Effective immediately, I’m no longer doing the Ghost Light podcast. I will still do theatre coverage on my blog, mainly reviews, and perhaps the occasional preview or interview. I might also write about non-theatre subjects – probably wine (I started my writing career as a wine columnist, after all) and maybe other stuff, too. It’ll still be mainly theatre-focused for the foreseeable future, in case you’re only here for that.
There are several reasons why I decided to stop the podcast:
Podcasting is a thankless job that devours your time and energy. This is especially true when it’s a weekly podcast and interview format. Each episode requires a ton of time and effort – interviewing, writing, recording, editing, posting. Even though I’m a bit of a workaholic (from 2014-2016 I even worked two jobs: a full-time day job and a night gig as an editor at Vue), I started feeling burned out. I’ve got a one-year-old now, so my free time is much more limited. Podcasting also started feeling pointless very quickly, which I’ll talk about further below, so my time is better spent on something more fruitful.
Podcasting costs a lot of money. Time is money and all the time I just described was unpaid. Aside from the monthly hosting fees and the cost of my website, if you factor in all the time I spent doing this podcast, I lost tons of money in this venture. Now, I didn’t do this to make money, but I did start a Patreon when I started Ghost Light and I naively thought I’d be able to get at least a few people from the theatre community to support my work. To date, the only people who have thrown me a few bucks were the couple friends/family who I asked to support me, in order to lend a bit of social proof to my Patreon page in the hopes of encouraging others to follow suit. No one did.
No one listens to podcasts. My weekly downloads are paltry. I suspect this is true of the vast majority of podcasts out there, especially those about such a niche topic as local theatre in a small Canadian city. Podcasting requires a huge time commitment from your audience and I have heard countless times from many different people – in and outside the theatre community – that they don’t have time for podcasts. Sure, there are podcast junkies out there, but most people just don’t listen to them.
I considered slogging it out for longer but I doubt my weekly downloads will ever pick up to a level that makes this worthwhile. By worthwhile, I mean the point at which I could start doing ads, look for sponsors, and/or have enough regular listeners to be able to turn some into Patreon supporters.
To verify these sentiments, I spoke with Taylor Chadwick, who was one of the guys behind the What It Is podcast. That show ran for five years and was, by all appearances, a very successful Edmonton arts podcast. He confirmed that their download numbers were similar to mine for their first two years. They got a boost after winning a Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts award (those awards no longer exist, FYI) but the numbers remained pretty low and started dwindling over time. He described podcasting as ultimately thankless, and I agree.
Podcasts disappear into thin air. All the work you do, all that great information you share – it all disappears into thin air. Podcasting is a horrible way to disseminate information as your content is unsearchable and there’s no easily viewable archive of your work, unless you post transcripts. I loathe transcription and it takes hours, even when you can type like a demon (which I can). Speech-to-text technology is still garbage, so that’s not an option.
I started posting my scripts for each episode, in lieu of a full transcription. But that took yet more time, and since I was already posting half the episode in written form – for no extra pay and no extra listens – it simply made more sense to dispense with the audio completely and move to written content only.
Local theatre companies want written reviews, not podcasts. As I was deciding whether or not to end the podcast, I reached out to the main theatre companies and marketing agencies in Edmonton and asked them a question: Which is more valuable, a podcast interview with a member of the creative team, or a written review of the show?
Most chose the review. A few pointed out that previews are valuable for generating buzz (and therefore selling tickets); some also preferred the interview because they value discussing the creative process.
Nonetheless, reviews are more valuable for a few reasons: there are very few people reviewing theatre in Edmonton anymore; reviews have a longer shelf life than previews because people ultimately just want to know if a show is good or not; and reviews provide benefits to both the artists and the writer in the form of shared promotional material such as pull quotes (that’s only if the review is positive, that is – if it’s not positive, companies won’t promote it).
I have other reasons for why I’m not going to do the podcast anymore, but I’ll end the list here lest I start getting a bit mean. I’d like to be able to say, “Oh yes, it was lots of fun and I learned a lot but I’m just too busy to keep going, OK bye!” But that’s not how I really feel. (Well, except the learning part. I did learn a lot.)
Some of you might be thinking, “Well, Mel, no one forced you to do any of this – you chose to do it!” That’s 100% correct and that’s why I’m deciding to stop now, sooner rather than later. Sure, I could try to slog it out and work on marketing and networking and try to drum up supporters and patrons and maybe after some unknown period time – years, probably – I’d maybe have some support, but that is a crazy amount of time and money and effort. Screw that. I’m not a sales or marketing person and I don’t want to be.
To everyone who listened, thank you. I hope you enjoyed it and found some value in what I did.