Exploring a Rapidly Expanding Podcast Universe | Discovery & Advisory

The appeal of podcasts is easy to understand—they’re free, easy to sample and subscribe to, and there are now so many that it’s possible to find a show to match any interest and satisfy any reader.

Podcast listening continues to increase. Edison Research’s 2018 Infinite Dial study reports that 44 percent of Americans over the age of 12 have listened to a podcast, up from 40 percent the previous year. Ease of listening contributes to that trend as music apps incorporate podcast feeds; Google Play Music added podcast support last year, and Spotify just added it this spring. Apple has incorporated podcast downloading as a feature on iTunes for years; its current podcast app is now simply called Apple Podcasts.

Yet with more than 500,000 active podcasts available through Apple Podcasts alone, how can discovery be managed—for librarians or for patrons looking for guidance? First, some general advice for finding great podcasts and then recommendations for readers with particular interests.

Podcast App Discovery Features

The podcast app you or your patrons are already using probably has a built-in discovery feature. Most have directories to make finding new podcasts easier. Some may have personalized recommendations based on current subscriptions, but just about any podcast app will have subject-based categories for convenient browsing. Finding podcasts this way to match book tastes may be easier for nonfiction buffs, as it’s no stretch to map nonfiction genres such as politics, history, and travel onto podcast categories, but don’t overlook the Arts & Entertainment (or similar) category in those apps, as it will probably include both fiction podcasts and podcasts about fiction genres.

NPR has been a longtime leader in popularizing podcasts, and its NPR One app makes it even easier to unearth new programs and episodes of interest. Listeners can follow their favorite shows and mark episodes as “interesting,” and the app will recommend others that they may enjoy based on their listening history. It’s useful when listeners are in the mood for something new but aren’t sure what to try, and it’s surprising that more podcast apps don’t have a similar feature.

Follow the Guests

Listeners of even a few podcasts will realize that most podcasters make guest appearances on other podcasts. If you hear a guest you like, pay attention to the plugs at the end of the episode. If that individual has a podcast, try it out. It’s a simple but effective way to find more shows to follow.

Likewise, many podcasts today are produced by networks such as Earwolf, Radiotopia, Maximum Fun, Gimlet Media, or Nerdist. The hugely popular Welcome to Night Vale has begun this spring to spin off new shows on its budding network. Membership in a network gives podcasts a natural way to build their publicity and income, and typically podcasts on a network will cross-promote other shows. Take note of all the podcasts on the network(s) you or your patrons like; they’ll probably share common elements of style and sensibility.

Online Communities

Whatever your online discussion forum of choice—Facebook groups, Twitter, Subreddits, or forums for particular interests such as fitness, gaming, fanfiction, cooking, or reading—odds are there’s a thread floating around with podcast recommendations. Do a search for the word podcasts or podcasts-plus the genre you’re looking for, or try googling “podcasts like” and a book title. It’s nearly guaranteed that someone has asked for prior recommendations. Podcasts come and go, so if that suggestion thread is more than a year old, start a new one to get some current offerings.

Following your favorite authors on social media is a great tactic to discover their guest appearances on podcasts, and may lead listeners to a new favorite. Authors often do virtual book tours including a round of podcast appearances when they’re promoting a new release. When an author has a new book, pay attention to where they’re guesting. If a podcast features an author you like, check out the next episode as well; you may discover a new regular listen—or a new ­favorite author.

ON THE LINE Libraries that lack the resources to provide their own podcast recording equipment may have access though a consortium or local library organization. The Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) is a nonprofit resource-sharing agency for New York City’s libraries and archives. Studio manager Molly Schwartz shows off
the audio recording booth at METRO’s Studio 599. Schwartz produces and hosts METRO’s podcast, Library Bytegeist.
Photos ©2018 William Neumann

Best Podcast Lists

Plenty of media and book websites post lists of best podcasts. There’s no single authoritative body issuing a universally recognized award such as the Academy Awards, and no Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes for ratings, so be prepared to poke around the web a little. Here are a few “best of” lists worth checking out.

The A.V. Club’s Podmass column is a weekly roundup of its favorite episodes from the previous week’s podcasts. It’s a great way not only to hear about notable episodes and interviews from well-known podcasts but to get highlights from new and less-well-known programs. As of this writing, the current week’s list includes royal weddings, deep readings of literary short fiction, and fairy-tale versions of notable women from history.

