I saw an interesting post today over at Podcasting News that brought to light Ian Lamont's insight into the demise of PodTech (well, it's not dead, just sold for a tiny fraction of the money the investors had sunk into it). Lamont is managing editor for The Industry Standard. His comments to the post are also interesting.
I must admit that Lamont knows much more about the PodTech situation than I do, but my experience during the Internet boom and bust of the 1999-2001 tells me that it might be far too early to write off podcasting as a business tool. He writes, and is quoted by Podcasting News:
"This was a hyped business built on one of the most hyped technologies of 2005. Once that faded, reality set in."
No, reality is still some ways ahead of us.
In early 2000 I was hired away from SourceMedia in New York (then Thomson Media) to serve as engineering vertical producer for an internet startup owned by a telecom company and one of the top three television networks. I was one of about 17 trade journalists hired to run online publications presumably to serve professionals working in over 100 industries. I covered ten engineering disciplines from Aerospace to Civil to Systems.
We had a fairly healthy budget and began hiring freelancers and traveling to conferences in order to provide the most up-to-date business coverage for our verticals. Meanwhile, the biz dev folks were cutting deals with all manner of whiz-bang new Internet start up folks in order to secure advertising to support the site. Reality set in when the company learned (a few months after realizing a cash burn rate of about $5 million monthly) that the professionals working in the fields we were covering didn't have a need for the newest whiz bang Internet offering. Worse yet, most of the folks we were writing to weren't sitting in their offices all day reading online articles. They were out in the field, building airplanes and new highways.
Here we are a few years later and people are finally figuring out how to deliver information to business readers online. Checking digg or techmeme or using an RSS reader was much easier for business customers to fit into their lives. Mobile technologies have made it easier and business users just understand these things a little bit better.
And that's the real lesson here. It doesn't matter how cool you think your new tool is, you will not succeed if it does not serve a real business need (if you're targeting a business audience) at the time you launch your offering. If your market doesn't know they need it (i.e. you're ahead of the curve), or it just doesn't fit into the way they operate now, you'll have a tough row to hoe.
I didn't listen to the programs on PodTech and I probably won't now that it's under new ownership. I just don't have an hour in my day that I can sit back and enjoy an Internet radio program. I do know that a shorter (sub-10 minute) program will attract a business audience. That's how we won a podcasting merit award in 2006 from the Foundation for New Communication Research for our Executive Insights podcast series.
As soon as more people figure out how to make podcasting (a wicked powerful tool for business marketing) serve the needs of the business market, reality will set in and it will be a very profitable business.