Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Podcast's Tale for Cracking the iTunes Top 20...

Any schmoe off the street with a microphone and internet connection can create a podcast. But as anyone with a blog or website can tell you, just having an internet presence is not enough. The million dollar question remains how to build an audience and get noticed.

So it is with a guy, a girl, and their podcast. Helen Zaltzman and Oliver Mann created a comedy podcast - "Answer Me This" - but quickly became frustrated with finding an internet audience. Their tale is instructive. Realizing that the key to their podcast becoming successful was through iTunes - where people easily download and subscribe to podcasts more than on any other repository on the Web - Zaltzman and Mann decided that they HAD TO get listed, somehow, in the iTunes Top 20 list.

The strategy makes sense, but it's a whole lot easier said than done. Because of the business agreements Apple has with the major music labels, certain MTV-familiar artists are relentlessly promoted on iTunes - to the chagrin of small-time musicians and podcasters. Cracking the Top 20 is an extremely daunting task.

So what did they do? They figured that they could still attract attention through iTunes by simply cracking the Top 20 List for any single country. They targeted the tiny nation of Luxembourg, and set out on a road trip to promote their podcast, figuring that in such a marginally populous country, even a relatively small group of downloaders could quickly launch them onto the list.

And it worked.

Not only did they reach as high as #4 on the podcast charts, but their story quickly became a media fascination and their audience around the rest of the world grew as a result.

What's the lesson of this story? First of all, despite the Web's promise to democratize systems and create an equal level playing field, media bottlenecks - such as iTunes - continue to dominate the content industry online. This should be a serious cause for concern to anybody who believes in reducing the influence of the gatekeeping media elite and their related role in agenda-setting. Second, as Zaltzman and Mann demonstrated, this can nevertheless be overcome with a good dose of ingenuity.


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