Lifehacker’s subject editors have an interesting and eclectic list of their favorites, covering a wide range of topical ground and a mix of the famous and obscure.

Vulture recommends new podcasts for 2018 featuring something for true crime fans (Atlanta Monster and West Cork) and Marvel comics fans (Wolverine: The Long Night), among others, and suggests checking out the Night Vale Presents productions Adventures in New America (forthcoming), set in an alternate New York City inhabited by space vampires, and Pounded in the Butt by My Own Podcast, which features celebrity readers narrating author Chuck Tingle’s surreal gay erotica.

The New Yorker’s Best Podcasts of 2017 list includes less common recommendations such as Uncivil, which spotlights lesser-known stories from the Civil War; Ear Hustle, about domestic life in prison and is produced by inmates at San Quentin State Prison; Nocturne, “a podcast about the night” featuring recordings of night sounds, stories about terrifying and remarkable nighttime events, and explorations of dreams; and The Nod, which offers deep dives into African American culture.

Book Riot’s 15 Outstanding Podcasts for Book Lovers list has listening recommendations for readers: author interviews on Beth’s Bookshelf and Penguin Random House’s Beaks & Geeks; The Brit List Podcast for Anglophiles; Banging Book Club for sex-related book talk with a strong dose of issues of representation and feminism; Backlisted, “giving new life to old books”; and The Secret Library Podcast about the publishing industry, among others.

How To Start a Podcast: What To Consider Before, During,
and After You Hit “Record”

By Chris Kretz

have a great idea for a podcast? It’s an exciting challenge and opportunity to share your message with the world. However, podcasting also requires technical skill, a host of logistical decisions, and extreme attention to detail. So how do you start a podcast? Deliberately. Willingly. And with a lot of patience. Here is a basic look at the process.

The Idea

A podcast can contain many things, from discussions and interviews to scripted dramas and stories. Decide what you want to capture. Many subsequent decisions will be driven by what type of podcast you want. Ask yourself:

• What’s your show about? Write an intro that you’ll say at the beginning of each episode to help you define it.

• Has it been done before? Listen to existing podcasts on the same topic: How will yours be different?

• What’s the format? One host? A team? Rotating guests?

• What’s your tone? Informal and off-the-cuff? Highly scripted? Consider your own strengths and weaknesses.

• Check to see what names have been taken. You may have to get creative.

Recording

Your recording setup will depend on your budget and situation. For a one-person show, one mic is all you need. If you have multiple people on each show, a digital audio recorder that can take multiple mics would be a better choice.

Regardless, the basic ingredients are a microphone, equipment to record into, and editing software.

• Microphones These break down into two types: USB mics connect to a laptop or desktop computer. They are easy to use and come in a range of price and quality. Examples include Blue’s Yeti and Samson’s Meteor. XLR mics have three-pronged outputs and connect to external recording devices. They are more expensive but give you better quality. Examples include the Shure SM58 and the Rode Procaster.

• Recording devices You can start with a desktop or laptop computer running sound editing software such as Garageband for Mac and Audacity for Windows Digital audio recorders work with XLR mics, provide better audio quality, and are more portable. Audio files need to be transferred to a computer for editing. Examples include the Zoom H6 and the Tascam DR-40.

• Recording space Pick the quietest spot you can find and guard against interruptions. Most spaces are not as insulated as you think; noise seeps in from everywhere. People have been known to record in closets and under blankets.

Editing

Do at least some basic editing and postproduction work before releasing your podcast to the world.

Things to take care of:

• Audio levels: make sure they are consistent, with no sudden leaps in volume or sections that are too low to hear. Your software will help you adjust.

• ID3 tags: Make sure your audio file has the standard ID3 metadata tags encoded. Podcast players and directories will display this information as author, title, artist, track no., etc.

• Cover/album art: Design an eye-catching, simple graphic for your podcast and embed it in each audio file. It will be your calling card across multiple podcast directories and apps. Apple’s requirements for artwork are currently a JPG or PNG image, from 1,400 to 3,000 pixels square.

Hosting

You need a stable, reliable host to hold your files and generate your RSS feed. The feed is the constantly updated XML file of metadata about your podcast that distributes it to directories and apps across the digital landscape.

Many commercial hosts exist, usually charging a sliding scale for their services. Others are free but come with limitations.

Some things to consider about hosts:

• Check any data upload limits. Choose the tier appropriate to the amount of content you expect to produce. Most hosts reset the limits at the beginning of the month.

• What type of customer service do they provide? Do they offer tutorials or help pages?

