In this photo we see a stressed-out podcaster, complete with bow tie and glasses with tape in the middle, in a panic because they're at risk of missing their publishing schedule.

Hiatus Hysteria & the Myth of the Publishing Schedule

We’ll get to my latest bit of blasphemy about a podcast publishing schedule in a second. But first, sort of a mea culpa. Season Two of my podcast, The Voice In My HED, ended rather abruptly and unexpectedly after only nine episodes. That was about four months ago. There was no cliffhanger, certainly no car chase, and no suggestion when the show would return. It was just… gone.

The backstory there is quite simply this: I moved. Moved into a place where I was reasonably certain I’d be able to replicate a decent recording space. That turned out not to be the case. There was rarely an opportunity to record things where there wasn’t construction noise. Tons of other distractions too, coming through seemingly paper-thin walls and what turned out to be poorly sealed windows. And much like the legendary Tom Webster… I loathe editing. So the things I was recording were things I didn’t feel were worthy of your time. So my publishing schedule went to the back burner while I tried to figure out a solution for a week. Then two.

Finally, for four months, there was no show. You could hear gasps of astonishment from as far away as… over there. Had the show podfaded?

And yet… here we are. I mean, I’m here because as the last few months would demonstrate, if I don’t show, there IS no show.

But the fact that YOU’RE here calls into question one of the Golden Rules Of Podcasting. You know, the rules handed down through the ages via stone tablets on a mountaintop. That rule is, apparently, Be Consistent. Or maybe it was issued as a commandment, Thou Shalt Be Consistent. Or as a piece of “conventional wisdom” favored by the self-appointed podcasting gurus, and members of The Podcasting Cool Kids Club – from which I am still banned – namely that you should stick to your publishing schedule. They’ll tell you adherence your publishing schedule is critically important. Otherwise your audience might decide to fill the you-sized void in their lives with something they discover that they like better than you.

This is among the reasons The Podcasting Cool Kids Club banned me. I hear “rules” like this and, if I’m being honest, it takes a great deal of effort to avoid breaking out into a fit of laughter like the ones we used to see way back in the Golden Age of Television on The Carol Burnett Show, where Tim Conway and Harvey Korman would get so lost in the jokes that they would just stand there trying to crack each other up.

Let’s be blunt, shall we? If your consistency is one of the main reasons your audience shows up, then your show is probably pretty awful. If you take a week off and nobody misses you, it’s not because you abandoned your publishing schedule. It’s because your show isn’t… worth… missing.

Being blunt might be one of the ways to characterize this third season of The Voice In My HED, actually. Being off a few months gave me a chance to actually catch up on some listening for a change. Even some listening to the gurus. I check in with them periodically to see what constitutes “wisdom” with the elites.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent decades in basically every form of media there is, that I have a slightly different perspective than some of the wisdom brokers in the podcasting space, at least one or two of whom rose to their lofty positions in the podcasting illuminati after multi-year careers in I.T. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that career trajectory. What I am saying is that among other things, I spent forty years hosting, booking and producing daily shows whose very existence depended on my team’s ability to make you want to listen to the next one. And coaching others, every day, to make their shows better too.

Here’s what those decades have taught me: Podcasting isn’t special.

Just like movies aren’t special. Music isn’t special. Books aren’t special. None of it is special.

If people are listening to your podcast, they made a conscious decision in that moment to listen to your podcast instead of reading a book. Watching a TV show. Going to a restaurant. Playing a board game. Meditating. Having sex.

I’ll let that one sink in for a second. Because I bet it never occurred to you until right now that people who could have been having sex, decided to listen to your podcast instead. How good your show has to be to be the preference in those two options sparks a conversation well beyond the scope of what we do here. If you’re hiring KNOPP Studios to fix your sex life… um… yikes. But the point is important: Listening to podcasts is something people do for entertainment, or at least to occupy their time, just like a thousand other things are. Podcasters aren’t just competing against each other. They’re competing against the latest Marvel movie. The latest Star Trek series. The hot new restaurant in town. The seemingly weekly Taylor Swift album. Prince Harry’s book. And the greatest board game in the history of board games, Risk.

Of all the things someone could be doing with their time, they’re choosing to listen to your podcast. And unless your show is on a list of choices along with root canal, they’re choosing to listen because it entertains them. Not because you put out a new episode every Tuesday.

Look, a month from now, somebody who stumbles upon this show for the first time won’t even know I took four months off. To them, Episode One of Season Three was released a few seconds after Episode Nine of Season Two. To them, the hiatus doesn’t even exist, and they’re wondering what the hell I’m so worked up about.

If you’re a member of the podcasting illuminati and I haven’t offended you yet, by the way, strap yourself in because I’m going to give it everything I’ve got with this next point.

Going back to an example I brought up a minute ago… one of the latest series in the Star Trek franchise, called Strange New Worlds, released the Season One finale episode on July 7 of 2022. Know when Season Two starts? Me neither. As of this recording, the date for the premiere isn’t official yet, though the smart money has it coming out around the first week of May 2023. That’s ten months.

Do you think the producers are in a panic about whether or not anyone is going to tune in for the premiere of Season Two? Nope. In fact, the longer it takes, the bigger the audience for that premiere might be, because their fan base is excited about the show, and can’t wait for it to come back, and have been filling the interwebs with their hopes, dreams and predictions for what the next season will hold.

Do you know why Star Trek can take ten months off and still have a massive audience? Because maintaining a publishing schedule isn’t anywhere near the front burner for the people who do that show. It’s because they do a show worth missing. They do a show that’s good enough that people will wait for it. There are those who will tell you that podcasting is different. Podcasting is special. Podcast listeners consume media differently, so a hiatus matters, Neil, if only you were smart enough to understand how podcasting works.

With all due respect, that’s a massive load of crap.

Do you really believe for even a tenth of a second that if they announced a fourth season of Serial, that it wouldn’t get millions of downloads per episode, right out of the gate?

Now… before you fire up your Twitter client and send me something dismissive, let me offer some clarification. Am I saying that you should put out episodes six days in a row, then take a week off, then one every other day, take a month off, then publish every third Wednesday? No. Of course not. It’s perfectly reasonable to come up with a publishing schedule where your devoted cadre of fans can reasonably expect to find something new on a particular day.

So I guess my question becomes this: When you run into a podcasting guru who tells you that it’s absolutely critical to maintain your podcast’s publishing schedule… Could it be that they’re a service provider in the podcast space, and they need you to keep podcasting so they can keep the lights on? Or could it be that they just don’t know how to do a show that’s good enough to wait for?

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