The End of Talk Podcasts
The future for audio fiction is rosy.
Talk podcasts will always be here (see: talk radio), but their death grip on the norms of podcast listening will soon be over. One day soon, when people speak of “listening to podcasts” they will be speaking about fiction podcasts.
The Lunar Company recently launched Apollo — an app for fiction podcasts. Just one sign of what is to come.
The top 100 of fiction used to be filled by indy shows, but no longer. Today it is filled by a significant number of well-backed independent productions from the likes of QCODE and Realm.
I know some people will not agree with me. Audio fiction has traditionally been an infinitesimal part of the podcasting ecosystem. We reached less listeners, had less investment (zilch), and got next to no attention from traditional media.
To that point, a favorite meme in the indie fiction space is shouting out with glee when the NY Times announces that someone invented “movies for your ears” for the 300th time.
So I get why some long-time fiction producers are frustrated. It’s been over 10 years of sweat and toil with very little return.
But here’s why I am bullish on fiction.
Fiction fans are the most engaged in the podcasting ecosystem.
Talk podcasts can be tuned out and half-listened to. You can do work while you listen. They are designed to be background.
Fiction requires your full attention. It’s like a crazy novel you can’t put down. Or that TV show you want to binge until your eyes itch.
Show me a talk podcast where the per-episode time spent listening is always over 100%. Because that’s the norm in fiction. And yes, likely also in True Crime.
Engagement is one of the key definitions of a relationship. And it’s all about relationships. Fiction shows have some of the highest conversion rates and % of listeners that financially support their favorite shows.
Fiction fans are exploding.
We are small. No argument. But we punch above our weight. And the tide is changing.
I equate fiction podcasting to the audio book adoption dilemma. People had to learn how to listen to podcasts. I was one of those people. I kept trying, but I couldn’t stay focused on the story.
I signed up for some training that required me to drive 8 hours every few weeks. I had to stay awake and I found an AudioBook that captured me and the drive just flew by. I was a convert and this was my gateway to audio fiction as I quickly ran out of Audio Books to listen to.
What the indy fiction community needed was someone with scale to train more people on how to listen to fiction. We needed a gateway. I thought this might be Audiobooks, but Amazon’s strategy with podcasts has… baffled me.
I think the answer is Realm.
A company that gets independent authors and producers. And has a strong catalog of easier to listen to, single narrator titles that are somewhere between an Audio Book and a full-cast audio fiction. And a growing number of full-cast fiction shows this year.
Take a look at the top 100 fiction podcasts and you are going to see a lot of Realm shows.
Big Entertainment and Investment is Coming.
Audible has announced it will once again be embracing fiction podcasts. I’ll just leave that there as I don’t think any of us can figure out what Amazon is doing. I suspect they don’t know either. But it looks like podcasts are going to be a much bigger part of their strategy moving forward.
To date, Netflix and others, such as CBS, have focused on how talk podcasts can accentuate their narrative TV and Film titles. But for how much longer? I can’t share specifics, but quite a few of the larger entertainment players I’ve spoken to are exploring fiction and narrative podcasts.
And let’s not forget QCODE and their approach to creating compelling new shows with an IP path to other media. If anyone owns the top 100 apple fiction charts in the USA going into 2022, it’s them.
The investment in fiction podcasts has been under-reported. Likely due to our being distracted by the insane acquisitions happening in the podcast ecosystem. But it’s worth taking note. The entry of new, funded audio fiction production companies in the last two years was eye opening. And the per-title investment in audio fiction IP in 2020 has been nothing short of staggering.
Story is powerful. And I stand by my earlier prediction: Investment in the fiction podcast space will dwarf all other investments in podcasting in short order.
As soon as someone cracks the IP path to other media, fiction will destroy talk.
And unlike past digital experiments (the disaster that was web series comes to mind), fiction podcasts are a healthy business with significant growth in revenue and audience.
The future for audio fiction is rosy.
Sean is the co-founder of Fable and Folly and a co-creator of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and Civilized. He can be reached via Twitter or email.