After watching her mother's bid for Congress, Jenny Kaplan realized there were so many untold local stories about women getting involved in politics. So, she decided to use her voice.
"Storytelling generally is how we connect as people, and when you're listening to something and don't have the distractions of visuals, you're really listening in a different way, in a deeper way," she explained.
The former Bloomberg reporter co-hosts the political podcast "Women belong in the House" on Wonder Media Network. She co-founded the audio-first media company, which has a goal of encouraging action in business, politics, and culture through amplifying female and minority perspectives. The company produces about 10 podcasts including "Women," which alone reached more than 50,000 unique listeners during its third season.
"[The podcast] inspires them to either get involved in a campaign [or] to think about running," Kaplan said. "Just to question the status quo, and why there haven't been women still sent to Congress from certain states or certain districts or certain areas."
More than 100 million Americans listen to podcasts every month, according to Edison Research. Podcast downloads for the week of October 12 to 18 were up 40 percent year-over-year, per podcast analytics company Podtrac.
"It's just the way people want to get their news right now," explained Cheddar anchor Jill Wagner, who hosts the company's "Need2Know" podcast alongside Cheddar senior editor Carlo Versano. "They want to listen to it."
But there's another reason people are excited about the medium. Because podcasting has a lower barrier to entry for production compared to other forms of media, it may be a way for different kinds of people to enter the industry. While there is still room for improvement, about one-third of the top 480 podcasts are hosted by women, Quartz reported. One out of 10 features a person of color. And, about 27 percent of podcasts are hosted by women alone, according to a new study by AT&T Experts.
"If you want to have a voice and have something to say, you can easily do a podcast and get your message out there," Wagner said.
The Vox Media Podcast Network has seen listenership boom 50 percent year-over-year. As more people listen, they are discovering back catalogs of podcasts and spending more time with the format.
"TV shows are certainly not the only area in which we see a lot of binge-listening," said Vox Media Podcast Network executive producer Nishat Kurwa.
Its podcasts feature hosts, including Kara Swisher on "Pivot," Avery Trufelman on "The Cut" and Peter Kafka and Rani Molla on "Land of the Giants." The company found in a study with Omnicom Media Group that 71 percent of the audience follows podcast hosts across other forms of media, which could spread influence on a variety of mediums.
"As there are more shows on offer that cater to different audiences, it's great for the industry," Kurwa said. "And you're going to see the overall pot of the podcast audience continue to grow as well."
It also allows audiences to find a deeper connection with someone who shares their perspective. Cheddar's Wagner shared her feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious during the pandemic as a mother on a recent "Need2Know" episode. She was surprised to receive emails from across the United States from listeners sharing their own experiences.
"I just realized the power of the podcast as a medium," she said.
Because it is easier to start a podcast, Kaplan and Kurwa worry it might be harder to strike success and scale a business.
"The biggest challenge isn't in making the content," Kaplan said. "If you really have the drive and skills, you can make a good show. It's getting that content heard.
Podcast ad revenue is expected to hit $1.13 billion in 2021 per eMarketer, the first time it has crossed the $1 billion threshold. At the same time, Spotify said in its July earnings report it had 1.5 million podcast shows on its platform. So although there is more money, there's also more competition.
"As discoverability gets harder and harder and making money, frankly, gets harder and harder, I think some of the same trends that are apparent in other kinds of media are becoming more and more apparent in podcasting," she said. "It's getting harder to break through."
While marketing, partnerships, and having notable names on your podcast always helps, at the end of the day what helps you stand out the most is honesty, Cheddar's Wagner said.
"My biggest advice would be just to be yourself and be authentic," she said.