How to Produce Powerful Podcasts
by Kathleen A. Welton
Podcasts give you a fairly easy and inexpensive way to market your books. Without much research or technical expertise, you can use them to expose your content in new and exciting ways to a large audience.
Exactly what is a podcast? Wikipedia says:
A podcast is a series of digital-media files which are distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and computers. The term podcast, like broadcast, can refer either to the series of content itself or to the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also called podcasting. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster. The term is a portmanteau of the words “iPod” and “broadcast”, the Apple iPod being the brand of portable media player for which the first podcasting scripts were developed. . . . These scripts allowed podcasts to be automatically transferred to a mobile device after they are downloaded. Though podcasters’ web sites may also offer direct download or streaming of their content, a podcast is distinguished from other digital media formats by its ability to be syndicated, subscribed to, and downloaded automatically when new content is added, using an aggregator or feed reader capable of reading feed formats such as RSS or Atom.
As with any other editorial, marketing, or publishing project, you need to plan strategy and tactics for at least the first twelve months. We used the following 10 steps for a podcasting project featuring American Bar Association titles. By taking the same steps, you should be able to get your podcasts up and running in no time.
Step 1: Research
Determine exactly what type of podcasts you want to create. Will they be designed to stand alone and focused on a particular topic? Will they be author interviews? Will they be book or audio excerpts? According to Doug Knapp, director of electronic communications for the Illinois State Bar Association, “Content matters most in creating a good podcast. The material has to be useful to people.” The best way to set your goals is to look at your competition and see which of their podcasts you really like. I also find good podcasts by asking for recommendations from colleagues, by studying newspaper lists such as those found regularly in The Wall Street Journal, and by looking at the top podcasts by category on iTunes.
Step 2: The Podcast Publishing Plan
The American Bar Association created an initial podcast series for its publishing program in 2007, with the goal of releasing one podcast per month. We chose to create relatively short podcasts—10 to 15 minutes—that featured author interviews. Starting with a list of 20 or so prospects, we ended up with a dozen high-profile books and authors. To provide consistency and credibility, each podcast includes an introduction by Bryan L. Kay, the director of ABA Publishing, and a final segment also featuring him.
Step 3: The Script
Be mindful that the script is for talking, not for reading. As the voice of the ABA podcasts, Bryan Kay spends a lot of time before each recording making sure that the script is right. He often reads it out loud to himself or to someone else, asking, “How does this sound?”
It is important to make the script brief and focused and to give the interviewee permission to be less than perfect. “Remember,” Kay says, “this is not a face-to-face conversation. You can always edit and make changes, and quirks can make a podcast seem more natural and genuine.” The best podcasts, he has found, are those that “are genuine, show a sense of humor, and even poke fun at the topic.”
Step 4: Branding
Come up with a short name and logo that you can use to brand your podcasts. We had a naming contest and designed the logo internally, making sure it will be effective in small spaces on iTunes and elsewhere. Here’s our logo for what we call the ABA Book Briefs Podcast Series:
Step 5: Contracts
If you are using author interviews and/or music in podcasts, be sure to get appropriate releases signed ahead of time. You can get music free or pay $300 to $500 for the music you use to open and close a podcast. Authors generally agree to appear on podcasts without charge to promote their books.
Step 6: Recording
Combining a service such as Skype [see “Build Richer Remote Relationships; or, Why I Like Skype,” April], which allows you to place phone calls over the Internet, with inexpensive audio recording software such as HotRecorder, it is possible to connect people no matter where they are, and record a podcast interview on a sort of conference call. So most podcasts can be recorded whether people are in Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York. It is important to invest in a good-quality microphone.
Step 7: Editing
You can use editing software such as the free Audacity for Windows or GarageBand for Mac to edit the interview. Knapp notes, “GarageBand in particular makes it easy to edit recordings and comes with free music to polish your podcast.” (See “Podcast Resources.”)
Step 8: Uploading
Now on to the technical stuff. Knapp recommends that you “create the feed that will describe your podcast and its episodes, and will point to the audio files. Feeds can be hand coded, but there are also tools that let you create a feed by filling out a form. iTunes uses some nonstandard fields, so if you are choosing software to make your feed, it should support iTunes.” Upload the audio file, your podcast logo, and the feed to a server (see “Podcast Resources,” below).
Step 9: Posting
Once the podcast is done, it is ready to show to the world. In addition to posting it on your own Web site, you will want to submit it to iTunes. Knapp adds, “While it is free to promote your podcast on iTunes, you will need to set up an account with a credit card.”
Step 10: Marketing
Podcasts are marketed primarily through email and promotion on a Web site. Denise Eichhorn, director of marketing for the American Bar Association, sees the podcast as “an additional sales channel.” Email messages needn’t just deliver information about a book (such as a description and table of contents), she notes; they can also give the customer a different way to learn about the product.
The interview format that the ABA used allows authors to talk about their books and about laws, policies, or events that relate to the books. But the association has done chapter excerpts via podcast as well. “For The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, we had the interview podcast and a podcast of a chapter reading,” Eichhorn reports.
“We feature podcasts prominently at the ABA Web store, so anyone coming to our Web site will see that we offer them,” she adds. ABA’s “Focus On . . . ” emails include links to any podcasts that relate to featured titles, and the ABA includes a link to the book’s podcast and the entire podcast series in any email marketing for that book.
Here’s to your podcasting success.
Kathleen A. Welton has 30 years of experience in book publishing, including positions in strategic planning, editorial, sales, marketing, and e-commerce. She is currently president of aka associates, and she serves as an editor, freelance writer, and publishing consultant on projects for authors and organizations including the American Bar Association, Library Journal, Poetry Society of America/Poetry in Motion®, and the Stanford Alumni Association.
ABA Book Briefs Podcast Series
This page is updated regularly to include all podcasts in the series and is also linked in emails and other marketing activities.
Audacity is free, open-source software for recording and editing sounds. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems.
Audio Hijack allows you to record a Skype call on a Mac.
This software gives weblog owners and podcasters the ability to manage their RSS feeds and track usage by their subscribers.
There are lots of tutorials online to help you hand-code a feed, but if you are not interested in learning how to code, FeedForAll is a popular and inexpensive tool that makes it easy to create a feed.
GarageBand is part of Apple’s iLife software.
HotRecorder allows you to record calls on Skype on a PC.
For tutorials on everything you need to know to create podcasts, go to:
With Skype, calls from your computer are free to other people on Skype and cheap to landlines and cell phones around the world.