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Podnews - James Cridland

Interview with James Cridland, founder and managing editor of Podnews, which is a top source of podcasting news. James has worked in radio since 1989 and been on the forefront of on demand audio. Music by Sebastian Phillips.

Host: You started podcasting 15 years ago, is that correct?

James: Yeah, so I was working for a radio station in London, about, 15 years ago to, January, 2005. And that's when I wrote my first RSS feed. That was before Apple put podcasts into iTunes. So it was a long time ago. 

Host: And you also worked in online publications too?

James: Yeah. I've worked in radio for a long time, been working on internet things for radio companies for a long time as well. So I launched things like the first mobile phone app for a radio station, again, back in 2005, that was a busy year. but also worked on, the first radio station website, for a small local station in Yorkshire. and that was, in the late nineties. So I've been very much involved in this sort of thing for quite some time.

Host: Is your background in journalism or are you a tech guy?

James: A bit of both really, in terms of technology, I know my way around a website, editor and and that sort of thing. And I write all of the code, for example, that runs all of the websites that I do, because I find it easier that way, but  I've been very lucky to work with a bunch of journalists and to have written, a bunch of things, online for many years now. So I've certainly been  working on that sort of thing for quite some time.

Host: And can you tell me how podnews got started?

James: Yeah, I was actually in the US. I was in, sunny Los Angeles and I was going to the worldwide radio conference, which was mostly U S people, but the occasional foreigner such as me, as you can tell that I'm not from the U S and I was chatting to a friend of mine in the pub afterwards, and they were saying, so what do you think of this new thing called podcasting? And he said, I find it really hard to find news about it. And I thought, that's interesting because, what I've been working on, over the last year of 10 years of my career is really helping radio companies understand what's coming next. And podcasting is clearly, part of that, the whole on demand audio experience. And it was very focused on that sort of side. And I thought, I wonder whether that's something that I should be having a look more into. So that's basically how the thing started  and, and I've been doing that for the last two and a half years now.

Host: Just two and a half years. Wow. Your site is very simple, which I really like. I've looked at a couple of the other new podcasting news sites and, they're like WordPress magazine themes, but yours is very clean and I really liked that.

James: Yeah. thank you. one of the ways that I started doing the whole pod news website was really just as a really simple, straightforward site. The idea is that it should load really fast. There's very little advertising on it as well, and so really just focusing on that, the problems that I had as I started was, being able to link to podcasts cause it's surprisingly hard. Especially, if you don't have an Apple phone, linking to Apple podcast is not good at all. So from that point of view, I found that a bit strange. And started working on podcasting pages, just so that I could actually link out to both Apple and Google and Spotify and various other places. So it's been a fun sort of building that and making sure that it works, and simply, and actually helps people.

Host: And how do you get your news?

James: Firstly I get an awful lot of emails, an awful lot of emails. but also, I read an awful lot of RSS feeds, Facebook groups, that sort of thing. I think I'm very lucky in that, both writing about this, this area, but also very much making sure that I'm in tune with it from a technical point of view actually means that I spot quite a few things that, journalists without any tech background would miss. And so I've been very lucky in being able to focus on the technical side, as well as obviously I'm a Brit, I live in Australia. I've worked for companies in Canada, in the U S. in the UK and here. So I've got a very much more of a international view towards what podcasting is all about. And that's been something that's been, very helpful, I think in an industry, which is more and more a global industry these days.

Host: So are you doing it a hundred percent by yourself?

James: So I've got some help in terms of sales, advertising sales, and, some help in terms of accounts. Thank heavens, but except that everything is me. So everything from keeping the servers running so that I can actually send the emails out, to writing the articles to doing quite a lot of research in some of the harder articles, which I've been working on. so all of that is me. And the original idea was to fit that in with my day job of consulting radio stations, and flying around the world and speaking at conferences, most of that work seems to have disappeared for some reason. So I appear to be at home rather more than I was expecting, which is great because it's meant that I can actually focus a bit more. I don't just put a newsletter together every day. I also do a podcast version of that too, which is my little piece of fun having worked on the radio a long time ago and so I enjoy doing that sort of side of it as well.

