“Podcasting” has a bad name

There’s something wrong with podcasting.

In a representative national telephone study, hear2.0 has found that only 30% of Americans have even heard of “podcasting.” Less than 5% of Americans have ever – ever – downloaded a “podcast.”

And yes, we used the actual term “podcast” under the assumption that if you’re going to build an industry on a term, that term should be recognizable by the folks you’re trying to build the industry to serve.

With tens of millions of iPods in circulation, with computers on every desk, why aren’t more folks downloading podcasts?

I think the biggest reason is this: People don’t get it. What’s a pod? Why would I want to cast it? And then there’s the whole RSS confusion thing which is anything but “really simple”.

“Podcast” is, when you think about it, an absolutely horrible name for the technology. We don’t watch a TVcast, we watch a TV show. We don’t listen to a Radiocast, it’s a radio show or a radio station. And much of podcast listening isn’t even done on an mp3 player, let alone an iPod.

It seems to me that books have figured this naming puzzle out.

First there were books. Then books-on-tape. Then audiobooks. Each step in the evolution completely understandable to the average Joe and Jane.

Perhaps one day podcasts will be batches of songs instead of largely talk and entertainment programming, but for now, consider what a podcast really is.

A podcast is to an audiobook as a magazine is to a book book.

A podcast is really an audiomagazine (that’s one answer, anyway).

What does this sound like?

An audiomag is short. An audiomag has various segments. An audiomag can be consumed on the go. An audiomag is audio – meaning it can play on the radio, on the mp3 player, or on your computer. An audiomag is in a magazine format – there are a zillion out there for every interest and audience. Just like magazines.

Now, what does a “podcast” sound like? Something that only works on an iPod? Something that will force me to become a broadcaster? Something that sounds hard and unfamiliar. Something that only 5% of folks have ever downloaded.

Names matter.

UPDATE:

Seth Godin thinks I’m wrong. Ouch!

And I get his point, but I would hasten to add that while TV is not called “pictureradio” it IS called “tele-vision” which is derived from “tele” (from the Greek: far, far off) and “vision”. That is, it’s less brave and more logical. “Podcast” is neither, it seems to me.

I’m all for bold names and have been responsible for more than a few in my day. But what is the value of a bold name when the benefits or functionality of a product or service is otherwise fuzzy?

Further, whether or not “audiomag” is good does not address whether or not “podcasting” is bad. There is no value in being bold if your boldness misleads or confuses. Creating intrigue is one thing. Creating befuddlement is another. The Motorola Q is unquestionably a bold name – but it’s a name for a product where the functionality and benefits are obvious. And the same is true of “iPod.”

If only this were true for podcasting.

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