Spotify, Apple, Google, they're all trash
It was a few years ago when I became seriously addicted to podcasts. Since then I can attest having not slept on any park benches or begged for change, so it's certainly the most rewarding addiction I've ever had. Prior to this affliction, I didn't understand what a podcast was or what it can do. There was just never really anything that piqued my interest about listening to a pre-recorded discussion of people giving their opinions on whatever was trending that week. But then everything changed.
A friend of mine recommended season 1 of Crimetown, and I had a long drive ahead of me so I figured I would give it a shot. I was only a couple episodes in before suddenly, all of my preconceived notions about podcasts began to suddenly evaporate.
CrimeTown was different, it was more like watching Sopranos than it was listening to NPR. It was gritty, suspenseful, a meticulously crafted audio experience from start to end. I was immediately sucked into this wild story about a mob-connected Mayor from Rhode Island and the cast of archetypal murderous-mafioso-bad-guys-with-a-heart-of-gold. . It was essentially an audio version of everything I loved so much about the Godfather, Goodfellas, and Casino. That was it, I was hooked.
These days I don't even like to admit how much time I spend devouring these tasty little slices of audio cheese (s/o Jake Brennan). Some would even say I spend an unhealthy amount of time listening to podcasts; which is fine by me -- because if I've learned anything from all these podcasts about crime it's that there are much worse things I could be doing with my time.
So if you're like me, you're just as familiar with the euphoria of finding a new show that perfectly matches exactly what you like, as you are with the frustration of coming up empty handed. It certainly prompts some questions like ---
So why is it so difficult to find great shows?
Why am I forced to scour the depths of the internet, combing through obscure subreddits to find the pods focused on a very popular topic that myself and seemingly millions of other people love so much?
Why am I constantly running out of great podcasts to listen to?
Why does it seem like I am always discovering great shows years after they were initially released?
Finding a good podcast these days is akin to finding a neat website back in 1995. It was all trial and error. There was no google, you could maybe ask jeeves or run it by Hot bot dot net, but that was it.
So here is what Apple and Spotify need to do immediately, like tomorrow, in order to give avid podcast fans and our dedicated artform a decent chance at surviving in the ever-changing landscape of new media.
1.) Differentiate Narrative & Conversational!!!!!
What stands out as the most obvious, and glaring design flaw plaguing popular podcast apps is their inability to distinguish for its users the difference between a highly-produced, stylized edited, deeply researched, story-telling, narrative-style documentary podcast series; and the multitude of conversational-based shows that are at their root, a few people in a room or over zoom that make up the vast majority of all podcasts.
Let's look at some examples: Below are 2 of the most popular podcasts on the subject of organized crime.
Despite the goofy, 90s-esque MS-Paint cover art, the shows hosts include 2 of the most prominent historians on American organized crime. Each week they tackle a new mob related topic and often have guest interviews with journalists, former mobsters, and subject matter experts.
An 18 part investigative series on the mob-influenced political corruption scandals in 1970s Providence, RI. It is rich with archival audio tape, interviews with dozens of first hand witnesses, that takes the listener deep into the New England.
# of Episode: 65
# of Episodes: 15
Cadence: new episodes weekly
Cadence: Season 1 Ended after 6 Month
Both of these shows are incredibly well researched by experts on the subject, and each tell a story focused on the subject of American organized crime, each of which could be technically categorized as true crime. Though when it comes to the manner, style, cadence, and delivery in which they are presented to the listener, they are worlds apart. One is like a TV show, the other is more like a movie or HBO miniseries. They each deliver to the listener a different listening experience.
If the apps we use, namely Spotify and Apple (which when combined make up 60% of the entire market share) would simply give their users the ability to filter by conversational or narrative style podcasts, not only would it give their users a powerful tool for discovering great new podcasts, but it would also provide podcast-newbies the ability to navigate through a sea of garbage to find what they fancy.
2.) Fix the Search
Here is a list of genre's currently available for browsing on the Apple Podcast app:
Creators We Love Darkside Collection tbh Collection Popped Collection Charts / Comedy News Kids & Family True Crime Society & Culture
Sports TV & Film History Education Science Leisure Music Technology Fiction Government
This is completely useless. What kind of weirdo wakes up on Saturday and goes "I can't wait to listen to some new podcasts about the government" ? These are just silly words that mean nothing to someone who happens to be an actual human being.
Spotify's options get a bit more granular but they're buried so far in the app by a link at the bottom of the screen.
2.) Add Comments
It's as simple as that. Create a network of nerds that will battle it out in the comments sections. This will create the community. Just do it.