Most Podcasts are Bad

Let me address an issue touched on in my podcast award post. One of those bits of received wisdom that you hear over and over is that “most new media is bad.” A few specific references I can remember from recent listening was Carol Coletta on Smart City and Jon Udell in his various shows. There’s an irony here, because I just unsubscribed from Smart City for ceasing to interest me and I’m on the fence about Udell.

Let’s examine what people mean when they say “most podcasts are bad.” My interpretation is something like “Who are these people who have the audacity to publish work that doesn’t interest me?” Coming from the science fiction community as I do, I’m well aware of Sturgeon’s Law. Long ago, a person was citing as their reason for disliking science fiction as a genre the fact that “90% of it was crap.” Theodore Sturgeon’s observation was that 90% of everything is crap, therefore that’s not really a causal reason for your opinion. I dislike at least 90% of the podcasts and vlogs I run across, and that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I don’t consider it a bug but a feature. I love that the economics of the field allow so much work to be published. I don’t have to like it all. There are entire cable channels on my TV that I have never watched once because they are devoted to a niche that doesn’t interest me, and I don’t hear people complaining about that.

A number of the shows I listen to are not going to be of broad interest no matter how you slice it. The Ruby on Rails podcast is my favorite example because it is highly useful to me but would be gobbledygook to 98% or more of the potential audience. There was at one point over a dozen active podcasts related to knitting. That number could have gone up or down, but I thought that was interesting. Myself, no matter how well or poorly the show is done I am not going to listen to any of them. I’m sure there are many people that listen despite challenged audio quality or lack of smoothness of delivery if they are really devotees of knitting. This is the part of the field that I like, that people are empowered to publish such content of niche interest and that I have it available for those niches I care about.

Recently on the Henry Rollins program he had Sheppard Fairey of “Andre the Giant has a posse” fame as a guest. (A South Carolina boy to boot!) Sheppard echoed a lot of my sentiments that a populace with the power to create and publish their own work is a better, more democratic society. He was in favor of people grabbing whatever work interests them and doing it like crazy. He too comes out of similar groups I do, including DIY punk, indie comics, skateboarders, zine publishers. I’ve published my own APA, I’ve screen printed my own shirts for my own college radio show, I’ve walked around Little Five Points in Atlanta with a stack of flyers for my projects and a staple gun. Podcasting is the same urge with a different distribution pattern. I’m delighted to be able to publish my work, and even more delighted to be able to listen to that of others. That is how I learn about 99% of the music I care about nowadays, and about 50% of the books and comics I have any interest in. Power to the people. Do your work, and publish it and it doesn’t matter what the sniffy elitists have to say about it. Fuck those guys, they will never care about you or what you do anyway so don’t waste your energy caring about their opinion. If you are pleasing listener #0 or viewer #0 or reader #0, namely yourself, it is a success. Everyone beyond that is gravy.

So, if you say “most podcasts are bad”, you are full of shit because what you mean is that most don’t interest you. Most books in Barnes and Noble don’t interest you, most shows on TV don’t interest you, so simmer down spanky.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

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