is such a new medium, no one has really figured out yet how to properly monetize it. Even Carolla, who has a very popular podcast, recently opined about the model.
But, I think podcasting will have a future. Advertisers will eventually realize that it’s intimacy that moves products, and podcasting creates a really intimate experience between listener and host.
Currently, most podcast advertisers are God-awful mail-order companies that sell stamp machines, frozen steaks, underwear, etc., and they give the podcaster a cut of any sales that come from the ads. It’s a dubious way to do business. The listener has to remember some promo code, and, when ordering from these companies, give the code to, say, save $10. And who knows if the person answering the phone is recording who uses what promo code correctly? Or if they are being honest, even?
The problem is that the big advertisers are still stuck in the belief that volume matters. While a Carolla may get 100,000 downloads, a big advertiser can buy millions of views on the Internet rather cheaply. What advertisers haven’t realized yet is that those 100,000 podcast listeners are way more loyal to their medium than typically halfhearted web surfers.
Rogan also gets a sizeable audience, but the times I’ve listened I’ve been bored. He’s a comedian, but his show isn’t funny. It mostly just tries to be profound. He tends to bloviate.
He pre-loads his show with 10 minutes of commercials. So a regular listener would just fast-forward through those, and the ads would have no effect.
But I do find that the successful podcasters, like Rogan and Corolla, have a televangelist quality to them. They speak in absolutes with a know-it-all air. I go on posting boards and read what their fans write: They do oftentimes seem like numb followers, regurgitating what the host had said previously and not really having original thoughts of their own.
So lesson 1: If you are going to build a loyal podcast audience, channel Jerry Falwell. Except, be an atheist. Then this loyal flock will attend your comedy shows and buy your merch.
It took Rogan 40 minutes with Rosen to get anywhere. After the long commercial block, he assuredly ranted about the evils of sugar for 30 minutes. Finally, the conversation lightened. They even talked a bit about why Carolla canned Rosen last year; though there was no new information there (Rosen is mostly mad that she was fired by email, as opposed to, at least, a phone call, and felt that she had had no warning).
The unfortunately named “Fitzdog” podcast was actually much better, despite that Fitzsimmons’ show is far less popular than Rogan’s. Fitzsimmons and Rosen had a great rapport — perhaps they could be a podcast power couple, if they teamed up for a regular show. At one point, they both seemed to shake their heads a bit as to why some podcasts have taken off in popularity while theirs haven’t really. Fitzsimmons cited Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast as one where the comedian has made all the right moves from a marketing perspective.
Fitzsimmons had a bunch of funny, provocative, revealing stories, and both he and Rosen are good at conveying emotion. They both corralled each other when one would start to drift with a boring thought. They seem authentic. Neither seems to have a lot of sponsors. Sometimes their shows have none.
It will be interesting to see which podcasts survive long enough to make it to the promised land — profitability — once the winning business model is invented.
For now, we, the listeners, benefit by getting so many great shows, as the medium is still in its infancy, not yet corporatized and corrupted by big money. Enjoy this era.
Darren Johnson owns Campus News, a newspaper that hits 37 colleges. He’s also a former college journalism instructor, New York Press Association “Writer of the Year” and beat reporter. This is a new column. Get Google Alerts for future columns by clicking here and the “Create Alert” button.