Reflections on Podcasting

Last week I published the 10th episode of the Real Education Podcast, meeting my long-time goal of publishing 10 original audio or video episodes online. Now I’m asking myself: What’s working, what’s not, and should I keep going?

(If you’re not familiar, the Real Education Podcast is a weekly show in which I interview one person—or a small group/team—for 45 minutes. New episodes are released on Tuesdays on iTunes and Soundcloud. I launched it on March 10th, 2015.)

What I Like About Podcasting

Conversations: I love taking with people who have dedicated their lives to alternative education, outdoor/experiential education, or unschooling. The podcast has given me an excuse to have deep conversations with interesting people I already know and, more significantly, and an excuse to meet and interview new people. The interviews themselves are always fun and rewarding.

Positive feedback: A few people have taken the time to e-mail me, write a Facebook comment, or leave an iTunes review with some positive comments about the show. One guy—a fellow alternative educator—even sent me $100 (completely unsolicited) in gratitude for the Carsie Blanton episode, which deeply inspired his 18-year-old daughter. That felt nice!

Patronage: Also inspired by Carsie, I created a Patreon page where listeners who enjoy my show could set up a recurring donation (as low as $1)  for every episode I produced. Around episode #3 I jumped up to $15 in weekly patronage—$10 of which was thanks to one family member—and then it leveled off, sitting at $18 now. People are paying me to do this: that feels nice, too!

Book sales: I suspected that podcasting might lead to increased sales of my books. This is hard to measure. March and April were better-than-average months for book sales, but that jump might have come from a few speaking engagements in March. May sales are lower than average. So maybe podcasting has helped, and maybe it hasn’t. (It certainly hasn’t hurt.)

Learning the craft: Podcasting has prompted me to learn how to record high-quality audio, use Garageband, export compressed mp3 files, publish an RSS feed on Soundcloud, and become a better interviewer. Many of these skills feel transferable to other projects in my life.

Building a permanent library: As long as I keep paying Soundcloud $120 a year, my podcast episodes will live indefinitely online and in iTunes. I like the feeling of contributing a free library of quality interviews about alternative & experiential education to the world.

What Drains Me

Low (and decreasing?) listener numbers: My first few episodes have garnered roughly 500 total plays (that counts iTunes downloads, direct plays on Soundcloud, plays on embedded players, etc.). More recent episodes have far fewer. Yes, I realize that more time = more listens, so it’s not a fair comparison, but I also expected more time = more exposure = more listeners = increasing average # of listeners on new episodes. I’m not seeing that, which bums me out. I know that I should enjoy doing these podcasts for their own sake, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’re not catching on after a few months. This is my biggest psychological challenge.

Listener stats as of May 19th, 2015

The pressure of weekly publishing: Pretty much everything I read about podcasting emphasized the importance of a regularly repeating show, so I decided to release episodes once a week. Right now I have 15 episodes recorded, and having just published #11, that means I have another month of episodes ready to go. This has worked well so far, but as I think toward fall and winter and the intensive programs I’ll be running, I’m wondering whether I can keep up the weekly schedule. (If I pre-record lots of episodes during the summer, I’m sure I can, but I still feel the pressure.)

What I’m Not Sure About

Who to interview in the future: Should I continue interviewing the founders/directors of innovative programs (as I’ve mostly been doing), more people who took unconventional educational paths themselves (like Carsie Blanton and Sophia Pink), more authors & thought leaders, or what? Should I just niche down or just follow my whims?

How to promote: Right now I announce episodes through my Facebook, Twitter, and author mailing list. Something I wish I’d done for the first ten episodes was craft individual blog posts (like this one for episode 11). I’ve assumed that my guests would promote their interviews to their own audiences, and that’s happened to some extent, but not enough to my satisfaction. How else can I get the word out?

Should I Keep Going?

Finally, here are the big questions floating around my head:

  • Doing something on a repeating basis is not my forte; I typically crave big, novel, intensive experiences followed by long periods of calm and reflection. Is podcasting too much of a drain on my “down time?”
  • Should I keep doing this if people aren’t really interested in listening?
  • Should I have faith that it will gain more listeners in the future?
  • Should I stop caring about listeners?
  • Am I creating enough impact with this project compared to other possible uses of my time?

If you have a thought to contribute, please e-mail or leave a comment below. Thanks!



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