Frank Barnako Steps on the Long Tail

I don’t mean to pick on Frank Barnako, whom I finally had the privilege of meeting, if ever so briefly, at last-month’s Gnomedex. It’s just a matter of timing. In his column today for Marketwatch.com, Frank writes, “Podcasting’s ‘indies’ are losing ground…the little guys have gotten squished.” This is just more of the same misunderstanding of the podcasting phenomenon as we’re hearing from Mark Ramsey and others. These folks are looking at podcasting only as a platform for stars and hits. It ain’t about that, guys. This is all about us reaching the audiences who care about our programs, and very few of us think for a moment that even the potential audience comes close to the size of that for some of the traditional-media outlets. Not even within two orders of magnitude.

Take IT Conversations, for example. Did anyone really think that IT Conversations would stay in the Top 100 (or Top Anything) once the large-media companies jumped into podcasting? Of course not. And does that discourage me? Not in the least. The same event that Frank refers to — Apple’s release of iTunes 4.9 with support for podcasts — nearly doubled the traffic to IT Conversations overnight. What a huge success for us and for the rest of the little guys.

The real question is whether all of the so-called indie podcasts combined will have an audience as large as a single BigGuy. I think we will. I believe that within three years, independent podcasters, as a group, will deliver more programs to more listeners than any single old-media distributor. And I think we’ll soon after that make a run at beating the listenership of all the old-media channels combined. It’s a classic long-tail story. It fits the model in every way.

Does this signal the end of BigGuy media? Only to the same extent that Amazon.com has meant the end of bricks-and-mortar bookstores. (Wow… I haven’t used that phrase for a few years!) But it does create a new, unlimited spectrum for programming about which people are more passionate than they are for the Top 100 stuff, in the same way as Amazon gives us access to the books we really want that aren’t available from the local strip mall. Ask most readers whether they’d rather lose that local bookstore or Amazon.com. Even easier: Ask yourself. Then think what this will mean for podcasting when it brings you the long-tail of audio and video programming.

Update: Steve Gillmor and Dave Slusher were on top of this before me.

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