A Biographer’s Experience Using Podcasting as a Marketing Tool
Even in a visual age of endless television programming and instantaneous online streaming, audio programming has gotten its own stylish makeover. Podcasts draw in millions of monthly listeners, giving storytelling a new outlet, one that BIO member, Jonathan Eig, recognized as a useful marketing too. Biographers International Organization reports on Eig's resourcefulness, and why podcasts might just be the car "radio" of the future.
We live in a visual age, with people streaming TV shows and movies on various devices and playing ever-more realistic video games, while still finding time to watch ubiquitous cat videos on YouTube. The technology that makes all that possible has also created a renaissance in audio programming. That growing desire to hear meaningful content whenever and wherever listeners choose may be a boon to biographers as they explore every outlet for marketing their work.
One audio tool authors of many genres have turned to is podcasting. Simply put, podcasting is like blogging but with spoken words replacing written ones. Creating a regular series of podcasts, which readers can subscribe to and download on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, gives authors a chance to share their thoughts on a new book or their writing process in an intimate way. Readers can easily experience these podcasts anywhere. In fact, with the prediction that all autos will have Internet access by 2025, podcasts could become the car “radio” of the future.
The popularity of podcasts is undeniable. A 2017 survey from Edison Research found that more than 100 million Americans have listened to a podcast, and an estimated 67 million have listened to at least one every month. The latter is growing about 20 percent from year to year. A biographer only needs to capture a tiny slice of that audience to make a potential impact on book sales.
That idea drew BIO member Jonathan Eig to create a podcast series for his upcoming book on Muhammad Ali, Ali: A Life. His podcast, Chasing Ali, documents some of his experiences while researching the book, including meeting his subject. Eig explained why he liked the idea of a podcast: “It’s terribly difficult getting people interested in new books. You get a small window when the book is released and, if you’re lucky, you get some reviews and some media spots. And then some other book comes out and you’ve got to make way. Ride’s over. What I really need is my own network TV show so I can talk about my books every night of the week. But I’ve got a face for books, not TV, so I settled on the podcast. It struck me as, potentially, a nice way to share some of these stories about me and Ali and get people interested in the book before its release.”
Eig used two companies based in his hometown of Chicago to help him with recording and marketing Chasing Ali. He recorded about six or seven hours of material over two sessions and has released the podcasts periodically since launching the series this spring. The marketing included promoting it on Twitter and Instagram.
Other authors might prefer to do the recording themselves; several websites offer primers on all aspects of making and distributing podcasts. One, called blubrry.com, has an online manual that covers such topics as how to get started, focusing on goals and content for the podcast, and promoting it. For those going the DIY route, blubrry suggests using Word Press for a website platform. It recommends against adding a podcast to an existing website, as the extra bandwidth needed for the podcast can affect the loading time of pages on the site.
Another online guide to podcasting can be found on OSTraining.com. Its five-part “The Absolute Beginners Guide to Podcasting” covers such topics as equipment, editing, and publishing. For home recording, the basic equipment authors need are headphones and a microphone—nothing top of the line. For recording software, several companies offer free programs for both Mac and PC; you can see some recommended ones here.
Measuring the efficacy of using a podcast series as a marketing tool is an inexact science. Eig estimates that he has spent in the low four figures for Chasing Ali, which includes about $75 a month on Facebook ads. “Will it work?” he asks. “Who knows? Does anyone know what sells books these days? All I know is that we’ve got about 4,000 downloads in the first two months, and those numbers are growing steadily.” Even so, Eig doesn’t know if his efforts will deliver a return on his investment. But, he said, “If it leads to one good media hit or one paid speaking engagement, I’m satisfied. If it creates enough buzz that Target or Costco decides to stock the book, I’m thrilled.”
Eig can’t say if podcasting is for every biographer, but that it could work for some. “I think it’s worth trying, given the low cost and low risk, especially for writers with engaging stories that don’t make it into their books. . . . It was especially effective for Ali because Ali was such a great character and because I was hanging around with all these wildly interesting people, including his ex-wives, his opponents, his brother, Don King. . . . Anything with Don King in it is interesting. No one has ever written a dull book or article (or made a dull podcast) with Don King in it.”