What is podcasting?

Podcasting is the preparation and distribution of audio files using RSS feeds to the computers of subscribed users. These files may then be uploaded to streaming services, which users can listen to on their smartphones or digital music and multimedia players, like an iPod. A podcast can easily be created from a digital audio file.

In addition to RSS, podcasts may be hosted on or embedded in websites that enable the podcast to be streamed or downloaded.

Podcasts are typically available as a series of prerecorded talk-radio shows that users can download onto their computers or mobile devices. Podcasters often publish episodes on a regular schedule. There is no prescribed format, length or style for a podcast. Many are comparable to talk radio, and they usually focus on a single topic or story. They may cover any range of topics. Some podcasters read from a script, while others improvise.

Content producers have increasingly turned to podcasting as an inexpensive and user-friendly distribution channel that has the potential to reach a large audience. Musicians and bloggers were early adopters, but podcasts have since been adopted by mainstream media organizations, such as The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR) and The Washington Post. The cultural milieu supporting podcasting is sometimes referred to as the podosphere, just as the cultural environment of blogging is called the blogosphere.

Apple iPhones come with a pre-installed podcast directory. Many podcasts are free to download and listen to. Some are associated with websites that provide additional resources and community forums for dedicated fans.

Podcasts are sometimes referred to as a digitally disruptive format because they changed how consumers traditionally accessed content. They also changed how advertisers monetized it. Podcasts can be monetized through subscriptions, purchased ad time or crowdsourcing platforms, like Patreon.

How does podcasting work?

Podcasts are digital audio content distributed over the internet using a podcast hosting service. These services store all podcast episodes in a central location and automate the generation of RSS feeds. These feeds list all the podcaster's episodes. They can also automatically submit the RSS feed to podcast directories, where listeners can access them.

The following are some examples of podcast hosting platforms:

  • Buzzsprout
  • Podbean
  • Podcast Websites
  • Simplecast
  • Spreaker

A podcast directory is an application that listeners can use to search for, store and listen to podcasts. When listeners subscribe to a podcast, their RSS feed automatically updates their device with new podcast episodes.

Some examples of podcast directories are the following:

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Blubrry Podcasting
  • Podbean
  • Spotify
  • Stitcher
  • TuneIn

Podcasts may also be uploaded directly to streaming services, like Patreon, SoundCloud and YouTube.

Podcast production is not difficult. A podcaster can save a digital audio file as an MP3 and then upload it to the hosting platform or other service provider. The MP3 file gets its own URL, which is inserted into an RSS Extensible Markup Language document as an enclosure within an XML tag.

Podcasts can be registered with a content aggregator, such as AllTop and Feedly. That adds them to podcast directories. Podcasts are generally audio files, but the same process can be used to prepare and share image, text and video files.

list of best practices for podcasting
Podcast hosts should consider production-related variables, like show structure and content, as well as distribution-related factors, such as backlinking and sharing in online communities.

How to create a podcast

A podcast is simply an audio file. There are many ways to create one. The components needed to record an audio file are the following:

  • Podcast microphone. Relatively cheap and easy-to-use USB microphones can be used to capture audio. The built-in microphone on a laptop or smartphone also works. If a high audio quality podcast is the goal, a professional quality recording mic should be considered.
  • Recording application. Many devices come with free audio recording applications to record and save audio, like Apple's Voice Memos app. Audacity is free audio recording software that works on desktop operating systems, like Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS and Linux. Recording applications may have editing software and enable exporting of audio files.
  • Hosting site. Once it's recorded, the podcast can be distributed using a podcast distribution platform, such as Podbean, Podcast Websites and Spreaker.

