I will admit, I listen to podcasts at 1.5 times speed. The moment I realized I could absorb the same amount of content in less time, there was no going back. I listen to podcasts while I’m running, commuting, cooking, cleaning, driving—because it’s an opportunity to learn something new, catch up on current events, or laugh when my only other option would be music or silence. In fact, I have 22 podcast episodes downloaded on my phone as we speak—not to mention my “regulars” that I listen to almost immediately upon release.
I’m not alone. A recent study by Edison Research states that 50 percent of the U.S. population has listened to at least one podcast, and listeners report an average of 17 hours of listening in the last week. These are impressive figures, especially when you consider that less than 25 percent of the U.S. population was familiar with the term podcast in 2006.
There are good reasons for this media format’s meteoric ascent to popularity. “Podcasts are amazing for an intellectually curious person,” says Brett Brewer, who is the cofounder of several companies, including MySpace and Crosscut, a Los Angeles–based venture-capital firm. In the coming months, Brewer is launching a podcast out of the recording studio in WeWork Pacific Design Center, where he’ll interview successful entrepreneurs about their experience.
In our current media landscape, many platforms are on the decline: In 2018, Nielsen reported that the amount of time people spent watching TV dropped below two hours per day for the first time; newspaper circulation, both print and digital, declined by about 8 percent in 2018, according to Pew Research Center; and 2017 research by Deloitte shows that movie ticket sales have decreased 6 percent year over year. At a time when people are unplugging, podcasts offer listeners an efficient yet intimate way to consume content.
The meteoric rise of podcasts, explained
We sat down with Brewer and WeWork member Scott Lipps—the founder of Lipps LA, a celebrity and influencer management agency, and One Management, a model and talent agency, who hosts the podcast Lipps Service, for which he interviews influential names in music and pop culture—to understand why podcasts are dominating the current media landscape. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Podcasts are accessible
Podcasts are readily available, and listening to one requires close to no preparation. Anyone with a smartphone can listen to a podcast, and if you don’t have one, you can listen to many podcasts through a website. Apple Podcasts, Apple’s podcast-streaming app, comes built-in on the iPhone—no download necessary. Not an Apple person? There are countless options for listening—Luminary, RadioPublic, and Stitcher all allow you to listen to podcasts on the go. This year, music-streaming giant Spotify also introduced a dedicated podcast section on its platform. To listen to a podcast, you don’t need to buy a book, a Kindle, a cable or newspaper subscription. For most of these platforms, listening to a podcast is completely free.
2. Podcasts allow you to multitask
Whether you’re driving to work, doing the dishes, or going for a run, a podcast is an entertaining (and acceptable) companion. Podcasts come in all lengths, so you can listen to a recap of today’s important news during your 10-minute commute, or you can take a deep dive into, say, a nature podcast that teaches you how trees speak to each other with an episode that keeps you entertained for hours on a road trip. Lipps attributes the popularity of podcasts in Los Angeles to the ability to multitask. “People in L.A. are spending so much time in their car, so a podcast is a great distraction,” he says.
3. Podcasts are easy to make
You don’t need a Hollywood producer and an account full of money to create a podcast. Many podcasts have launched out of basements, living rooms, and kitchens. But, as film producer Sim Sarna explains to The Hollywood Reporter, “podcasting is an intimate experience, and audio is intimate because we’re in your ears,” so you want to make sure that you’re recording with care. It’s for that reason that in 2018, Sarna and Anna Faris partnered with WeWork to build a custom recording studio in Hollywood for Unqualified, a hilarious relationship advice podcast that Faris hosts.
Lipps frequents WeWork Pacific Design Center, which is equipped with four soundproof recording and editing rooms—it has a studio with equipment and rooms that have been converted into photo studios and hair and makeup studios. You can’t control when inspiration strikes, and “I love the ability to go into the WeWork studio within a moment’s notice and knock out an episode,” he says. Brewer says that WeWork’s studio gives him a professional space to interview very successful people.
4. Podcasts are versatile
According to June 2019 data from Podcast Insights, there are over 750,000 different podcasts. Whether you want to learn about how phytoplankton produce their own fuel or get a recap of the most recent Bachelor episode, there is probably a podcast for you. “I happen to be interested in business,” Brewer says, “but whether you’re interested in sailing or space or travel, podcasts invite you in to listen to incredibly compelling conversations.” In fact, after seeing the success of Lipps Service, Lipps decided to launch two more podcasts—a dating podcast with the reality television stars and social media influencers the Kaplan twins, and a food-centered podcast that will interview famous chefs—to appeal to different audiences.
5. Podcasts are intimate
Outside of news and current events, podcasts allow listeners to get to know celebrities and high-profile guests on a more intimate level. “When you interview someone for a podcast, you get to see a different, very unique side of them,” says Lipps, who has interviewed bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kiss, and the Strokes. “The most popular podcasts are great because their hosts have a real knack for interviewing people and getting them to open up,” he says. Brewer attributes the popularity of podcasts to their authenticity. “When you’re listening to a podcast, you feel like you’re sitting around the dinner table with these people,” he says. “And that’s intoxicating.”
6. Podcasts are adaptable
Lipps tells us that in order to gain popularity as a podcaster, it’s important to understand your audience. “Pay attention to the content that they are taking to,” he says. “Get audience feedback and find your niche.” Because of the episodic nature of podcasts, hosts can implement feedback from their listeners about the content, format, and guests faster than, say, an author or a newspaper, which shows the listeners that they are valued and makes them loyal to the brand.
7. Podcasts build community
Some of the most popular podcasts have built a loyal following around their listeners—a community that patiently awaits the release of each new episode every week or two. These shows sell merchandise; create Facebook groups; have their own social media handles; go on tours; and host live shows, meet-ups, and discussion groups. Because many listeners are already on their phones when they listen to a podcast, it is easy for them to head to social media to share the podcast and engage with other listeners, which builds a community around the podcast. And because podcasts can be very specific about their interests, listeners love to connect with others who are intrigued by the same topic.
Jenna Wilson is a senior associate on the social media team at WeWork and a writer for Ideas by We. She writes about impact, sustainability, and WeWork’s employees around the world.