Host: Yeah, absolutely you definitely have the podcasting voice. I could listen to you talk about probably anything. Do you have any plans for expanding podnews in the future? My mind is blown that you're doing all of this writing and researching yourself.

James: I'm quite keen in looking at what can I do to help the podcasting industry. It's an industry, which is a very disparate industry, lots of different people working in it. There's no real sort of central hub of information. And so maybe I can help with that and so you'll find that there's a po, which is a jobs section and I couldn't get the more obvious domain name for that, but, which is an events and conferences site in there as well. just helping with a little bit more information around that sort of area as well, and obviously, pulling people into getting the newsletter. In terms of other ways of growing it well, who knows, it'd be interesting to, have a look at what happens in terms of conferences in the future when we can talk to one another face to face again and it'll be interesting to see whether there's a little bit more opportunity there as well.

Host: You obviously have a great amount of experience and in touch with a lot of people in the industry, where do you see podcasting headed in the next few years?

James: I think podcasting is in a really interesting place and I think we have moved from an industry which was very grassroots. It was lots of independent podcasters doing lots of, great, interesting things, to an industry, which now has a lot of large players. Everybody from iheartradio to the New York times, to the BBC and other people in there as well. And I think that obviously brings great opportunity. It also brings a fair amount of friction as well, in terms of the old versus the new. So I think, that's going to be really good. Interesting to actually see. but I think from my point of view, just the amount of new podcasts, appearing, the amount of new and interesting content, which is out there, means that really podcasting can't do anything other than continue growing, and grow in a nice organic way. Which should  hopefully mean a bright future for all of us in the industry.

Host: This is a bit of a transition, but do you have any thoughts on anchor and Spotify in general?

James: So I think you can look at Spotify as growth, in terms of, is this a bad thing? Is this a good thing? but I think we also shouldn't forget that currently the market is 60% Apple podcasts and actually Apple still controls the directory for another 20% or so. So really you're looking at Apple really controlling 80% of the podcast space. Spotify has about 10% and everybody else has about 10%. and the question, from my point of view, is that a healthy thing for the podcast industry to end up? Is it the right thing that Apple turns around one day and says, we need to change the categories of podcasting and makes its own mind up about what the new categories are. And everybody has to follow because otherwise you're not in Apple anymore. So I find that whole thing interesting. It's why I'm really interested and excited that Amazon is coming into the scene, somehow they haven't yet announced quite how they're going to be doing it. It's great to see Google there. It would be great if Google took it a little bit more seriously, and to be honest, it'd be great if Apple were to take it a little bit more seriously in some ways as well. They seem to be, a benevolent leader, but, one that is, having a jolly good sleep at the moment. And I think it would be nice to see what would happen if Apple was a bit more aggressive in maintaining its market share and making sure that it's adding additional opportunities for podcasters. I think the difficulty of course, is that, podcasting at the moment in the U S is worth around $750 million a year. that sounds like a large amount of money, $750 million a year. But when you look at the amount of money that Apple makes that in 7 hours. I think I once worked out. Apple probably isn't as interested in the podcasting scene as maybe they ought to be if they own 80% of the market. So I think all of that means that it's going to be a really interesting couple of years seeing Amazon coming in, seeing Spotify continue to grow seeing the increased usage of apps, like the app, the iHeart radio app, Pandora, all of these other ways of consuming podcasting as well and seeing where all of that takes.

Host: Why do you think Apple has that domination of the market. Do you think it's because they have the app built in?

James: I think its got something to do with the built in app. I think obviously it's got something to do with first mover advantage. They were the first to think about podcasting in. 2005, and really nobody else has followed them particularly heavily until the last couple of years so I think it's got something to do with that. You could also argue that the type of people that listen to NPR. Are the type of people, that, listen to podcasts, historically, and are the type of people who earn enough money to be able to afford iPhones. So I wonder whether that's a virtuous circle, in terms of actually keeping things going. Certainly if you have a look at the type of podcasts, for example, that Spotify listeners are listening to, it's very different to the types of podcasts at Apple. So far more around comedy, far more around sport. It's why, Joe Rogan is a great fit for Spotify, and probably wouldn't necessarily have been a perfect fit for Apple to go out and buy. So I think, again, it's going to be interesting seeing the growth of other platforms, because that probably means that different podcasts will end up making their way to being the number one or the number five in the marketplace.

