Podcasts: The What, the Why, and the How
by Linda Carlson
For the IBPA members who got into publishing because they loved speaking or broadcasting, podcasts are a natural extension of marketing efforts. Using them is fairly easy for those who understand such geek-speak as RSS and Zune.
For the rest of us, I’m going to spell out what podcasts are, how they can be produced, and why you might consider creating them. And if jargon tempts you to turn the page right now, rest assured that you’re going to find information basic enough for even technophobes on shoestring budgets.
Podcasts have been around long enough to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines them as digital recordings of broadcasts that are available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player. PC Magazine’s Web site goes a little further, explaining that although podcasts were originally intended for iPods, many are now played on computers and other devices. Similarly, although the first were only audio, some now include images and video.
A podcast with video sounds like the same thing you see on YouTube. But there’s a difference, says Christopher Kenneally, director of author relations at the Copyright Clearance Center, and the difference is that a podcast is part of a series. Just as a blog implies a series of posts, whether regular or irregular, a podcast is one of several online broadcasts.
In many cases podcasts are delivered via Web syndication. This is where “podcatchers” come in. Just as you can sign up for a newsfeed and install an aggregator program, you can have podcasts from chosen sites automatically downloaded to your computer, iPod, or other device by such media aggregators as iTunes, Zune, Juice, and Winamp.
But downloads don’t have to be automatic, and they don’t have to involve extra software. When you visit a site such as the Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book (beyondthebookcast.com), you can type “IBPA” in the right-hand search box and access presentations by Terry Nathan and association members by simply clicking on “Play in pop-up” or “Download.”
If you do want audio sent to you as soon as it’s available, getting it is no more complicated than typing in your email address. Then Feed Blitz (feedblitz.com), the service used by Beyond the Book, will convert Web site updates into digests and email them to you and other subscribers.
Podcasts typically differ from book trailers and other promotional videos in terms of length. While trailers and video demonstrations can (and often should) be as short as 30 seconds and are seldom longer than five minutes, podcasts are often 30 to 60 minutes. They don’t have to be that lengthy, but many are interviews, readings, or instructional material (on topics such as book marketing, in Beyond the Book’s case), and delivering that content requires more time.
Shorter is better, though. Kenneally recommends 20 minutes for an interview, and a maximum of 30 minutes for other kinds of content.
As you might imagine, he’s over the top when it comes to enthusiasm about podcasts. Kenneally believes they’re valuable both for promotion and for delivering content, and that they benefit consultants, speakers, and authors. “They capture both print and online publications, and the human voice,” he points out. “You can use them for everything from making presentations and lectures available to providing expanded explanations and examples.”
An Outsourcing Option
You’re convinced about the value of podcasts for your books, but you’re not convinced you’re enough of a techie DIY-er? Beyond the Book will handle all the production for IBPA members for $500 per podcast, with rate reductions for multiple podcasts. Kenneally will conduct a phone interview with you or the author of your book—or anyone else you select—using five questions that you submit.
Then Burst Marketing, which is partnering with IBPA and Beyond the Book on this member benefit, will use the recorded material to create a five- to seven-minute podcast that you can play anywhere you like. (Get the details on the IBPA offer at ibpa-online.org/benefits/BeyondtheBook.aspx and hear samples of Burst’s work at burstmarketing.com/featuredShow.php.) You’ll also receive a widget so that the podcast, in MP3 format, can be played on your Web site.
Arranging Content and Availability
Whether you outsource podcast production or go the DIY route, Kenneally has recommendations to offer:
• Be conversational when speaking on a podcast; don’t stiffly read a script.
• Focus on what is important to the audience, and stay focused.
• Be aware that most people who listen to podcasts are multitasking. This means it’s important to reiterate information throughout the program, perhaps with the “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” format that so many speechwriters use.
• Begin with brief introductions of yourself, your company, your topic, and any guests. Say each guest’s name and then have the guest respond, so that listeners can associate the name and title with the voice. This is especially important when you have more than one guest of the same gender, and voices are similar.
• At least once during your program, remind listeners of each speaker’s name and the program title. You’ll find this especially useful if you want to divide the program into two parts or splice several podcasts together for another purpose.
• Conclude the program by repeating the information you provided in the introduction: the program title, your company, and the names, titles, and affiliations (including book titles) of each speaker.
• Provide transcripts if your budget permits, and consider posting them on the Web site as PDFs.
A transcript has several benefits. It is searchable, while an audio file is not. It is also valuable for people who want to pull quotes from the podcast. It makes material more accessible when speakers have strong accents or when listeners have impaired hearing. And it gives listeners who are multitasking a chance to review important points after the broadcast. At Beyond the Book, where many podcasts are informational, Kenneally reports almost as many downloads of transcripts as of the programs themselves.
• Archive podcasts and transcripts. At Beyond the Book, each podcast has its own Web page.
• Send each guest a file of the podcast or information for linking to the archive, and encourage guests to publicize the podcasts in their blogs and on their Web sites.
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle, where she has a strong preference for short podcasts with transcripts because she is always multitasking.
Pretty Simple Syndication
Syndicating your podcasts is easy, the geeks claim, pointing out that it requires only three things: a Web site or blog where you upload the podcast, files in MP3 or similar format, and—no surprise—Internet access. Of course, you’ll probably need software too.
If you offer your podcasts on a blog created with WordPress or a similar program, the software handles most of the uploading.
Other options: use the free RSS feed generator script available from TD Scripts, tdscripts.com, or evaluate the programs, some free, that you’ll find by using a phrase such as “online RSS feed generator” in a search engine.
From a nontechie perspective, RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, and Atom are similar. Another choice is FeedBurner, which its owner (Google) says “helps publishers avoid this quandary [of the different protocols] with our SmartFeed service, which makes any feed format readable on any subscriber device.” (See “Google Help” and then select “Feedburner Help.”)
Want to create podcasts? No sweat. You can get started with a few hundred dollars’ worth of equipment, says enthusiastic podcaster Christopher Kenneally, director of author relations at the Copyright Clearance Center. He uses the Edirol R09 digital recorder, which costs about $400, and the Copyright Clearance Center engineer recommends the new Tascam DR07. “It’s half the price at $199,” says Kenneally. He notes, “The Edirol is a better recorder, but not twice as good, so the Tascam is fine in most situations.”
What else do you need to get started?
* a microphone (Kenneally recommends the $99 Shure SM57)
* an XLR cable (to connect the microphone with the recorder), at least six feet long,
* headphones to monitor the session (consider Sennheiser headphones at about $13,
Based on prices from Kenneally’s online supplier, your equipment cost will be between $325 and $525.