In The Spotlight part 2: Rahul Nair, Founder Of Storiyoh

We continued our conversation with Rahul about the general state of podcasting. Read on! 

Here’s part one of the conversation in case you missed reading it.

How would you sum up the current state of podcasting?

I think podcasting has been simmering for a while now, and it might be reaching boiling point. I think its also important to contextualise that question. So, podcasting is in different states around the world. As you know, its more well developed – I mean in terms of both creation, consumption and general awareness – in the West. It is also well developed in China – China has overtaken the US in terms of listeners. According to the data I have seen, China had about 119m listeners as of the end of 2017, while the US had some 78m. There are lots of other untapped markets, wide open to be served.

Generally speaking, many of the world’s leading media houses are investing quite a lot in creating podcast first content – BBC, Vox, The Guardian, The NYT, NPR etc., and I think that shows some validation of the potential inherent in this medium. In Physics you have this concept of critical mass w.r.t reactions right….the minimum amount of fissile material needed for a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. I think podcasting is getting there, a point after which we will see a powerful, self-sustaining growth.

See, the way I see it, I feel the timing is about right for podcasting to really take-off because – think about it – we have enabling technology already well in place (rising internet penetration, rising smartphone penetration, cheaper data packages with huge infrastructure investments like Jio, 4g, 5g. We are even seeing great advancements in voice-based computing.), the need for lifelong learning is an economic imperative now and so there is real impetus here, and also in terms of entertainment options available, on-demand audio can provide amazing and stimulating entertainment in an economic way, and culturally we have all happily accepted and welcomed on-demand services into our lives. So, considering these points, we can perhaps argue that the timing is just right for podcasts to take-off in a big way.

What are some trends in podcasting that you see are exciting and worrying?

Rahul:  I think the growing interest in creating innovative content, with both big and small players jumping in is surely exciting. We are also seeing a greater understanding around the need to develop sustainable business models by allowing listeners to directly support creators, and that is not just exciting but absolutely imperative if we want to see podcasting go to the next level.

I wouldn’t say I’m worrying but a couple of points come to mind. There are some platforms out there that are trying to help content creators but buried deep in their T&Cs you will see some issues w.r.t ownership of content. It would be worrying if a platform rises up one day and says it owns all the content that creators have put on it natively.

So it’s important that creators read the fine print properly. But I don’t think platforms can get away with that kind of stuff….people are smart enough to catch them out and they will be forced to change, which is why I’m not all that concerned. Another point would be around mixing music and podcasts on the same platform. I think because these both are audio formats, we have been seeing a trend in music platforms and applications jump on the podcasting bandwagon.

We have to appreciate the differences – music and podcasts are entirely different in the ways they are consumed, produced and distributed. Music can be listened to passively but not podcasts, which require your attention. The economics are different too – the business of music in terms of how artists are compensated and how the works are distributed are significantly different from podcasting, which are also important considerations when you think of the UX and UI of applications.

Moreover, the sheer amount of content available in music vs podcasting – again significantly different with the music content pool being much much larger than podcasts – can lead to the absolute drowning of podcast content vis-a-vis music content, adding to the already bad discovery problem in podcasting. So, to me, it doesn’t make sense to combine them on the same platform. 


And similarly with textual content too – again the amount of textual content would be much larger than podcast shows/episodes, and combining the two will only add to distractions, taking people away from listening. That’s just lazy and not understanding or appreciative of the nature of podcasting. Podcasts fully deserve their own space to shine.

Google podcasts and Spotify seem to be betting big on podcasts. Given their past fumbles, how do you see them shaping the podcasting ecosystem?

Rahul: Yeah, so I think I kind of covered this in my previous answer. Google indexing podcasts is great because we will be able to see podcast content too in search results, which in turn will probably bring in a lot of new listeners, and that way it has the power to positively influence the podcasting world.

And Spotify too, being a powerful brand on its own, can raise the awareness around podcasting. But, as I mentioned before, I don’t think combining text, music and podcasts all into one product is a particularly good idea. We will have to wait and see how these companies influence the system.

