Podcaster burnout is a real thing. Not joking, not kidding, it’s a growing phenomenon.
We’re not talking about the majority of folks who start a podcast and then decide it’s too much trouble or effort to keep it going. We’re not talking vanity projects, one-offs, or podcasts that simply should have never been brought to life in the first place. Podcaster burnout is becoming more pervasive across longer running series, and we’re going to take a look at it – what it is, why it happens, and how you can avoid becoming a statistic.
You may hear it referred to as podfading, which is also a very apt term for it. At the core, the producer/host (usually one and the same) sour on the podcast production experience – either because they feel that they never get a break, or because the numbers just aren’t moving in the right direction as quickly as they should be. And while it used to be relegated mostly to newbies who had only been running a podcast for a few months – or perhaps even a few episodes – it’s pervading the veteran podcaster ranks at the moment.
Podcaster burnout isn’t really a preventable scenario; after all, it happens to almost everyone who produces anything creative in nearly any medium. We may call it writer’s block, the black hole, lack of inspiration, or simply fatigue. After all, it’s hard to conceive of enough ongoing ideas to support a serial creative endeavor. How you address the issue will likely determine whether or not you continue to produce your podcast, what changes you make to your production schedule or creative process, and what your ultimate level of satisfaction is with the work you produce.
Before we dive into the heart of the matter, let’s take a quick moment to review the various motivations that spur someone to create a podcast (or other creative work, I suppose) –
- Part of a marketing plan – our podcast, Mobile Wallet Marketing Made Easy, fits into this category. We’re not looking for advertisers or sponsors; all the episodes that we produce are designed to either help or mildly entertain our customers or prospects
- Commercial enterprise – these are, mostly, the podcasts that are created by companies like NPR, PRI, WBUR, etc. They leverage their radio or other content normally, and they have large audiences, big advertisers, and lots of people working behind the scenes to make the hosts look good.
- Artists trying to make it big – this is the biggest category of podcasts that are produced; that much is obvious if you look at the lists of series available on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Google Play, etc – these folks have creative ideas and want to express themselves. They would like to have big listener numbers and probably want to make some money off the episodes.
- Vanity podcasts – somewhat akin to the woman who gets a real estate license purely to save on the commissions when buying and selling homes she intends to live it, or maybe has intentions of being a flipper (after all, it looks SO easy on the HGTV programming, no?), but isn’t into the 25 hours a day of work it takes to be a great realtor.
This pretty much sums up the demographics of podcasters who make it past the first 6 episodes, give or take. There may be an outlier or two that we haven’t covered but whatever…
Main factors in podcaster burnout –
Without going out on any kind of limb here, we can safely say the number one reason that podcaster burnout happens is low engagement numbers. Nobody wants to keep creating, editing, producing and launching new episodes when they feel like no one is listening.
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We keep half an eye on our stats (take that with a grain of salt), and of course we like to see a steady increase in the listener and subscriber counts, but since we produce our podcast specifically to teach people how to use our products, we aren’t going to sweat it if we don’t get 10,000 downloads for an episode. We also know that with 600,000+ podcast series in iTunes alone, it’s most unlikely that we’ll ever be in the top ten of any list; our podcast is very specific and it’s got a limited potential target demographic.
Of course we joke about how if everyone would just understand that #MobileFirst marketing is the way of now, not the way of the future, our numbers would skyrocket, and then we’d be more like Two Dope Queens than a couple of computer geeks running a business. Not likely to happen, but of course it’s always there in the back our minds.
What can you do when podcaster burnout strikes?
A lot of your options are going to depend on how often you produce new episodes, and just how they are crafted. Some ideas that you might want to consider –
- Produce shorter content – there are any number of successful podcasts that don’t run more than 20 minutes per episode, and there are even some that are very successful running at 10 minutes tops. If you’ve got access to any kind of “time listened” stats you can optimize your episodes to end at the same time most of your listeners are dropping out. This also enables multi-part, or continuing, episodes, which can cut down on your overall workload since you are basically recording once and getting multiple episodes.
- Switch to a longer interval between new episodes – if you produce weekly (we used to) or even more often, it can become a real grind to keep up with the pace, especially if you aren’t part of an organization with dedicated graphics, copywriting, marketing, etc available. One interesting item to note – when we went to 2x per month (every other week) instead of weekly, our stats rose – more listeners, more time on episode, etc.
- Move to a ‘season’ style production schedule – now that iTunes offers the ability to directly label episodes as part of seasons (we use Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin for WordPress and this is a standard feature in the setup), you can take scheduled breaks. Of course you won’t be able to re-run your episodes during the breaks, since podcasting doesn’t work that way (darn it, radio and TV, you have something we don’t!), but you can set yourself up to have one or more major breaks in production during the course of a calendar year, if you can stand the hit to your income. Or maybe you can spend more time promoting your podcast during the break and see your numbers rise so you aren’t taking a hit if you’re ad basis is paid on volume counts.
- Create “best of” episodes – if you’ve been producing your podcast for any length of time, you’re probably sitting on a treasure trove of great snippets, interviews, short bits, and the like; these are all things you can use to create compilation episodes – just like radio stations do when their hosts are on vacation or it’s the holidays and they don’t want to maintain their normal production schedule. We’ve done this with a few topics and the numbers run roughly the same as the regular listener count – we actually see a bit more time listening in the stats. You can’t do it too often, but it does work for maybe 10% of your episodes, spread over the course of the year.
- Schedule your breaks in advance and publish the schedule on your site, or use excerpts as part of your description for current shows to inform your audience. This is really only important if you can’t do seasons or you don’t want to go to a less populated schedule overall. If you have seriously dedicated listeners, better to let them know in advance that you won’t have a new episode next week than to be caught blindsided by complaints.
Hopefully these ideas will help you avoid podcaster burnout (or help you power through it when it happens); there’s really nothing worse than being stuck in the loop of having to create content when you aren’t really feeling it.