Have You Already Missed the Podcasting Gold Rush?

Is it too late to start a podcast? Should we all just shut up and listen quietly, rather than launching something that isn’t great?

So, Ryan Holiday published a post, and it got a lot of attention. Ryan is excellent at getting attention, and he details some of his most effective techniques in his book, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.

Ryan is undeniably smart. But I have some serious issues with his post.

In this 20-minute episode, I talk about:

  • Whether it’s actually a bad idea to try something because “everyone is doing it”
  • Why the search for an “original” format is highly overrated
  • The problem with people who self-identify as hackers
  • The two elements your podcast (or blog, or video series, or infographic content …) absolutely needs to succeed
  • How to create a great book, blog, podcast, or other creative work in the real world
  • Where extraordinary work comes from

The Show Notes

Have You Already Missed the Podcasting Gold Rush?

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.

Sonia Simone: This episode is brought to you by Acuity Scheduling. Acuity Scheduling makes scheduling meetings online easy. Clients can view your real-time availability, self-book appointments with you, fill out forms, and even pay you online. To learn more and get a free 45-day trial, visit AcuityScheduling.com/Copyblogger.

Well, hello there. It’s good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant.

My name is Sonia Simone. I am the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can always pick up additional links and resources by going to Copyblogger.FM. That’s also where you can get the complete archive for the show.

Today I wanted to talk about an interesting post that I ran across written by a fellow named Ryan Holiday. And the post was called Please, Please, For the Love of God: Do Not Start a Podcast. Now, we can’t talk about Ryan Holiday without mentioning that this is a person who puts things strongly. In fact, he is a self-identified media manipulator. The title of his book is Trust Me, I’m Lying.

Ryan is always going to put things in a way that commands a lot of attention. He’s definitely very good at it. And what I think he’s trying to say is, “Be extraordinary or don’t do it.” I certainly hope that that’s what he’s trying to say. Sometimes what we intend to say and what we actually communicate are not the same thing.

When I read this post, what I really did take away from it, what I felt he was communicating with it, was: Don’t start a podcast unless you’re going to be brilliant at it. Don’t start a podcast unless you’re already successful, you’re already somebody who has something really amazing to say, because we’re full now. We don’t need anymore.

I have to say, this kind of message is also known as ‘pull the ladder up boys, I’m aboard,’ and I do have a problem with it. I’m going to pick on Ryan just a little bit today. Partly because he’s a big boy, and I know he’s going to be totally fine. Partly because I think that his point of view puts him in a place where there might be some things that he’s not seeing, and also because he just happened to set up a lot of straw men that create a solid shadow argument on the other side of his post.

Again, because he is Ryan — because he is so bright, because he is so good at what he does, so good at creating conversations — I think it’s within the realm of possibility that he intentionally set these straw men up to create a counter-argument. Whether he did or not, that’s where I’m going to go with it today.

Whether It’s Actually a Bad Idea to Try Something Because ‘Everyone Is Doing It’

His post is well written. His stuff is always well written. One of the things that he articulates is ‘because lots of people are doing it’ is a really poor reason to do anything. This is one of his reasons to quote, one of his reasons why you shouldn’t start a podcast.

Right away, this comes really early. I have to pause and say, “Well, is it? I mean, is it always?” Sometimes ‘because everybody’s doing it’ is a terrible reason to do something, right? If people are doing something stupid or something that doesn’t suit you, then you shouldn’t do it, even though lots of people are doing it. We all know that, right? We remember our mom telling us that when we were kids.

But I think there actually is another side to that. This is a period of very dramatic shifts: economic shifts, cultural shifts, communication shifts, technology upheavals, and earthquakes. If you’re not looking around and seeing what’s working for other people, then, in my opinion, you’re making things about a hundred times harder than they need to be.

