The celebrity podcast boom is overrated

Most A-list stars will get bored with podcasting and go back to posting selfies on Instagram.

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Let’s jump into it…

The celebrity podcast boom is overrated

Last week The Guardian published a piece positing that the recent surge of celebrity-hosted podcasts will make it difficult for non-celebrity podcast hosts to attract notice.

This prompted Tom Webster, SVP at Edison Research, to push back against this argument with data showing that podcasts with non-celebrity hosts still dominate the medium’s popularity charts:

We are going to have a glut of celebrity podcasts for a while, but I think a bunch of them will not return their investment, and the balance of the force will be restored. For the average podcaster, the challenge is two-fold: outlast, and outperform. The first part of that is just perseverance. But the second part requires a growth mindset. The only way in the long term that a new celebrity podcast is going to take audience from your podcast is if your podcast isn't as good. Take the celebrity out of the equation, because celebrity is neither a guarantee nor a prerequisite of podcasting success. If your show right now is not as good mechanically and formatically as a new celebrity podcast, you can't carp about them stealing your audience. If your show doesn't surprise and delight as much as a new celebrity show, you can't claim that their show is ruining podcasting, or making discovery harder.

Like Webster, I think a celebrity-hosted podcast can reach its first few thousand listeners on a faster timeline than the average podcast, but beyond that, it still needs to build any additional audience one listener at a time.

Barring a few exceptions, there’s no fast audience growth in podcasting. And I think a lot of celebrities will run up against that slow growth and quit. After all, why pour all your time and effort into servicing 20,000 listeners when a quick selfie can instantly reach 2 million people on Instagram?

That all being said, there is one A-list celebrity who is a surprisingly good podcast host: Alec Baldwin. I’m constantly blown away by how attentive he is as a listener, and I love that he specializes in interviewing much older celebrities I’ve never heard of — actors who harken back to a bygone Hollywood era. It takes real talent to get me to listen to an interview with someone who starred in TV shows or films I’ve never seen.

My latest: Daily Detroit is proving there’s a market for local podcasts

Jer Staes monetizes his podcast through a mixture of local business advertising and paid memberships.

Another one from me: This company specializes in turning industry conferences into podcasts

Marc Honorof is the "king of repurposing content," and he realized one day that conference panels would make great podcast episodes.

Newspaper chains won’t save local news

If local news is going to be saved, it's going to be through hundreds of lean, digital native startups. Most of these startups have the same three characteristics, which I outlined in a recent piece.

How The Dallas Morning News leveraged hyperlocal newsletters

Better News published a good case study on how The Dallas Morning News launched 15 hyperlocal newsletters targeting the communities surrounding Dallas:

We hired freelance journalists in 10 communities to publish a handful of quick-hit hyperlocal articles — through original reporting or aggregation — that would supplement what the full-time newsroom staff could cover. Topics included restaurant openings and closings, city and school district news, crime, elections, things to do, real estate, retail and city rankings.

We also needed to make it easier for readers to find their community news. We handled that in two ways: by creating a newsletter and a web hub for each community. We tag the related hyperlocal content and the in-depth journalism the newsroom was already publishing and use those tags to feed the community newsletters and websites automatically. The websites also display events specific to that community, filtered from our main events-listing page, as well as links to community-specific content hosted elsewhere in the site, like real estate and high school sports. We also used social media and desktop push notifications to help geo-target audiences.

This is a great strategy that other local news outlets should copy. Most city-based newspapers cover the surrounding suburbs, yet it’s not really very easy for people who live in those suburbs to specifically follow the news within their community.

Take The Richmond Times Dispatch as an example. There’s a suburb west of Richmond called Midlothian. It has 68,000 residents. But when I go to the homepage of the Times Dispatch, I don’t see any way to navigate to Midlothian-specific news. The best I can do is use the search bar, which doesn’t even work all that well.

Hyperlocal newsletters are great because you can simply embed a signup form in all articles that are tagged to that community. They improve the signal-to-noise ratio for subscribers so that they receive a lot more value from their city newspaper, and they may even provide additional opportunities to serve up local ads. They do require additional labor to compile, but The Dallas Morning News case study indicates that a single staffer can manage multiple newsletters.

In summary: newsletters are a great way for any publication to nicheify its audience.

Kids-focused podcasts are booming

Here’s a neat origin story of a podcast company that focuses on children’s programming:

Even though our podcast was far from paying the bills, we knew we were onto something. We had found that kids are deep and engaged listeners. We’d learned that families are hungry for screen-free entertainment. We discovered that teachers love using audio in their classrooms, and students love listening.

We knew enough to dream big. That’s why we decided to formalize our relationship into a company. We found a lawyer, who happened to work out of a converted Airstream trailer parked in front of an East Austin convenience store called Ideal Soul Market. We climbed into the trailer, went over a few documents, signed on the dotted line, and Tumble Media LLC was born.

It seems to me like kids-focused podcasting is experiencing a huge boom in listenership. More and more parents are seeking out audio content to entertain their children.

Discord is no longer just a chat app for gamers

Fast Company goes deep on the rise of Discord, which started as a chat app for gamers but has since grown into a massive online meeting place:

Its user base doubled last year, according to Aragones. Every month, Discord users are active in 19 million servers, with 50% of them in at least three servers, and 25% taking part in eight or more. Voice is also a big component, with 40% using Discord’s voice chat and spending an average of around two hours a day on it.

I have a private Facebook group I only promote in this newsletter

Not only do I promote it exclusively in the newsletter, but I make sure the promotion is buried fairly deep within the newsletter. Why? To ensure that the people who join are just as obsessed with the media industry as I am. It now has over 500 members and we get up to some pretty good discussions every day. Join here: [Facebook]

Atlas Obscura’s Wikipedia-like community model

The New York Times reports on the state of Atlas Obscura, which was hit hard by the pandemic shutdown:

When the pandemic hit last spring, Atlas Obscura had just received a $20 million investment from a group of investors led by Airbnb. Atlas Obscura, at the time, was focused on building the “experience” side of its business — guided tours and classes — which it expected to snap into the giant home rental platform. (The New York Times is also an investor in Atlas Obscura.) But Airbnb gave up on the initiative as it scrambled to weather the crisis. And like the rest of travel media, Atlas Obscura has spent a year mostly catering to the fantasies of homebound travelers. That led, the company says, to record traffic and advertising revenue, as well as a new business in online classes.

Atlas Obscura has become a kind of Wikipedia of historical places. In addition to its standard editorial content, it has a vibrant community of unpaid editors who create articles about historical sites.

The anti-cinema of YouTube clipping channels

There are YouTube channels that generate millions of views by uploading short clips from beloved TV shows and films. But why are we drawn to these videos? This essay from Dirt explores the phenomena of nostalgia viewing:

Over time, I’ve been struck by how fundamentally different of an experience it is to watch something this way, chopped up and rearranged. In the most obvious ways, the YouTube clipping channel disregards the conventions of cinema which made the so-called Golden Age of TV a sensation — namely, the long form attention of the format, the ambiguities of their anti-heroes, and the authorial control over the linear narrative.

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at For a full bio, go here.