• How hard will it be to get your content off their platform should the need arise?

• Popular hosting sites include Blubrry, Libsyn, Podbean, and SoundCloud.

Distribution

Apple continues to be the major player in the podcast distribution game. So your first step is to submit your show to Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes). You’ll need an existing Apple ID to log in and submit your RSS feed to Apple. Once accepted, your show will appear in the directory, the Apple Podcast app, and in any app that pulls from Apple, such as Overcast, Downcast, Castro, and so on. Some services, such as Spotify, require you to submit your RSS feed to them individually.

Now What?

A lot of work goes into a podcast, but don’t let the technical requirements dissuade you. If you’re passionate about an idea and are willing to commit to it, then get started. The sooner you start, the sooner others can start listening.

Chris Kretz is Head of the Southampton Library, Stony Brook University Libraries, NY. He produces two podcasts: The Long Island History Project (longislandhistoryproject.org) and The Radio Tower (lirtvhs.org/podcasts)

Book podcasts

There are, of course, many podcasts specifically devoted to books and reading. NPR’s All About Books interviews best-selling and award-winning novelists; it recently featured an interview with librarian and readers’ advisory expert Becky Spratford. The hosts have talked to writers in a variety of fiction and nonfiction genres.

Reading Glasses features discussions on book culture, author interviews, and the reading lifestyle. Hosts Brea Grant and Mallory O’Meara interview authors, librarians, and publishers; review “bookish technology” such as reading lights and ereader accessories; and hold animated discussions about how to get more out of your reading life: breaking up with a bad book, consolidating your book collection with your partner’s, or using your ereader in the bath.

BookRiot produces a dizzying array of book-related podcasts—some general-interest like Book Riot the Podcast and All the Books, and some specific to particular genres such as For Real (all things nonfiction-related), Read or Dead (mystery/thriller), SFF Yeah (sf/fantasy), and When in ­Romance.

Anglophiles may want to try The Guardian Books Podcast, which features in-depth author interviews and thematic investigations into literary trends.

Unladylike is an Australian podcast about women and writing. Hosts Adele Walsh and Kelly Gardiner’s manifesto states that they “talk with women and nonbinary people about writing and reading and particularly about process: the thinking, planning, plotting (or not), research, drafting, and editing that writers do.” Guests have included mystery author Kerry Greenwood, romance novelists Anna Campbell and Kylie Scott, and Bandjalang illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft.

Listener’s Advisory

Podcasts are a great way for fiction readers to sample short works or discover new authors. Fiction podcasts often fit an audiobook-style mold, with a single narrator reading a story, but some programs (as well as some audiobooks) go beyond that with fully produced dramatic presentations in the style of a radio drama, with music, sound effects, and a cast of actors.

NPR’s Selected Shorts features a rotating cast of guest hosts including Jane Curtin, Jane Kaczmarek, and Robert Sean Leonard, presenting stories by well-known and emerging writers, read by such celebrity narrators as Tony Hale, John Lithgow, and Parker Posey.

Radiotopia’s The Truth presents original dramatized short stories in a format called “movies for your ears,” with full sound design and music, produced by a team of screenwriters and actors.

Bronzeville is an episodic scripted audio drama by Oscar and BAFTA nominee Josh Olson, starring Laurence Fishburne, Larenz Tate, and Tika Sumpter in a story about characters playing and running an underground lottery.

For a different kind of fiction, try Dead Pilots Society, readings of TV comedy pilot scripts that never got produced. Episodes have featured writers like Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, and John Hodgman and comic performers Jason Ritter, Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt, and Cedric Yarbrough, among others.

THE GENRE LANDSCAPE

The podcast landscape for genre enthusiasts is particularly rich.

True Crime

Fans of true crime such as Michelle McNamara’s new posthumous best seller I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer are truly living in a golden age of podcasts. It’s hard to open a podcast app without tripping over a recommendation for true crime.

West Cork is Audible’s original true crime podcast. Creators Jennifer Forde and Sam Bungey follow the case of a French filmmaker murdered outside a small Irish town. Audible provides online supplemental material, including maps and time lines, for enthusiastic sleuths to follow.

My Favorite Murder, hosted by comedians Karen ­Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, has taken off in popularity since its launch in 2016. Hardstark and Kilgariff each research a different weekly case and relate the details in a conversational format full of passionate digressions and life advice (like “stay out of the forest”).

