Why I’m moving from short seasons to an always-on podcast

Nick Hilton
5 min readOct 31, 2022

Full transparency: I have a podcast to promote.

It’s called Other Edens and it’s a journey through the dark, mysterious and strange corners of Britain. From hauntings to ancient rituals, religious movements to military interventions, it will cover this ground with a sense of historical wonder. I hope you enjoy it. You can listen to the first episode, on Pluckley, England’s most haunted village, below.

Now, to the podcasting nitty-gritty.

This show, Other Edens, is re-using a feed on which I’ve previously published two limited-series documentaries: The Town That Didn’t Stare and The Town That Knew Too Much. I published them in the summers of 2020 and 2021 respectively, and collectively they have acquired multiple hundreds of thousands of listens (which I think puts them in the “good, not great” category of podcast listenership; perhaps “great” by indie standards).

All the same, in spite of a strong audience and a very positive critical reception (reviewed in the FT, The Times, Observer, Guardian, Esquire, Mail on Sunday…etc), I was never able to make any money from them. The problem was simple: by the time that I had the data that advertisers would be interested in, the show was over. By the time my episodes were hitting 10,000 listeners, I was no longer publishing new content.

Podcasting has a real problem with knowing how to value back catalogues and archive material. It’s especially frustrating for documentary shows which are not bound to the present moment — everything that I’ve made over the past few years could be listened to today or it could be listened to in five years time. It would make no difference. But the reality is that, after the week of publication, advertiser interest nose-dives. Programmatic ads and dynamic insertion have mitigated this — but the value of those ads is pitiful. For lucrative host-read adverts, I simply wasn’t producing enough content.

When I thought about doing a new documentary show, my instinct was to replicate the format that I had previously used. Six or seven episodes looking at a single story. It is, after all, a format that works for big companies like Wondery or Serial. But it doesn’t work for independents or small publishers. In conversations with major platforms and advertising agents, I was told, over and over, the simple truth: it’s too hard for us to sell your product.

They wanted data from six episodes before they could start pitching the show directly to advertisers. By that point, I’d be done. And the idea of fronting any cash wasn’t entertained: I would’ve gladly signed away all advertising rights for the first 20 episodes in exchange for £10,000 up-front to help make the show. But that’s not the business model.

And, unfortunately, the business model right now is massively in favour of the “always-on” podcast. It’s why so many notionally “documentary” podcasts aren’t really that. Just look at American Scandal or its UK counterpart, British Scandal. These are shows that position themselves as documentaries, but are really just playing a cynical quantities game. British Scandal launched in May 2021: it is now on its 19th season, having published 80 episodes. There is just no way you can make a serious documentary podcast at that level of output. Which is why many people who want to make detailed, researched, multi-layered podcasts, start following back on simpler techniques: interspersing their documentary episodes with simpler interviews or monologues.

I am going to employ all these tactics with Other Edens. The heart of the show will be documentary episodes, of course. But there will also be interviews and essays. I’ll try and be playful with the format, whatever I do, but it’s clear to me that in order for the product to be financially viable, I need to increase my output significantly. More episodes = more income.

And if the product is not financially viable, it either cannot be good or it cannot be made. The shows I’ve made before have been loss-leaders; shop-window offerings for my production company, Podot. But I do not have infinite pools of cash, nor infinite creative bandwidth. I would love to make fun, interesting documentary podcasts as a key part of my business, but in order for that to one day be the case, I have to make certain creative sacrifices. And the first sacrifice is the autonomy of the “season”.

I hope that in the future there might be a way of funding editorially independent documentary podcasts, and finding them a home with advertisers. I still have documentary projects on my slate, that I’m exec producing rather than hosting, that will need to find a financial home in the coming months. Right now the market feels unfriendly towards this format. The rawness of the numbers game (if I’m told again that I “need to be getting 40,000 listens before we can talk about advertising” I’ll scream) is not the fault of those providers. In a world where digital advertising has been tanking for a decade, it’s no surprise that they want to sell at bulk. But there is still a place for bespoke deals, for a more tailored experience. Here in the UK, the boutique agencies seem to offer the same CPMs as the big tech firms. How can that be right?

The real loser in all this is the listener, who is probably best served by a sleek 6-episode series telling a story in depth and detail, rather than dragging it out indefinitely, or hopping all over the place. The move towards a subscription model — just look at Elon Musk’s directives on Day 1 at Twitter — will become ever fiercer. But subscription models penalise short-form creators even more aggressively than advertising! In order to get someone to pay £5 a month to access my podcast, I first have to get them hooked. With a limited series, by the time they’re on the line, the show is done. They wriggle free.

So, two cool things you can do right now: listen to my show and share it with your friends. And secondly, if you’re working in this space, start thinking up creative ideas to save the documentary podcast! The documentary podcast is the reason why the industry has matured as aggressively as it has to date. To let it wither on the vine would be an insult to our podcasting forebears…

If you want to talk about Other Edens or podcasting generally, my inbox is always open. Just email nick@podotpods.com and we’ll set something up…



Nick Hilton

Writer. Media entrepreneur. London. Interested in technology and the media. Co-founder podotpods.com Email: nick@podotpods.com.