It's refreshing in modern media when the answer to the question "Why did you do this?" is "instinct."
"There's not really any analysis or metrics or anything really in podcasting," said Julie Snyder, executive producer of "S-Town," a new podcast that follows closely in the steps of "Serial," the smash-hit that Snyder also co-created. "There's very little that you know, so you're really going off of gut instinct."
In the data-soaked world of digital media, podcasting remains something of a bookish alcove in comparison to the rest of its digital cousins. When Snyder and her co-creators sat down to structure "S-Town" — their new true-crime podcast released on Tuesday — it occurred to them that the story might best be served if the entire thing could be posted at once.
"There's a lot of paranoia and a lot of accusations that get kind of thrown around back and forth," Snyder said. "And if we were going to do it weekly, you'd have to address all of those things in that episode. You can't leave someone hanging [when] accusing someone of being a murderer."
And that's about it. One of the most anticipated podcasts of the year dropped in its entirety because its producers thought that would be the best thing to do. Considering how binge consumption seems all the rage these days, it's hard to disagree.
"I don't know how Netflix justifies what they do," Snyder said. "But they seem like they're doing pretty well."
Podcasting isn't quite to Netflix-level success, but it has continued to grow despite limited distribution and marketing. Snyder helped usher in what might be called the new wave of podcasting with "Serial," which broke out of its relatively limited world in 2014 to become a cultural phenomenon. Snyder, then a producer on "This American Life," co-created "Serial" with Sarah Koenig.
Image: pew research center
That growth hasn't necessarily meant that podcasts or podcasting have changed much. Part of the reason Snyder could make a gut call on dropping "S-Town" all at once came from the fact that there's not much in the way of data to affect the decision. Aside from downloads, there's not many broadly tracked and accepted metrics.
That leaves room for experimentation, said Steve Nelson, director of programming for National Public Radio.
"Podcasting is such a young industry that we sort of don't know what the best way to do things are as an industry," Nelson said. "As a public media provider, NPR has been striving to try new and different things."
Matt Lieber, cofounder and president of Gimlet Media, which produces a variety of podcasts including "Startup" and "Reply All," said that podcasting is still driven almost entirely by the people creating them and the stories they find.
"I don't think there's a right answer, but in some ways 'S-Town' is its own specific thing because the storytelling is so good that they can release that thing on vinyl and it would still get a large audience," he said.
binge listening to s-town. you should too
— Carm (@T_Carm) March 29, 2017
That's not to say there aren't some risks. "Serial" became a hit in part because its listeners talked about the show and what might happen next. Hundreds of articles were written about it. Numerous podcasts about "Serial" sprung up.
Snyder said that the only real concern over its all-at-once distribution came from iTunes, which isn't exactly nothing considering Apple's outsized role in the podcasting world.
"I think [iTunes] very smartly raised the issue that you might be leaving something on the table in that by the weekly thing," Snyder said.
That didn't stop Snyder, and it hasn't stopped Lieber and Nelson from having conversations about releasing podcasts in bingeable form. Both said that they will be keeping an eye on "S-Town" to see how the release works out.
It hasn't hurt so far. "S-Town" is already at the top of the iTunes podcast chart.