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Podcasts versus Audio Files? What's the Difference?

Updated on April 17, 2016
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Heidi Thorne is a self publishing expert, author of 21 (and counting!) business books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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Podcasting is becoming one of the hottest content marketing platforms. Why? Because it's easy for listeners to access on the go and, in some cases, easier to produce than other media forms.

But what exactly is podcasting? And how is it different than other audio content and media?

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What is a Podcast?

Podcasting really came into being with the introduction of Apple's iPod MP3 audio player. That's where the "pod" in podcasting comes from. Essentially, a podcast is a "broadcast" on an iPod. The shortened mashup of terms gave us the concept of a "podcast."

With the convenience and audio quality that the iPod delivered through the Apple iTunes platform and apps, people could now to listen to all types of audio content on these devices, including the spoken word, on demand anytime, anywhere. Talk radio, news programs and other non-music audio content creators embraced the opportunity to reach their audiences unbound by the space and time restrictions of live broadcasting. Today, video podcasting is also offered.

Listeners subscribe to the specific podcasts they want to hear. As the word "subscribe" suggests, podcasts are usually a continuing series or are published on a regular schedule like a magazine.

Listeners can hear or watch any podcast listed in the iTunes Store for free (as of this writing). To help subsidize the podcasts, content providers may have advertising sponsors or may advertise their own products and services in the podcast.

In addition to being delivered through iTunes, podcasts may also be hosted and delivered through other podcasting platforms which help podcasters by managing subscribers, hosting audio or video files, delivering content to subscribers, and possibly some promotional help. These platforms may be subsidized by advertising, may charge podcasters a fee to host their podcasts there, or may allow podcasters to monetize their programs by charging fees to subscribe. Even though they may not be associated with iTunes or iPod, they are still referred to as "podcasts."

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Are Podcasts Different than Other Audio Content Files?

Yes and no. An audio podcast is technically an audio file (usually MP3 as of this writing). However, what makes it a genuine podcast is that it is regularly delivered and consumed through iTunes, an RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) feed, apps or other podcasting platform. Podcasts are usually a continuing series OR regularly broadcast program (like the news).

In contrast, simple non-music audio content files may be posted on blog or website pages almost as easily as image files. Web visitors may be invited to listen to or download this content while on the site. For example, audio files uploaded to a WordPress site's media gallery may show a player on the post or page so site visitors can listen to the files right there... no need to access with an iTunes-like service. Also, unlike podcasts, there is also no expectation that these one-off audio files will be part of a continuing series or regular broadcast (even though some might be).

These days, many people have come to use and understand the term "podcast" to mean any "non-music audio content," even if not technically so.

These days, many people have come to use and understand the term "podcast" to mean any "non-music audio content," even if not technically so.

— Heidi Thorne

Are Audio Books Podcasts?

No. Just because audio books may be sold and delivered through a platform such as iTunes, does not make them podcasts. Although authors may choose to provide segments or samples of content from their books as audio files via podcasting, a true audio book must conform to a strict audio production standard. As well, audio books are usually sold as retail products and are delivered in their entirety to buyers all at once, as opposed to in installments.

Audio books also have a finite number of installments or chapters and combine to create a unified whole. Conversely, podcasts may publish regular installments of material until the podcast is officially discontinued (which could be many years into the future!).

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Podcast Best Practices

Interestingly, good podcasts share some best practices with blogs:

