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A million downloads and counting: Beyond the Book podcast

In this interview, Christopher Kenneally of the Copyright Clearance Center takes us behind the scenes of the Beyond the Book podcast, which has been broadcasting news and analysis from across the industry since 2006.

What led you to set up the Beyond the Book podcast?

As a podcast series, Beyond the Book made its debut in September 2006. Up to then, I had presented for Copyright Clearance Center a series of panel programs on the business of writing and publishing at universities, cultural centers and the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Some of these were also broadcast on Book-TV in the US and Canada.

In the early 2000s, podcasts were a fledgling medium; the term “podcasting,” by the way, is a rather ingenious portmanteau from combining iPod with broadcasting. In 2006, iTunes began to support podcast series. I could see immediately that this new medium would be the online, DIY extension of radio. Before joining CCC in 2002, I had worked as an independent journalist for many years, contributing to the New York Times, The Independent (London), National Public Radio, and WGBH-TV in Boston. I saw podcasting as just another channel for our programming, but over time, it became the sole outlet for Beyond the Book. To date, we’ve seen well over one million downloads. If Beyond the Book isn’t the longest continuous podcast in publishing, I would love to know who is!

Who is your main audience?

Great question. Like most online platforms, Apple (and iTunes) is tight-lipped about subscriber information. However, judging by the program’s 4K followers on Twitter and what I hear from listeners at trade shows and conferences, I know we reach across North America, Europe, and Australia, though there are ardent listeners in Latin America, too.

Our listeners are editors, authors, publishers – just about anyone who loves books and the publishing industry (including scholarly publishing and news). The book business attracts a fascinating mix of usually very curious people who want to know about the current state and future direction of the industry.

How do you keep generating new ideas for the podcast?

People who work with me know how I always answer this question: I get my ideas in two places – I think of them, and I steal them! 🙂

Let me explain: As a freelance reporter, I trained myself to be on the watch for story ideas at all times. I may hear someone mention a new technology, and I will pursue the founder for an interview.

I may also see a trade publication report (or even a blog post like this one for BookMachine) and think that my listeners would want to hear more about the topic. I don’t do book reviews and I limit our coverage area to non-fiction.

What have you learned in 13 years of podcasting?

Most importantly, “less is more.” There’s so much competition for people’s time that you shouldn’t ask for too much. Our programs typically run less than 15 minutes. We also post an accompanying text transcript for those would rather skim/read for highlights. We see a couple thousand downloads monthly on the transcripts alone.

Podcasting is booming at the moment: how do you see the medium continuing to develop over the next few years?

With podcasting having become nearly as easy as writing an email, the number of available programs will continue to mushroom. Such a surfeit of choice can be overwhelming for listeners. Like everything else on the Web, I am afraid the tippity-top level of programs will dominate, at the expense of the rest. The smartphones now in nearly everyone’s pocket have brought podcasting a mass audience, and producers like myself should focus on reaching the right listeners rather than a lot of listeners. Smart speakers (like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home) are also re-introducing millennials to the joys of radio (and podcast and audiobook) listening.

Christopher Kenneally is Director, Marketing, for Copyright Clearance Center, where he hosts the weekly podcast series, Beyond the Book.

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