The podcast world is changing. Welcome to your front-row seat on the action.
In case you haven’t heard, The Verge acquired Hot Pod this month, and former writer and editor Nicholas Quah joined Vulture, our sister publication at Vox Media, as a full-time podcast critic. He’s still publishing over there — you can subscribe to his criticism newsletter right here — but I’ll be writing Hot Pod from here on out. I’m excited, and although I know Nick’s legacy and insight are unparalleled, I hope to do it justice. I appreciate you sticking with us.
I’ve been at The Verge for nearly six years and covering podcasting and audio for the past three. In that time, podcasting has gone from something that existed on the fringe to a full-blown cultural and business force. I started at The Verge as a cybersecurity reporter, then became a full-time gadget blogger, and eventually landed in the broad world of “creators.” My natural interest in podcasting (I co-hosted a show here called Why’d You Push That Button?) and radio (I was a college radio kid and also still stan WXRT in Chicago) landed me in audio reporting. I’ve linked a few of my past podcasting stories at the end here to give you a better idea of what I’m into and what you can expect to read in future issues.
Here’s the main thing: as it has gotten bigger, the world of podcasting entered a period of flux. Big tech platforms are moving into the space; the idea of a “podcast” both in how it’s distributed and what it sounds like is evolving; Hollywood stars and literal princes are making shows; and eye-popping, massive deals are being inked. I mean, Paris Hilton is investing in and profiting off podcast technology — who could have imagined!
I believe we’re seeing the beginning of a new age of audio, one in which more people than ever interact with audio content — whether that’s through a traditional podcast chat show, a live room on Clubhouse, a YouTube video, or Siri talking in their ears. Audio is going mainstream, and I plan to chronicle the bumpy road to that moment. There will be drama, infighting, tech companies feuding over show deals, and hand-wringing over the future of the industry. With your help, I plan to guide us all through these changes. Hopefully we’ll even have some fun along the way.
Among the questions I hope to answer: Who will win this audio attention war? Who will make money? Who gets to have a podcast? What happens to indie podcasters? What happens to podcasting’s open ecosystem? Are we experiencing a “pivot to audio” that ends like the disastrous “pivot to video?” Is this all a bubble?
My employer, The Verge, and all of us who work here, are well-acquainted with covering Big Tech and the ways in which it impacts our behavior, livelihoods, and world. And we all want to see Hot Pod grow in various ways — maybe that means more frequent audio-adjacent product reviews from our stellar team here or lengthier features with baller art from our always-impressive creative staff. But a paid newsletter is new for us, so first, we need to learn how to do it and what you all like and need from Hot Pod.
So for now, Hot Pod will consist of much of the same coverage it’s always done well. I’ll cover the stories you need to read and provide extra reporting and commentary around them. I hope you will all come to know and trust me and feel comfortable chatting about what you’re reading. I’m open to feedback, tips, and criticism.
Here are a few stories I’m especially proud of, which I hope provide some concrete examples of what I’m talking about somewhat abstractly in this first newsletter.
- The first is about Anchor’s sponsorship tool not having any sponsors apart from Spotify itself. I liked this story because it’s a peek inside the Spotify machine — what it’s like for podcasters who use the platform to create and how Spotify’s lofty podcast ambitions are going.
- The second is my first podcasting story — one about NPR’s ad-tracking technology, RAD. It was a wonky piece that hinged on the idea that NPR needed buy-in from the major podcast apps to succeed. Apple still hasn’t bought into it, and neither has Spotify. We also don’t hear NPR speak about RAD anymore. It’s one that set up the dynamics of Big Tech’s power in podcasting and hinted at the incoming battle over podcast privacy and ad tracking — another topic I hope to cover.
- And finally, here’s a feature about the “podcasting hype house from hell.” This story took months to report and was one where the business moves — Himalaya launching in the US, it spinning out HiStudios, and then HiStudios and Himalaya separating — looked obvious on the outside, but had much more happening on the inside (like drug use, podcast conferences gone wrong, and even the appearance of an ice sculpture bong). The podcast industry, like every creative industry, is made up of characters — and knowing those characters can tell you a lot about the business itself.
I have many more links — feel free to check out my Twitter! — but this column is already getting long. This post is a version of last Tuesday’s free newsletter, and going forward I’ll continue to publish free newsletters every Tuesday — with associated columns here on theverge.com — followed by premium, paid editions on Thursday and Friday. (You can subscribe to those here.)
Now, as I said, always feel free to reach me. I’m on Twitter at @ashleyrcarman and email at ashley (at) theverge.com. I hope to get to know you all soon!