It’s a fair question, and I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind. It also came up at Podnews Live North a couple of months back, when an incredulous James Cridland called me a damn silly person (in so many syllables).
So let’s look at the landscape.
Media hosting is a solved problem
My previous company was an answer to the questions “Why isn’t podcasting easier?” and “Why am I being punished with an awful user interface?” A year or so after I founded Podiant, we saw other challengers enter the space and do amazing things to put users first, and help shake up the industry and show them that what was built in 2004 just wasn’t good enough.
Now, serious, independent podcasters have a great choice of where to go, so it’s really just about finding a place with the right feature set.
But it’s more complex than that. As Mark Asquith pointed out at that same event, anyone can add features for the sake of ticking a box. So when the landscape starts to look similar, what do customers connect with? They connect with values.
Podiant was founded on values. I offered free hosting to those who couldn’t go elsewhere. I fought lawyers to keep shows alive that had a right to speak their truth. I banned those who spread hate or misinformation. This matters to me.
With Bramble, I’m offering podcasters like me — and those I work with — a partner who shares their values. A place that strives to be generative (more on that in coming months), and who gives back in meaningful ways that aren’t just satisfying a CSR remit.
I think there’s an opportunity — a need — for the tech side of hosting and the human stuff to merge. To not just be about customer support, but about partnerships.
Which brings me onto the next point.
You can’t be the next big thing
Thank God for that. By 2019, Podiant had around 0.18% of the market, and I was just a guy in a flat in the middle of the UK.
I’m charging more than most other companies do for the core service of lifting files up to the high shelf of the Internet (although not that much more). That price tag will be reflected in connected environmental and social impact, and a support system that, by design, doesn’t scale exponentially.
Because again, this isn’t about being a commodity. This isn’t about being H&M, but rather Patagonia. I’m not coming for anyone’s lunch – just aiming to be the goto place for conscious leaders who think out loud
Bramble will be selective with who it works with. Not to exclude, but to help connect likeminded podcasters together. This makes it easier for shows to cross-promote and grow audiences through guest bookings and automated episode swaps. We can only do that because we’ll know all our podcasters by name, and know the beating hearts that fuel them.
And just as I did with Podiant, I’ll be offering free hosting to eligible projects who are referred by trusted, socially conscious partners.
OK, so I’ve talked a bit about pricing. So let’s address the elephant in the room.
Why would anyone pay for podcast hosting in 2023?
Let’s look first at Spotify for Podcasters. They can get you listed in Spotify and — if you fight them — even Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or Pocket Casts. So if that’s all it takes, why aren’t we all hosting for free?
There’s lots of sweaty writing online about why you “should pay for podcast hosting” so I won’t rehash it. Lots of people pay for hosting, and I think many just aren’t overthinking it. They see it as a service, and they’ve weighed up the pros and cons.
The bigger threat is, of course, YouTube.. Let’s say Google can break their 6 year habit of playing with podcasting like a kid at Christmas who’s just been given a book of crosswords when he wanted a PS5. If Google manage to stick it out and not get bored or distracted, couldn’t that wipe out all podcast hosts?
I doubt it, but it’s not a dead cert.
Our generations value listening in an environment we control. We like being able to skip ads if we want to, or to hear about stuff we might like that our hosts recommend. We like being able to download audio for offline listening. Some of us like that our hosts aren’t under any kind of censorship, either from a well-meaning human or a clumsy algorithm.
All of that goes away under YouTube, because it doesn’t fit their model. And countless creators on YouTube can attest to how fickle the algorithm can be, and how quick it can take away your audience with no right to appeal.
But our generations came up in a time when that wasn’t all that was on offer, so we didn’t accept it as the norm. I don’t know if that will be true of Gen Alpha, some of whom could be avid podcast listeners in the next 5 years.
(As a quick side note: all Bramble customers get distribution to YouTube as part of their plan, either until YouTube enable RSS ingestion or crush us all 😉).
Snark and jokes aside, as an industry, we have to work to show podcasting’s value as an open, audio-forward, relationship-building platform. Not with tech jargon about decentralisation. Not by sneering every time someone says “podcasting is an intimate medium”. But by understanding what future listeners value, and building ecosystems that support them. This is an infinite game.
A just cause
In 2020 my friend Jon clued me into The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. In this book he laid out the concept of a “just cause”: a phrase that describes what you do even as the landscape shifts around you.
If Nintendo’s just cause was to make high quality playing cards, we’d never have the Switch. If Disney’s just cause was to make cartoons for kids, I wouldn’t be able to go to Florida and pretend to fly the Millennium Falcon.
The just cause I wrote in 2020 was to “protect and advance the oral tradition”. It’s good, but it doesn’t say anything about who that helps.
A new just cause is being written, and I can tell you it won’t be about RSS or even podcasting. These terms will come and go… and they’re shifting and mutating all the time anyway. What’s important is keeping alive the ability for people to share their ideas so that people can hear them wherever they are, and whatever they’re doing. For the 10 year-old me, it was in the form of cassettes from the library. Who knows what it’ll be in another 30 years.
So what am I actually building?
Right now there are three services, in different stages of “done”, with more to come.
- There’s the core hosting product, which includes episode planning, an in-browser recorder, a simple way to edit episodes without any other software, YouTube distribution, dynamic ad insertion, and friendly customer support from someone who won’t tell you to turn your podcast off and on again when there’s something wrong with it.
- There’s a website builder with SEO’d episode pages, an optional blog, a contact form, host and guest bios, and a huge amount of customisation.
- And what I call a “virtual writing assistant”, but you and I would call AI, but one that’s trained to work with podcasters who solve problems. This helps with titles, show notes, and a full article for your website.
Once you join as a Hosting customer, you can choose what other services you want to add on. There’s more info in the Plans & Pricing page. And if you haven’t already, take a look inside:
If you’d like to use it, you can book a tour and we’ll have a cosy, non-salesy chat to see if it’s the right fit for you. If you’d like to collaborate or integrate with Bramble – or you’d like to interview me about it – you can email email@example.com.