No, I do not think you should jump off a cliff if everybody else is doing it as well. However, if you see trends, if you see content forms that are getting a lot of traction, I don’t think it’s dumb to say, “I wonder if that form would be suited to me. I wonder if I would be able to create something really cool in that format.” I think that’s a very legitimate thing to explore.

Another point that Ryan’s making in the post is — he’s being a bit sarcastic, a bit snarky — come up with an original or a unique format, why bother? This is what he feels podcasters are saying. Apparently he’s making the argument that ‘don’t even come out with a podcast, don’t start one unless you can come up with a truly original or a truly unique format.’

Why the Search for an ‘Original’ Format Is Highly Overrated

Again, I’m not sure I buy it, actually. Trying to come up with something that has never been done can put you into a completely unnecessary knot. The reason is this: You have a unique voice, you have a unique point of view, and you have unique things to say, because human beings are unique. But you’ll never develop that point of view and you will never develop that voice until you start creating some work.

That’s where voice comes from. Voice does not come from sitting in your office, sitting at your machine, thinking about something different. Uniqueness of expression comes from expression. It comes from getting out there, being brave, and putting the work out.

One of the things that Ryan has an issue with is interview shows conducted on Skype, suggesting that if you’re not coming up with the next Serial, then just don’t even. I think what we have to understand is that Ryan Holiday is coming from a place of being very successful.

That’s what I mean when I say his point of view has been shaped by his experience, like all of our points of view are, and his experience is that of a person who has accomplished a lot. He’s a young guy, but he has done a lot of things. He’s seen a lot of things. He’s written some very successful books. He has a big audience.

If you have those things, you’re going to want to throw some production values in. You’re going to want to produce something that sounds pretty polished. Otherwise it’s a bit weird.

However, there are some people with really big audiences who don’t always necessarily sound or look all that polished. Gary Vaynerchuk being the poster child for putting it out there, keeping it rough, keeping the sketch rough and kind of interesting. I don’t think production values … Production values won’t save a bad idea, and I know Bryan Holiday would agree with me on that.

Production values are great, and it would be great if your production values were such that your content was easy to listen to. Same thing for writing. I want your writing to be polished enough that it’s easy to read. What I don’t need is, I don’t need you to have the resources of NPR and a professional recording studio, original music, and, I don’t know, sound effects. I just don’t need that, and I don’t think most of us do need it.

If you want to create something with those things — that sounds interesting, sure. Yeah. Let me know what it is. But I don’t believe you need it to come out with a successful podcast. Again, I think it’s a straw man. I just don’t think it’s remotely necessary. I think there’s lots of very interesting podcasts that don’t have those things.

I’ve been talking for about eight minutes about ways I think Ryan is wrong. Sorry Ryan. What I want to do is, I want to talk about what I think does make content successful. And I am not revealing my thoughts here. I have talked about this, some might say ad nauseam, and other points.

The Two Elements Your Podcast (or Blog, or Video Series, or Infographic Content) Absolutely Needs to Succeed

A podcast, a blog, a video series, infographics, or anything else is going to work if it has two things. If it has usefulness — we can also use the word ‘meaning.’ If it is meaningful or useful. And if it is fascinating — if it is actually interesting. If you pair those things and then you have a reasonably intelligent promotion strategy, you will have successful content, you will find an audience, and you will be able to do something with the attention of that audience.

In my excruciatingly humble opinion, if your idea has meaning, relevance, or usefulness for an audience, and you are making the effort to be interesting, then I think you should launch your broadcast. I think you should do your project.

If your idea doesn’t solve any kind of a meaningful problem, or if you’re not willing to put the work in to make it interesting, then I would back up and try and figure out why you think you want to launch a podcast. What is the purpose of it? Because I will tell you right now that content that is not meaningful or content that is not interesting will probably not work.

There are definitely points where Ryan Holiday and I do agree, and he has a quote that I will read to you: “For far too many podcasters, almost everything they say and do could be boiled down to them trying to do as little work as possible and impose on others as much as possible.”