A few people in podcasting seem to be getting antsy about the emergence of walled gardens. What do you think about this fear and how do you see the future of RSS and the open podcasting ecosystem?

Rahul: That’s a good question. The beautiful thing about the current system is that anyone with an RSS reader can capture and listen to podcast content, and that is great. But there are challenges as well in terms of the friction involved in monetising content, costs of hosting, and the differences in hosting solutions. I don’t think RSS is going anywhere anytime soon, because it affords everybody a way to distribute content easily, and also because there isn’t a single destination platform for podcasting…yet 😉


 I think it suffices to say that distributing your podcast is not as easy as it is uploading and sharing a video or a picture or your medium post, and monetising your podcast is not as easy as selling something on Amazon or renting your spare room on Airbnb.

The debate about open and closed is like asking whether you prefer full trade liberalisation or complete protection of your market. Which one is the right answer? Well, as with most things, it depends, and its not either/or and the answer perhaps is somewhere in the middle. Lets not waste time discussing polar extremes, and instead figure ways to solve problems, and that requires compromises sometimes. Its not perfect systems we should be after, but systems that enable progress and sustainability, as imperfect as they may be.

There has been an incredible burst of creativity in the content being created. But few people including Tom Webster think that we need more diversity in content to attract more listeners. What’s your view on this?

Rahul: Again, I think that’s falling into the content trap. See, can there be more content? Of course YES!! That’s like asking, can we make even more movies? Can we make better movies? Can we write more books in different languages? YES to all. But don’t we need ways to communicate about books and movies so that we can get people interested? What would happen if you are making an amazing movie but half the world doesn’t know about it and there is no way to get it to them? You may not actually end up liking that content, but you didn’t even have a chance to take a look!! 


That was the case back in the day when communication channels and infrastructure was not all-pervasive, right? An amazing book gets published in London, but it would take eons before anyone in India could benefit from it. Now we have the internet. But because of the internet, we have another kind of problem now….too much information. Now I get to know what is happening all around the world pretty quickly but I lose the ability to understand what is relevant to me…there is too much noise to filter from. So there is a lot of content being produced in this world, and this will only go up. We need ways to filter and make sense and that’s where our human connections come in.

So, we can, of course, make more podcast content and improve the diversity of the content too. That is important but not the be all and end all of podcasting. I do not believe the diversity of content is the only thing to attract more listeners. It can help if there is a House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black equivalent in the podcasting world. But again, are we saying we don’t have good enough content in the podcast world? I certainly don’t think that is the case….there are some amazing shows out there, created with the same amount of passion and creativity and purpose as some of those Netflix shows. We need to honour that, respect that and appreciate that. Do we need more? Of course. And we will get em. It’s not like creativity has gone on hartaal.

There is more to attracting listeners…at the risk of sounding like a parrot on repeat mode, I must say again that we should remove as much friction as possible from discovery and sharing of content. Make it easy. Make it fun. And thats where user connections come in. At the moment, in podcasting, its like we all have telephones but only connected to our internal network – an intercom. Do you think that works? Obviously not right? We discover more and have more varied conversations when the network is opened up and our ability to connect expands exponentially. We need to understand more clearly as to what makes the content grow, and not only focus on the content itself, as important as it may be. Connections people..connections! Bringing in more people into podcasting is a social affair…we mustn’t forget that. Getting more people in and leaving them on individual islands to fend for themselves is not a good idea.

The hunt for a sustainable revenue model is an eternal one for podcasters. What do you think about the monetization options available to podcasters? Does Storiyoh have any plans in this area?

Rahul: Yes this is important. Sustainability is the name of the game. I don’t think we need to unnecessarily complicate it either. Podcasters will need to reach out and sell their stuff, directly to listeners. Was your last visit to the cinema free? You buy a movie ticket don’t you? Heck, you pay for your audiobooks don’t you? Are we saying podcasts are not worth paying for? That would be a ludicrous statement to make. 


At the moment, podcasters are thinking about running ads, perhaps setting up live events, or selling some merchandise or in some rare cases, extend their successful content idea into other formats like TV series or movies. They are all fine…nothing wrong with any of these methods. But isn’t it a lot simpler to sell your core product, which is the show? You are putting in the effort – and no small effort – driven my passion and purpose. Why don’t you then sell? I don’t think it should be taboo at all, just because until now its all been free. If you are making a product or a service, your first priority should be to be able to sell it.