Here are the nine steps to recording an audio podcast, using a Windows computer and a USB microphone:

  1. Plug the microphone into the computer's USB port.
  2. Install the free Audacity program or another digital audio application. GarageBand is included with Apple iOS and macOS. Windows 10 comes with a pre-installed Voice Recorder app.
  3. Open the program, and set the audio input to recognize the audio from the microphone.
  4. Test the microphone to make sure the levels are appropriate and responding to audio in the room.
  5. Press the record button, and speak to record the podcast.
  6. If necessary, edit the podcast afterward using the digital audio program's built-in tools.
  7. Export the audio file using the digital audio program's export function.
  8. Upload the audio file to an audio sharing platform, such as SoundCloud, or a more podcast-specific platform, like Podbean or Spreaker, which helps with hosting and podcast promotion.
  9. Share the link to the published podcast on social media and elsewhere to attract listeners.

Podcasts may be scripted or not; it's entirely up to how the podcaster wants to talk about it -- more formally or informally. If podcasters want to establish a loyal following, they must understand their target demographic and have a clear purpose for creating the podcast.

What are the benefits of podcasting?

Podcasting has the following benefits:

  • Easy to create. All it takes to create a podcast is a microphone, audio software, a computer and an internet connection. No additional knowledge or equipment is needed. One simple way to create a podcast is to speak into the voice notes app on a smartphone.
  • Easy to distribute. Podcasts can be uploaded and made available to listeners using a free YouTube or SoundCloud account. Any service or device that can host an audio file can host a podcast.
  • Regulation-free. There are no Federal Communications Commission or other government regulations for podcasts. This enables a level of freedom of speech that may not be possible on more established platforms, like television and radio. However, podcasters are allowed to copyright their work.
  • Long-form conversation. Podcasts can be any length. Some podcasts are over three hours long. That length is unusual for other forms of media, which lean toward snackable content. This format enables a more in-depth treatment of topics that is not as prevalent in other media.
  • Informative. There are podcasts on every topic, including news, comedy, science and niche topics. For example, an entire podcast might focus on reading, analyzing and reviewing a novel.
  • On demand. Users can access and listen to this audio content at any time on their mobile devices. Podcasts are easy to listen while doing other things, like working, driving, exercising or cleaning.
  • Valuable marketing tool. Podcasts help product marketers reach niche audiences and provide a consistent touchpoint that followers can return to. They are an effective multichannel marketing tool because they provide useful information without always trying to sell something. They also provide good backlinking opportunities, which positively affects a brand's search engine optimization. Podcasts often include guests, and podcasters can link to those guests' webpages. A startup tech company could use a podcast to educate listeners about both its product and about the broader topic to showcase its expertise.
12 multichannel marketing channels
Podcasts can be a key part of a multichannel marketing strategy.

Podcast examples

There are at least a couple million podcasts on the internet today, according to Podcast Insights. Topics can range from broad subject areas, such as art, science, politics and comedy, to specific topics, like true crime.

Some popular podcasts are the following:

The history of podcasting

Podcasting has existed since the 1980s. In its earliest form, it was called audio blogging. People would record their pieces and share the audio content over the internet, like auditory blog posts. In 2004, Ben Hammersly first used the term podcast to describe this content. The term was a combination of the words iPod and broadcast.

The growth of podcasts took off in the mid-2000s as broadband and internet use took hold. In 2004, former MTV video jockey Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer wrote the iPodder -- now called Juice -- application that let users download internet radio station programs to their iPods.

Curry has hosted and co-hosted several podcasts and is referred to as the Podfather for his role in popularizing the medium. One of his first podcasts was Daily Source Code; it was intended for an audience interested in technology.

In 2019, Spotify acquired Gimlet Media and Anchor, two prominent podcast hosting platforms. That signaled the streaming platform's interest in the format. That same year, Edison Research issued the "Podcast Consumer Tracking Report," which stated that 90 million people in the U.S. had listened to podcasts in one month. The format has continued to grow in popularity in both the corporate and consumer sectors.

Over the years, podcasting has become a valuable way to reach niche markets and gain a digital following. Learn four digital marketing best practices businesses should follow to incorporate new mediums, like podcasts.

This was last updated in December 2021

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