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Podcasting Guru Eric Nuzum's Advice on Digital Storytelling

With nearly one million podcasts to choose from, how can anyone be successful?

Canton native Eric Nuzum has developed a number of popular podcasts, from the “TED Radio Hour” to “Invisibilia.”  His new book, “Make Noise – A Creator’s Guide to Podcasting and Great Audio Storytelling,” shares some of his personal successes and failures. He also traces the story of the podcast medium itself, which he says launched with a handful of interview shows in the early 2000s.

“Then 2005 comes, and you see people starting to use this as a way to redistribute radio programs, like 'Fresh Air' or 'This American Life,'” Nuzum said. “From there you start seeing people using the medium as kind of like a hobby, a fun space."

Nuzum said some of the podcasting world’s biggest successes, like Marc Maron's “W.T. F.,”  "The Joe Rogan Experience," and “99 Percent Invisible,” all started during this time when the stakes were low and people were experimenting with formats. Networks like Gimlet and Wondery and media companies like Spotify turned podcasting into a major enterprise.

Nuzum estimates that there are about 900,000 podcasts on the web and more on the way, and many companies are working on what he calls a “discoverability problem,” with little success.

“Their discovery tools are being built to make sure you land on their podcasts or the ones where they have relationships with, rather than really understanding how to build a relationship with the listener,” he said. “Eventually, someone's going to figure out the long-term strategy that works is serving people by giving them what they need rather than what I need them to do.”

A 2019 Pew Research Center report compared radio versus podcasting listening habits. Over a 10-year period, radio listening has remained steady with about 89% of Americans reporting they listen to the radio at least once a week. Podcast consumption has grown over that same time span and 22% of respondents reported listening to a least one podcast in a week. Nuzum said traditional radio is still very much alive.

“I'm never going to want to listen to an Indians game on a podcast a couple hours later. I want to hear it live," he said. "Will radio change? Certainly. Will it focus on the things it does best with a different set of of listening options? Absolutely. But, there still will be a huge presence left for radio for as long as I can see.”

Nuzum added that the ability of podcasting to deliver special programs to very specific audiences is both a blessing and a curse.

“Let's say that I collect autographs of movie stars, and there's a bunch of other people who like to do that. We have a place where we can get together and have a conversation. And that's the beauty of podcasting,” he said. “But the disadvantage of having that walled garden of a community is we're spending more time in this little group and not thinking about the larger community that we live in.”

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