Criminal is a different kind of “true crime” podcast. While the label technically fits—it’s about crime and it’s all true—this show is rarely interested in gory murders. Rather, it’s an examination of a different encounter with a different kind of crime every episode, interviewing perpetrators, victims, and families touched by crime in some way.

The Grift by Maria Konnikova (The Confidence Game) is a fascinating limited-run series with ten episodes about con artists, both living and historical, whose crimes range from art fraud to gambling swindles to claims of psychic powers.

In the Dark’s first season covered the case of abducted child Jacob Wetterling in rural Minnesota, examining how police mishandled the case and its effect on national fear of danger to children and the development of sex offender registries. Its second season started May 1 and chronicles Curtis Flowers, a man on death row in Mississippi whose case has had two mistrials and three convictions overturned on appeal; he’s been tried six times for the same crime.

Crimetown digs into the crime culture of a variety of American cities. The excellent first season concerned Providence and the influence of organized crime on law enforcement and local politics at all levels in a story with few purely good or bad characters. The topic for Season 2 has yet to be announced, but Season 1 includes a generous handful of bonus episodes to satisfy listeners.

Fantasy & SF

Sf and fantasy (sf/f) readers are well covered in the podcast world. Readers who like John Scalzi’s upcoming Head On or N.K. Jemisin’s recently concluded “Broken Earth” trilogy may want to check out some of these ­podcasts:

Sword & Laser is a long-running literary sf/f podcast hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. They not only highlight current reading picks but also present a very active companion discussion forum on Goodreads and run an ongoing sf/f book club alternating between the two genres. (Belmont also cohosts the Vaginal Fantasy book club with Felicia Day featuring romance novels by female authors.) Bonus: learn what the hosts are drinking each episode.

Escape Pod and PodCastle are sibling fiction podcasts (sf and fantasy, respectively) that have been running audio short fiction for well over a decade (they also produce PseudoPod for horror and Cast of Wonders for YA fiction). They’ve featured authors from the unknown to the famous (and some that went from the former to the latter) with a rotating cast of narrators.

StarShipSofa is another long-running sf podcast. It has featured fiction by genre giants like Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, and China Mieville and is the first podcast to win a Hugo Award for best fanzine for its audio adaptations.

io9.com editors and sf authors Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders have just launched Our Opinions Are Correct. The first episodes covered themes of hope and dread in the new series Star Trek: Discovery and a discussion of how propaganda and mind control in sf relates to recent revelations about the ways Facebook data is used by outside entities. A promising new entry.

Horror

Horror readers have plenty to choose from, whether they’re interested in true tales of the weird or dramatized fiction.

The Noir and Bizarre is a nonfiction podcast about the dark and strange side of Baltimore. Episodes focus on such topics as the city as Edgar Allan Poe knew it and the Baltimore man who popularized and commercialized the Ouija board.

Archive 81 is as of this writing on hiatus between seasons, but fans of Lovecraftian weird fiction will enjoy this audio drama about Dan Powell, who disappeared after being hired to archive a series of strange and disturbing audiotapes.

Welcome to Night Vale is a little harder to classify—it’s a surreal, creepy, and very funny audio drama featuring local radio from a small desert town in which every conspiracy theory is true. Night Vale has thus far spawned two novels, the aforementioned new podcast network, and a wildly enthusiastic fan base.

Lore, recently adapted into a TV miniseries by Amazon and a new series of books, digs into the darker side of history to look at people, places, and things more terrifying than fiction. Recent episodes have featured the horrors of disease, abandoned places, and the secret history of Southern cities.

Romance

Romance readers may be interested in Girl, Have You Read…?, which focuses on fiction, especially romance, with African American protagonists. Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is hosted by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’ Sarah Wendell and Dear Author’s Jane Litte. They interview authors, for instance Alisha Rai and Jasmine Guillory, and cover such topics such plots twists and book covers.

The Lonely Hearts Romance Comics Podcast explores romance comics and romance in comics, and Book Thingo is an Australian podcast for romance readers, featuring, among other delights, an episode called Readers Are the New Gatekeepers, with librarian Wendy Crutcher.

There’s a wide range of podcasts for any interest that readers might have, and since most podcasts are free, it’s easy to explore and sample the range. Podcasts are a great way for patrons to take a deeper dive in a favorite genre, discover something new, or just listen to fellow readers and fans share their enthusiasm.

