What’s a podcast, and should you have one?

March 16, 2009

Podcasts have been around for quite a while, but it’s only recently that I’ve noticed they’re starting to grow in popularity beyond early adopters. Simply put, a podcast is an audio recording, usually in radio style, that users can download and listen to at any time. If there’s a series of podcasts, you can subscribe to them and have the next in the list ready and waiting for you. And while the word does come from iPod, you don’t have to have one to listen to them – although iTunes is probably still the easiest way to find and subscribe to podcasts (not that I’ve tried any others).

CBC has had great success with podcasts – which only makes sense, since not only do they have a ton of audio content to utilize but they’ve got the technology to edit that audio quickly and easily. I never get around to listening to the radio anymore (spending the morning with the CBC is part of my fantasy non-working life) but I do subscribe to several CBC podcasts, including Metro Morning and Radio 3 (a fantastic way to hear new Canadian music, by the way). I also listened to Margaret Atwood’s Massey Lectures via podcast and sometimes even listen to the news in French.

So should your magazine site offer podcasts? Well, they’re another member of that list of things people often have because they think they should, so my recommendation would be not to think of them from that angle. Instead, when working on creating content that meets your users’ needs, keep podcasts in mind as a potential means of transmitting that information. And make sure that you’ve tried listening to podcasts regularly to get a feel for what works before you go out and create your own.

One you might want to try is the new podcasts from Spacing Magazine, which they’re calling Spacing Radio. Hosted by David Michael Lamb, the series will discuss public space issues in Toronto and around the world, starting with an interview with former London mayor Ken Livingstone. But even if public space isn’t your thing, I recommend listening to the first episode to hear why Spacing has created these podcasts. “We’re really interested in discussing public space issues in the immediate and provocative form that radio and podcasts can offer,” says Spacing publisher Matthew Blackett in the pilot show. “It means we can actually go out into the public spaces that we talk about on a regular basis, and from there it gives a real intimate experience with that topic and with our magazine.”

Do you listen to podcasts? What do you like or dislike about them, and how do you think they apply to magazines and magazine websites?

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