Host: What app do you use on your phone to listen to podcasts?

James: I don't have an iPhone. so that's the first thing and amazingly enough, 80% of the world doesn't use iPhones. So that's a good start. I use a mixture of, Spotify and the Google podcasts app, mostly the Google podcasts app, but, occasional bits of Spotify because some of the podcasts that I listened to have elected that they don't want to be on Google. Whereas some of the other podcasts I listened to have elected that they don't want to be on Spotify, so I listened to a little bit of both. If I used an iPhone, I would use overcast. It's tremendously technically clever. It does a lot of very good things for audio files. Very good. I think that's probably the only app that has made me, look at an iPhone with a wistful gaze and made me want to go out and buy one. But, that's what I love about podcasting in comparison to things like YouTube is that there is so much opportunity, so much choice for you, to listen to podcasts.

Host: What platform do you use to host your podcast?

James: I use my own. yeah, so I self host and partially the reason for that is if I say something mean about, let's say anchor, anchor could just take me off their platform and I don't want that to happen. Anchor would never do that of course. but, so that's partly the reason, but also the other reason is, that actually it's been really interesting looking at who is contacting my servers to get my podcast, what people are using out there, what data, you can actually see as a podcast host And that's been very helpful in helping me research  stories, but also helpful in just fully understanding every part of the podcast landscape. so that's been great fun to actually have a play with.

Host: Is that something you would recommend for people if they're more techie, maybe not for the average person?

James: Yeah. I would say hell no  basically, theoretically, it's a simple, straightforward job to stick up an RSS feed and some audio. It's actually quite expensive to end up doing that. I'm using a mix of Amazon CloudFront and Amazon S3. I'm using a bunch of PHP code to serve the RSS feed. I'm doing it in a slightly odd way so that if you are Spotify trying to contact me. Then I will give you a different version of my audio than if you are Apple or if you're somebody else. So there's various interesting things going on under the hood  but what I can tell you is that it's really easy to mess things up, and if you mess things up, then your podcast goes away. There was a point about two months ago when I had messed something up to try and stop Google from messing something else up and managed to completely ruin everything. I had to go cap in hand to Apple and to Google in particular and say, I think I've messed something up. Please. Could you help fix it for me? So it's certainly not something for the faint hearted and to be honest, it'll probably cost you rather a lot more, but from my point of view it's well worth it.

Host: You've completely sold me on not doing it. I just have one more question. What would be your advice to the average podcaster, for growing their podcast?

James: That's an interesting question. There's a bunch of stuff within podnews about how to market your podcast, which is a good start. So there's a long three part interview from a Canadian podcaster about all of the things that he has been doing that in terms of, buying advertising and episode swapping and all that kind of stuff. The basic advice that I would probably give anybody is to, if your podcast was all about knitting, then go and find all of the knitting groups on Facebook, all of the knitting subreddits, all of the knitting instagram communities, all that kind of stuff, and be a good citizen in there because two things will happen from that. Firstly, you will get more people consuming your podcast because they can see that you are a good person and that you know what you're talking about. But also secondly, on the other side, you will get a ton of great ideas that will keep your podcast going. So I think, being a good online citizen in the area that your podcast is about is probably a good start to getting more people knowing about what your podcast is all about. And the other thing is consistency as well. Making sure that you produce a very consistent product. Every single day. It doesn't change and all of a sudden start playing classical music one day and then hip hop the next day, cause that's not going to work for anybody. So being as consistent as you possibly can is something that we've known works in radio for many years now. And we can also see works fantastically in terms of the podcasting world as well.

Host: That's great. Thank you so much.

James: Thank you.