Professional Listening: Podcasts About Librarians and Libraries

By Cecily Walker

Lost in the Stacks: The Research Library Rock’n’Roll Radio Show On air since 2014, Lost in the Stacks is one of the longest running library-related podcasts on this list. Recording in the studios of Georgia Tech’s WREK-FM, the hosts choose a topic, then use it to create a mix of music, interviews, and library talk.


Bellwether Friends Readers’ advisory that goes beyond books. Hosts Anna, Alene, Carolyn, and Julie have varied interests that are reflected in the show’s topics. Be sure to check out episode 83: “Classical Music Advisory with Robin Bradford,” any of their “Book Buzz” episodes, and the episode where I talk about pens for 90 minutes.


The Librarian Is In This New York Public Library podcast is about books, culture, and the world of libraries. Every episode stands alone, but together the archive forms a compendium of curiosities that include such topics as technology, trans characters in novels, fat-positive children’s books, and hippo ranching, to name a few. Gwen Glazer and Frank Collerius have an easy camaraderie and start to feel like old friends after a few listens.


The Worst Bestsellers is a podcast where the hosts talk about best sellers of questionable quality. Librarians are cautioned not to express their opinions on titles to our patrons, so this podcast is both refreshing and cathartic. Hosts Kait and Renata hold nothing back as they discuss pop culture advice books, juggernaut vampire series, and numerous romance novels from well-known authors. Be sure to check out their discussion of John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus from a queer perspective.


Archivist’s Alley  Archivist’s Alley describes itself as “a safe conversational space designed for casual and lively discussions
about how to preserve our work and identities in the professional landscapes and media that we work and create in.” Though
the podcast is only five episodes in as of press time, conversations
are meaningful, thoughtful, and cover such subjects as digital preservation, social justice and equity, women in archiving,
digital forensics, and personal media archives.


Turbitt & Duck: Purveyors of Cultural Expertise and Library Sass to the Discerning Connoisseur Since 1885 Despite the title, Sally Turbitt and Amy Walduck have only been producing this podcast since late 2017. Librarians from Australia, Sally and Amy broadcast about libraries, galleries, archives, and museums worldwide. Notable episodes include episode two, in which the hosts discuss why they created the podcast, and episode five, which covers the hosts’ favorite and not-so-favorite books of 2017.


Time To Read is a podcast book club produced by the Winnipeg Public Library, Manitoba, Canada. Listeners can participate in the book club at their leisure and discuss the selected novels whenever it is convenient. Episodes are released the first Friday of every month. Recent reads feature Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Upcoming titles include Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park.


Library Bytegeist
Audio stories from the libraries, archives, and museums of New York City, hosted by Molly Schwartz of the Metropolitan New York Library Council.


NonLibrary-Specific And Worthwhile

The Broad Experience is a conversation about women, the workplace, and success. Host Ashley Milne-Tyte takes great care to include women of various ages from a variety of backgrounds who speak to the theme of each show. Notable recent episodes include “Putting Yourself First”; “Your Weight, Your Worth”; and “Your Work, Your Private Life.”


Cultura Conscious Host Paula Santos is a self-avowed podcast addict who enjoys everything about art and culture. The podcast features Santos’s conversations with artists, museum workers, and other cultural leaders about how the work they do in their communities intersects and is informed by considerations of race and inequity in society. Cultura Conscious is relatively new on the podcast scene, so it’s easy to choose a topic you’re interested in and start there.


Call Your Girlfriend is “a podcast for long-distance besties everywhere” and is hosted by real-life besties Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. Each week the pair phone each other and record their conversations about pop culture and politics. The hosts advocate the practice of Shine Theory, a belief that women should befriend and learn from the success of other women they’re inclined to envy. CYG has more than 120 episodes that cover a number of topics, but “Best of CYG 2017” is a good place to start.


Another Round by Buzzfeed is a podcast hosted by Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu (and occasional guest hosts). The podcast focuses on topics ranging from politics, race, and gender to pop culture, squirrels, and Clayton’s bad jokes. In late 2017, Buzzfeed announced that it would stop producing Another Round, but Clayton and Nigatu took ownership of the podcast and promise to return. Notable episodes include “Madam Secretary, What’s Good” (with Hillary Clinton), “Two Dollars and a Paperclip” (with Ava DuVernay), and “Was That a Microaggression or Just Tuesday?” (with NPR’s Audie Cornish).

Cecily Walker is Assistant Manager for Community Digital Initiatives,Vancouver Public Library, BC

Jason Puckett is Online Learning Librarian, Georgia State University Library, Atlanta

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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