Does Storiyoh have any plans? I thought this round was about podcasting in general and not about Storiyoh ;-). But yes…we do…we want to make it easier for buying and selling to happen, to make that a reality, and I think there is a lot of opportunities there for everyone. 


Economics as a subject gets a lot of bad rap, but the pricing mechanism…the way demand and supply moves w.r.t price….does hold some lessons for us. I don’t want to get into Econ 101, but pricing kind of acts as a filter – it forces the seller to think, to innovate, to offer value. A monetary tag is not the only driving force behind innovation – don’t get me wrong. But having a direct monetary relationship with your customer is, at least to my understanding, the simplest and most straightforward way towards sustainability.

How would you sum up the current state of podcasting in India?

Rahul: I think its nascent in India but holds humongous potential. In India, we just don’t have enough of the talk radio culture that we see in the UK or the US. But there is no particular reason for us not to. Having said that, there are a lot of people listening to podcasts already. Native Indian podcasts need to grow in terms of production value. We need an ecosystem that supports aspiring podcasters with skill and knowledge development. This is super critical. If we cannot ensure a constant supply of creators in the future, then its all over.


If Indian podcasting is to thrive, talent development, financial support, mentoring and positioning podcasting as a mainstream medium are all important. We are already seeing signs of this. We already have people like Bijay and Chhavi working hard to help educate and inspire the next generation of podcasters through teaching and mentoring (high-five to them!!). That is always the bedrock foundation on which the future of any enterprise can be built. But we need more. 

More community organising. More innovation in content – where is our breakaway show? When are we going to get our Serial? We hope Storiyoh can be that platform that powers the connections piece I’ve been talking about, to push Indian podcasting to the next level. So you see, we need to take a systems view and approach. I’m very excited about the prospects.

Advice for podcasters?

  1. Live in permanent beta – focus on learning and growing, keep experimenting and don’t worry about perfection – get good enough and get going.
  2. Ask yourselves – will I pay for this? You have to be convinced about this if you want to live off this trade. DO NOT SHY AWAY FROM PRICING YOUR PRODUCT!
  3. Related to the above point, create for yourself first. You should be proud of what you put into this world.
  4. Create meaning – look in this day and age, with all this information overload (we are up to our eyeballs with information), more of it just disenchants us. We are looking for meaning in our lives…we all are. Focus on creating meaningful experiences, and then sustainability will be solved.
  5. Be courageous and tackle stories and issues without fear.
  6. Finally, understand…deeply understand….the power of connections. Trust me, it is a life AND business philosophy worth really thinking about!

What’s on your playlist?

Rahul: I have many playlists on Storiyoh. But here are some…

Self-improvement

  1. Oprah’s Master Class: The Podcast
  2. The Inspiring Talk by Bijay
  3. Optimal Living Daily
  4. Good Life Project

Storytelling

  1. Reveal podcast from the Centre for Investigative Reporting
  2. The Moth
  3. Seriously….from BBC Radio 4
  4. Death in Ice Valley

Indian shows

  1. Aawaaz Do by Neha @ The Indian Express…and also 3 Things.
  2. Musafir Stories by Saif and Faiza
  3. The Passion People Podcast by Naga
  4. Writer and the Geek show by Shankar and Vishnu (shoutout brothers!)
  5. The Seen and the Unseen with Amit Verma
  6. Itihaas by Sneha
  7. Sea change by Societal Platforms

Economics and International Relations

  1. Worldly by Vox
  2. The Economist Radio
  3. Pod save the world
  4. Displaced
  5. The Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill and Deconstructed with Mehdi Hassan…I put them together because they come from the same publisher
  6. FT Alphachat
  7. Bloomberg Benchmark

You want more….? 🙂

How would you explain what a podcast is to a layperson?

Rahul: People telling stories and sharing knowledge that you can listen to whenever you want on your phone.

Posted by Bhuvanesh

A podcast junkie on a mission to make podcasts great.

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