In other words, he sees a ton of podcasts being created by people who are creating podcasts because they heard that’s how you make money. They’re ‘me too’ shows. They’re not particularly interesting. They don’t have anything particularly … They’re not really working on uncovering something interesting.

This, by the way, is the same exact argument that people made for content shock, that there’s just tons of content out there. Blog content — it doesn’t matter what kind of content — video content. It’s ‘me too’ stuff. It’s boring. It doesn’t do anything fresh. It’s cynical. It’s basically just being created.

I call it ‘content regurgitated as product.’ CRAP. It’s completely unmeaningful, and it just cynically exists to try and make a living for the person creating it. Well, of course that’s not going to work. I mean, who thinks that’s going to work?

Now here’s the part where I’m going to be maybe a tiny bit controversial. I sure see it. I definitely see it. I see it a lot in the thin comments that we get on Copyblogger, where you get a not-very-well-thought-out, not-very-engaging comment. I click through and, well, I see a lot of content that’s not very well thought out or very engaging. It isn’t interesting and is not solving a meaningful problem for the audience.

I see it too, we all see it, we all know about it. Here’s where I think there may be something happening. I think that Ryan is attracting a disproportionate number of this kind of person largely because of the great success of his Trust Me, I’m Lying book. Because to some extent the message of that book, especially the cheap message, the message that was easy to see, was ‘be shocking, be offensive, and attention is going to come your way, and business will be attached to that attention.’

The Problem with People Who Self-Identify as Hackers

It is frankly the message he was sending with American Apparel’s advertising, which is largely the topic of that book. I think that he, and Tim Ferriss also, they get a lot of folks who are attracted to the surface of their message. A lot of people who self-identify as hackers: life hackers, growth hackers, business hackers, underpants hackers, all kinds of hackers.

They’re attracted to this idea of hacking, because they think it sounds like less work. They think that working at something intelligently and efficiently and trying to figure out what works is the same thing as just show up, do a couple of things, and you get money.

Now, I suspect Ryan has become very impatient with his point of view, because it’s annoying and it’s wrong, and he’s probably really irritated at being misunderstood in this way. That’s my projection onto him.

I actually saw this post as being very similar to the post that Matt Cutts did about guest posting being done — ‘stick a fork in it, it’s done’ was what he’d said about guest posting. He wasn’t really talking about guest posting any more than I think Ryan Holiday’s talking about all podcasts. What he’s talking about is cynical, half-assed efforts that just waste everybody’s time. They waste the guests’ time, they waste the listeners’ time, and they waste everybody’s time, because you’re not really producing something of value. You know perfectly well that you weren’t, so quit doing that.

The key takeaway for me … I have taught this many times. I will teach it with my last breath. You are never entitled to anyone’s attention. And the corollary, you are never entitled to business. Just because you show up with a tactic that worked for somebody else does not in any way, shape, or form mean that you are entitled to something. That you get to hold your hand out, and money will rain on you.

Honestly, I don’t think that many people really believe that they are. I think it’s a small number of very vocal people who grind the nerves of all the rest of us. If you think that there’s some kind of a cheap shortcut that’s going to let you hack your way to success, I’m sorry to burst your bubble.

Now, if you want to observe and you want to focus your efforts, if you want to skate where the puck seems to be going, that’s useful. That’s completely useful, and that’s the spirit I think we should take — hacks or tactics, new media or popular media, trends, or anything like that.

Speaking of tactics and trends, I want to pause just for a moment for a couple of words about one of the sponsors of this program. Then when I come back, I want to talk about some fascinating reactions to Ryan Holiday’s post and one that I thought was really compelling.

This episode is sponsored by Acuity Scheduling. You know how challenging the back and forth of booking appointments and meetings can be. Some of you may know that, right now, I am in a different time zone from most of the folks that I’m interviewing. Trying to do the back and forth of setting up podcast interviews, meetings, or other kinds of conversations when we’re talking about multiple countries, multiple time zones — it gets really tricky.