  • Deliver Value. Like talk radio, the ramblings of a popular celebrity or respected podcast host can provide information or entertainment value for listeners. But for most non-celebrity podcast publishers, those ramblings better provide solid content and value in terms of information or art. Know your audience, know what they want! This is especially critical for paid subscription podcasts where expectations for exclusive content and value are higher. Click here to learn how to know your audience better.
  • Tell Them How to Subscribe. Like webinars, sometimes subscribing to and accessing podcasts can present challenges to listeners who are new to podcasting or the platform being used. Always provide instructions on how to subscribe and listen. Click here to learn more about webinars.
  • Offer Alternative Access for Free Podcasts. Some people may not always wish to listen to podcasts on platforms such as iTunes or apps, choosing instead to listen via the Internet, either on their computers or smartphones. If the podcast is free content, consider offering it as an audio file on a standard website page or blog post for downloading or listening to help expand the audience.
  • Understand Podcasting Expectations. When people subscribe to magazines or blogs, they expect that it will be a regularly and continuously published program or content feed. Same can be true with podcasting, especially for paid subscriptions. If you're not committed to podcasting on a regular basis, consider offering your audio content as standalone "resources." Click here to learn how to "blog" without really blogging.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 15 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Glenn! Agreed, with more powerful mobile devices, video podcasting is growing, although audio podcasting will still be a choice while driving (until self driving cars rule the road). Glad to hear you've been experimenting with Periscope. Keep us posted on how that's going. "Casting" of both types is giving a lot of individuals more publishing and PR power. Thanks for adding your insight and experience to the conversation! Have a great day!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 15 months ago from Long Island, NY

      In addition to audio podcasts, video broadcasting is becoming big now. Facebook has Facebook Live and Twitter has an app called Periscope that lets people do live broadcasts with their iPhone, iPad, or Samsung Galaxy. I already tried my first "scope" as its called, just to test it out. But I was thinking of applying it in the future to offer live scopes about my Hubs.

      Your hub is very informative about the development of podcasts. As technology continues to provide the tools, we'll see major advances in this field. It's already amazing that anyone can do live productions worldwide. Both audio podcasts and video broadcasts.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 16 months ago from Chicago Area

      Lawrence, podcasting can be a great supplement and support to the other publishing you do. Worth checking out someday. Thanks for stopping by! Have a beautiful weekend!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 16 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Heidi

      Really good information for future use here.

      Thank you

      Lawrence

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 16 months ago from Chicago Area

      There are no dumb questions, purl3agony! These days, with the expanded Internet access capability of smartphones, a lot more material than what is uploaded to iTunes is being referred to as a "podcast" and the demarcation lines are getting very blurry.

      I think the key word in your comment is "series." That is often what distinguishes a podcast from one-off audio or video files. Video podcasting is a newer entry in this arena. Would a YouTube series qualify? Maybe. I think the main question is would your audience identify it as a podcast? Some listeners and viewers might be totally turned off by the term "podcast," but may understand "video series." Podcast to them might signal something that would be a hassle. They may also place more value on it if it's marketed as a series of helpful or entertaining videos. I've seen that done, too. It will all depend on the topic and the audience it intends to serve.

      That is a great question! Thanks for adding that angle to the conversation. Have a terrific week ahead!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 16 months ago from USA

      Hi Heidi - This might be a dumb question, but can a regular video series (with sound) posted to either YouTube or a blog be considered a podcast? Great hub! Thanks for this useful information!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 16 months ago from Chicago Area

      FlourishAnyway, I had to check out the difference myself. So I figured if I'm needing clarification, others might, too. Glad you found it helpful. Hope you're having a lovely weekend! (It's beautiful here in Chicago!)

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 16 months ago from Chicago Area

      Happy Sunday to you, too, billybuc! Yep, I take requests from the audience. I'm like a helpful hub DJ. ;)

      I knew you were thinking about joining the podcast nation. I've dabbled in it myself and have a number of friends jumping on the bandwagon. I think you'll enjoy this new outlet. Please let us know (either in the Mailbag or message me) when you get your podcast going. Can't wait to check it out.

      Have a relaxing rest of the weekend! And thank you for taking time from it to stop by!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 16 months ago from USA

      I've heard both terms used seemingly interchangeably so this a was good clarification and one I've never seen before. Very useful.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      So very helpful to me, as you well know. I appreciate you writing a hub just for me. So thoughtful of you. :) Seriously, this was very helpful...I'm about a month away from my first podcast, and I need all the information I can get about it.

      Happy Sunday!