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The podcast business is still teeny tiny. Which is great news for podcasts.

A whopping $314 million last year. Let’s hope it stays small for a while.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Do you like podcasts? Me too. It’s sort of nuts to imagine a time before podcasts, right? Podcasts are the future. Podcasts podcasts podcasts.

You know who’s not sold on podcasts? At all?

Advertisers. They’re spending close to nothing on podcasts.

More precisely: Advertisers put $314 million into podcast ads in the U.S. last year.

That’s from a new study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which takes self-reported revenues from podcast companies like Gimlet and Midroll Media and then extrapolates to get a full-market estimate. So feel free to add or subtract several million from that total.

Whatever number you get to, it’s totally tiny compared to things advertisers care about. Like TV — $68.5 billion — or internet search ads — $22.8 billion — or internet video ads — $11.9 billion. Facebook alone did $39.9 billion last year. And even radio — who do you know that listens to radio, especially commercial radio? — generated $17.6 billion in ad spend last year.

Podcast enthusiasts — that includes me, per above — will point out that the podcast industry’s very, very modest revenues are increasing rapidly. They’re up 86 percent from last year, and the IAB thinks they’ll grow another 110 percent over the next three years, at which point they’ll hit $659 million.

Again. Totally tiny.

But that’s fine, for a few reasons:

  • Don’t tell anyone, but it’s not hard to make a podcast. You talk into a microphone, you record it, and you hand the recording to places like Apple Podcasts. If you are fancy, you can involve other people, like guests, engineers, editors and marketing people. But it’s still a light lift, logistically speaking. So you don’t need to generate a ton of revenue to make podcasting a viable business. The podcasts that Kara Swisher and I record, for instance, contribute a meaningful amount of revenue to Recode’s business. Yay, podcasts!
  • Don’t tell anyone, but one of the reasons podcasts are fun to listen to is because the podcast ad business is so tiny. Measuring podcast audiences is still a work in progress, and there’s no good way for advertisers to automate their ad buys across lots of podcasts. That means lots of the things advertisers like to do on TV and the internet — like create a single ad and blast it over and over in front of millions of people, or create creepy targeted ads based on your personal media consumption patterns — aren’t available to podcast advertisers. Instead you get a sort of advertising hack: Most ads (67 percent) are read by hosts, and most ads (64 percent) are direct-response ads for things like mattresses and socks, because those advertisers can use promo codes to track the results of their ad campaigns. If that changes, you may well see podcast advertising move much faster — but it also means podcast advertising will be more unpleasant. Let’s hope the podcast guys keep puttering along.

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