Publishing & Podcasting: The Power of Storytelling in a Solitary Medium

By   Hannah Bickerton 5 min read

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Last year, there were over 15.6 million podcast listeners in the UK alone, a number that has more than doubled since 2018. According to global media investment and intelligence company MAGNA, a significant contributor to this increase was screen fatigue. More than 42 per cent of people were reported to have become tired of consuming media content on screens, turning instead to digital audio content.

But why are podcasts so popular? In a nutshell, podcasts are a remarkably flexible format that offers something for everybody – from comedy, news, and technology to feminist myth retellings and true crime journalism. Listeners are truly spoilt for choice. Podcasts also fit perfectly into our busy daily lives, keeping us entertained, informed and comforted while commuting to work, ironing our clothes, walking the dog, or drifting off to sleep. Podcasts provide endless hours of content at our fingertips that can be consumed anytime, anywhere.

Mags Creative is a leading independent podcast production and promotion agency with a number of big names under their belt, from Laura Whitmore’s CASTaway, to Who Cares Wins with Lily Cole, and Spotify Original The Way We Are with Munroe Bergdorf. We spoke to Mags Creative co-founder Hannah Russell to gain a deeper insight into the industry and her opinion on what makes podcasts valuable and so utterly loveable:

‘We believe that the spoken word brings us all a little closer together, and it’s evident that this uprise in consumption highlights that humans are yearning for authenticity. We know that podcasts have the immense power to influence, but also build loyal, engaged listeners and communities. The headphone generation is growing, and listening to another human voice in this way creates intimacy and a deeper connection.’

But is it this headphone generation that has cast out the humble book? Well, not necessarily. In fact, the podcast and book have more in common than many may assume and will often be enjoyed by the same or similar audiences because of their shared qualities. As Hannah points out, podcasts are ‘more like catching up with friends, and having a discussion about a topic which matters to you.’ Books, especially non-fiction, provide a similar level of intimacy, as the reader comes to know the author’s voice, learning about their personal experiences and perspectives. Both media offer the chance for hosts and authors to develop a meaningful relationship with their audience that other forms of entertainment will never be able to quite replicate. Through simple interactions online or special in-person events, podcasters and authors are always engaging and communicating with their audiences, opening up the conversation beyond their own content. Readers and listeners reciprocate this engagement with their loyalty and dedicated fanbase, doing what they can to provide support, whether by tolerating numerous ad breaks during a podcast or helping an author crowdfund their next book project.

According to a recent survey, 92 per cent of listeners will consume podcasts alone. It is a solitary medium, just like reading a book. While films and TV are often social activities, suited to watching with friends and family, podcasts and books are a solo experience of escapism. Both provide a mode of authentic storytelling that truly immerses their audience and allows them to get lost in a world of words, continuing to intrigue from chapter to chapter, episode to episode.

But this isn’t easy to achieve. As Hannah acknowledges, ‘building a successful podcast can take time – to find your voice, to discover and nurture your audience and to keep growing.’ From her experience working with multi-formatted audio concepts and producing the UK’s leading podcasts, Hannah believes that the key elements to a successful podcast include: a clear hook and unique selling point (USP), an original podcast format, high production values and consistent episode releases that listeners can welcome into their weekly routines.

Today, there are over one and a half million podcast shows readily available to listeners, more than ever before. This is the insurmountable competition that the publishing industry knows all too well. While finding what makes your podcast or book different from the rest is essential, investing time and energy in marketing is also key to standing out from the crowd. Planning in advance and exploring multiple approaches and channels, such as traditional press coverage, cross promotion with other creators, social media, and paid advertising, are all vital in driving as much awareness and impact as possible. Hannah adds that:

‘Similarly to publishing, word-of-mouth marketing is also really important in podcasting. Both genres are asking for time investments from the listeners and readers, as such, trusted sources of recommendation are really powerful!’

It may seem simple, but building a community of advocates willing to rave about your project to anyone and everyone can actually be very effective. So while many may consider the podcasting and publishing industries as separate entities, divided by their obvious differences in format and behavioural consumption, they have far more in common through their medium, audiences and challenges than one might think. As Hannah highlights, ‘powerful, meaningful and immersive storytelling is important for both podcasts and books, no matter the genre.’ It is this love for storytelling that unites the two, with many listeners enjoying both formats, or one acting as a gateway of discovery to the other.

Everyone has a story to tell. Whether you’re a business leader, politician, historian, brand, or artist, both podcasts and books provide extensive opportunities and benefits. Storytelling through these media provides a chance to connect with a specific audience on a deeper and more emotional level, while building authority and cementing an identity or purpose. Even for podcasters and authors themselves, storytelling within each other’s industries can be truly powerful. If a podcast has the key qualities of a compelling narrative, which Hannah identifies as featuring ‘a strong hook, an innovative format, originality and a strong sense of time and place’, then the creation of a brilliant book is already within reach, one that can expand their horizons, offer new ways for audiences to learn, and change how others perceive the world around them. As Hannah perfectly summarises:

‘You have the opportunity to connect deeply with your audience and really impact people’s lives with your content. Reading books and listening to podcasts is much more of a commitment than scrolling through social media, or listening to a song. They can both educate and inform people.’

Ultimately, it is through their numerous similarities that books and podcasts are able to work harmoniously together. Both offer opportunities for people to explore their passions and have their voices heard. Podcasters have the potential to make exceptional authors; they already have a strong gift for storytelling and a dedicated fanbase willing to support their new ventures. It’s simply a matter of finding the courage to delve into a different project, into an exciting medium with many new avenues to explore, while creating something original, tangible and truly special for their loyal listeners.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.