The #3 Podcast on iTunes: Coffee Break Spanish & The Threat to Traditional Media

They say that the advent of the blo­gos­phere marked a crit­i­cal turn­ing point when the lit­tle guy, with some mox­ie and smarts, could start cred­i­bly com­pet­ing against the major news­pa­pers. (Good­bye, hel­lo Dai­ly Kos.) Now, with iPods becom­ing ubiq­ui­tous, the cor­po­rate media estab­lish­ment is sud­den­ly find­ing its posi­tion being threat­ened on a new front. The big tele­vi­sion and radio play­ers have to com­pete today with thou­sands of pod­cast­ers, and while, sure, many sound no bet­ter than Wayne & Garth, some pod­cast­ers do an expert job and they’re win­ning over new lis­ten­ers.

Here is a good lit­tle case in point. If you look at the 30 most pop­u­lar pod­casts on iTunes, you have many rec­og­niz­able media brands on the list. HBO, VH1, ESPN, The Econ­o­mist, NBC, ABC, etc. But sit­ting in the #3 posi­tion is noth­ing oth­er Cof­fee Break Span­ish (web site), a pod­cast put togeth­er by Mark and Kara (no last names are pro­vid­ed) that helps lis­ten­ers learn use­ful bits of Span­ish over a dai­ly cup of cof­fee. And, in two short months, they’ve had 500,000 down­loads. What con­clu­sions can we draw? A very obvi­ous one is that there’s an appetite out there to learn for­eign lan­guages, par­tic­u­lar­ly Span­ish. This is some­thing we fig­ured out when we post­ed our col­lec­tion of for­eign lan­guage les­son pod­casts sev­er­al weeks ago. Then there is the less obvi­ous fact that the dig­i­tal era has enabled small con­tent providers, with lit­tle to no cap­i­tal, to serve niche mar­kets, which if tak­en togeth­er, can turn out to be quite large. (Chris Ander­sen has made this gen­er­al point quite well in his influ­en­tial arti­cle, The Long Tail.) The big media play­ers have long made their liv­ing in a util­i­tar­i­an fash­ion, pro­duc­ing con­tent that brings the great­est amount of hap­pi­ness to the great­est num­ber. They could­n’t afford to both­er with the nich­es, and this has cre­at­ed the space for the Marks and Karas of the world to do their thing. We’re now increas­ing­ly liv­ing a world of niche mar­kets, frag­ment­ed audi­ences, and small con­tent pro­duc­ers. And the num­ber of small play­ers will only get big­ger, and the big play­ers, small­er. Watch out CNN. It’s only going to get tougher.

Check out Open Cul­ture’s For­eign Lan­guage Les­son Pod­casts or our entire pod­cast col­lec­tion.


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.