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Audio on demand vs. podcasts

What is the difference between audio on demand and podcasts? Can you have one without the other or should you always use both? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Audio on demand This is audio which has been loaded up or posted online with a direct or absolute link from a webpage. People who visit the website can click on the link to listen and perhaps also download the file. You can publish as many audio items as you want (server space permitting) all at the same time with links from the same webpage.

For example, you might have a family or class project to record a number of favourite recipes. Each person might introduce their recipe with a title and some text and perhaps also a photograph. The project may be short in time, eg. taking place over a couple of weeks, but the webpage (with the linked audio items) can stay online for as long as you want as an example of what you did and for people to listen ‘on demand’.

An actual example of a project using audio on demand is the PEARLS radio production and presentation course at the Panjabi Centre in Southall. On the project website the trainees showcase audio items from their portfolio and publish a short description of themselves.
Click here to visit the website.

Podcasts These are audio items which are sent automatically as episodes to ‘subscribers’. For example, if your project involves creating regular audio items over a longer period of time, you might want to post new podcasts or episodes at regular intervals, eg. as a ‘recipe of the week’ (to use the same example as above). People who sign up to receive your podcast (your subscribers) would automatically get a new episode sent to them each time you loaded or posted it online.

Doing both Your audio can be linked from a webpage for accessing on demand and at the same time can also be published for subscribers to automatically download, if your hosting server has the facility to send it. However, it’s still best to decide which is dominant (on demand or as a podcast).

If your project is a one-off (ie. there won’t be future episodes), make sure you include a link to the project webpage at every stage, so people receiving it on subscription can visit the page to find out more and to see your audio in its intended context.

For example, for its on demand items London Link Radio uses an audio hosting service which is set up for podcasting as the dominent method of publishing. However, London Link Radio’s projects tend to be one-offs, and to have different names (eg. ‘the PEARLS project’, ‘Refugee Week Radio’ etc), so to send out episodes simply from ‘London Link Radio’ does not make much sense.

To get round this, we
a) include a link to the project webpage for the context
b) often set the status as ‘finished’ rather than ‘published’ so that items do not get sent to any subscribers.
(If we decided at some point to send out a series of podcasts as episodes to show the range of London Link Radio’s work, we could do so by adjusting the details and status of the selected items.)

Points to consider
1. Audience size Audio on demand from a fixed webpage will only be accessed by people who know where to look, or who stumble on the webpage through a search engine.

Depending on your aims, it may not matter at all if the audience is small. To continue with the recipe example, the main audiences will probably be
a) family, friends and members of the immediate community
b) (if created by an organisation) other professionals, plus funders and potential funders.

If your aim is to reach as wide an audience as possible, regardless of location or prior connection to you, then it’s probably better to publish regular (quality!) podcast episodes.

2. Sustainable over time or a successful one-off? Producing or publishing something regularly in episodes, or with sequels, is very different from completing a successful one-off project, as many creative people know well. Neither is better than the other, just different.

Unfortunately, the publicity around podcasts tends to focus on the sustainable, episodic concept, at the expense of the one-off.
(Unlike video, where sites such as YouTube can make one-off items hugely popular.)

If your project or audio item doesn’t fit comfortably into an episodic style then it’s probably best to go with audio on demand, linked from a webpage to give it context.

If it’s part of the project to produce episodes, then plan them out in advance and think realistically about how many to aim for (eg. 4 good episodes are better than 8 of diminishing quality.)

3. Style and presentation Podcasts usually include a voiced introduction so that subscribers are reminded what they are listening to, perhaps also with a mention of sponsers or an advert before the item itself begins.

With on demand audio, however, your visitors will soon get bored and go elsewhere if they hear the same introduction or advert at the start of every item they click on. They also won’t bother to click on something which doesn’t give them an idea of what it’s about.

For on demand, the introduction needs to be in the text, and the audio should go straight into the item itself, beginning with a strong speaker or interesting actuality/sound effects.

A long magazine programme with a number of items can be sent as a podcast, including a voiced menu of what will be heard. To publish such a programme for on demand access, it’s better to cut each item into its own sound file, with an introduction in text on the webpage.

For example, the student radio society The Pod @ KCL (King’s College London) publishes a magazine style podcast which can be accessed in full from its Facebook page. The separate items from the magazine are then also published as on demand items on its main website, showing the title and contributor plus brief outline of the topic in the header of each item.

Filed under: Radio and audio

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