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How to Create a Great Book, Blog, Podcast, or Other Creative Work in the Real

Hey there, welcome back. I promised you a fascinating reaction to Ryan Holiday’s post. My friend Charlie Gilkey. Charlie is a profoundly thoughtful dude. He really chews on things, and he is the least half-assed person I think I know. He and I had some good conversations about this very post, and he had a strong reaction to it, just like I did. I thought his was really grounded.

That’s partly because Charlie has a really different style than Ryan Holiday. Ryan has a real gift for putting something in a provocative way to get a lot of attention and shares. I’m going to link to his post. It wasn’t a cheap post. I thought it presented his point of view.

But I’m also going to link to Charlie’s reaction post to it. I’ll give you one quote. I thought there were a lot of good quotes in Charlie’s version.

This is from Charlie’s post: “When I hear elitist arguments akin to Ryan’s, I can’t help but think of the scene in Forrest Gump when all the kids keep saying, ‘This seat’s taken,’ when clearly there’s room for a new person to sit down. That we move on to another seat only reinforces the social dynamic that keeps power structures in place. It’s time we not just move on and agree that the seat is taken.”

I thought that really spoke powerfully. Because I think Ryan, a lot of people in Ryan’s audience, are the ‘growth hacker’ types. That can be done badly, and it can be done well. I think a lot of the folks in my audience and Charlie’s audience are more the people who are put off by Ryan Holiday’s message, when they’re the exact people who shouldn’t be.

What I thought was a beautiful counter to this was a post I really loved on Copyblogger by Jeff Goins. It was a more tasteful alternative to self-promotion: practice in public. And I’ll quote from that one: “The best way to promote your work is to just do the work.”

That is a post about showing up, and specifically that is a post about showing up before you are ready, before you have that strikingly original content idea. It’s really about being brave. It’s about recognizing that your first work is probably not going to be extraordinary and doing it anyway. And not just doing it, but sharing it anyway.

It’s about one of my favorite kind of observations about the way we think, which is growth mindset, versus fixed mindset. So that even if you are not good today, even if you don’t have anything remarkable to say yet, you’re going to become remarkable by putting it out there.

You’re probably going to suck for a while, and that’s normal and natural. Don’t let anybody talk you out of sharing what you have to say, just because when you come out of the gate, you’re not going to be that interesting.

Here’s the awesome thing: When you come out of the gate, nobody’s paying any attention. You just can’t get a big audience. It’s not going to happen unless you’re extraordinarily well connected.

Don’t try to light a promotional burner under your content until you’ve found something really interesting to say. That doesn’t mean you don’t want your podcast. It just means: Please don’t spend five figures a month sending traffic to it until you’ve really got a groove going on, until you’ve really started to put something together that’s really starting to sing.

You find your voice by creating work, and you will start to gather some people who dig it. You’ll actually start to gather them fairly early on if you strive to be useful and interesting. I said strive to be useful and interesting, so you’re not going to make it every time. You’re not going to be useful and interesting every time.

You’re going to write things that are useless, you’re going to write things that the audience does not consider to be meaningful, and you’re going to write things that are boring. That’s totally fine. When I say write, I mean record. Or I mean draw or paint or make music. It’s fine. It’s the striving that matters. It’s giving a damn that matters.

As is so often the case with these kind of pseudo arguments that we have on the Internet, I strongly suspect if Ryan Holiday and I sat down, we’d largely agree. We might differ on a few small points, but I think we would be coming from a very similar point of view. He’s talking to lazy people who think that they’re entitled to our time and our intention and who think that they’re entitled to success. I think the difference is, I prefer not to talk to those people, because I would much rather talk to you.

That’s Copyblogger FM for this week. My name is Sonia Simone, and I will catch you next time. Take care and thank you.