All about Podcast Industry in China

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Hi, I'm Yang Yi from JustPod.

And this newsletter tells you all about the Chinese podcast industry - in English. God knows how familiar you are with the language.

Before we dive into, I thought the best way to start this thing would be with an FAQ.


So Who Are You?

My name is Yang Yi, a 31-year-old podcaster living in Shanghai, China. It's very nice to meet you for the first time.

You might know me through stories about Chinese podcasts. The New York Times quotes my remarks in an article about "Gushi FM"(Story FM), a Chinese storytelling podcast; In "The Cultural Frontline" of BBC, I discussed the differences between podcasting and 'pay for knowledge' audio in China.

Or you might read the report of HotPod, a well-known newsletter about the Podcast Industry, in which Proprietor Nick Quah interviewed me about the history, development as well as problems of the Chinese podcasting industry. Predictions and analysis of mine were also given there.

What I am doing now can be stated as below, and they all have something to do with podcasting.

Firstly, I myself am a podcaster. Since 2015, I've started to plunge into the world of podcasting, even if it was more like a personal project. In 2018, I started to co-host an interview podcast named "Left-Right", which was nominated as one of "The Best" in both 2018 and 2019 by Apple Podcasts. I was also responsible for editing and hosting "Go LIVE" since 2019, an audio show that presents what's in journalists' eyes and minds. Maybe it will become "China's The Daily" someday! I mean, who knows?

Secondly, JustPod. It initially served as a podcast newsletter in Chinese back to the year of 2018 when the industry was just emerging here. People were waiting, expecting and spotting opportunities for the market, much like the period of 1-2 years before "Serial" was introduced. Having read newsletters like HotPod for consecutive years, I have followed the development of podcasts in the US. So I thought about the need to tell the Chinese market what podcasting looks like in foreign markets, including America and Europe. Most importantly, in their native language—Chinese. JustPod, as a newsletter, gained its popularity so much that it led me to be interviewed.

In this process, "JustPod" got to be known by more. At that time, the podcast "Left-Right" I co-host also began to receive invitations from some brands and enterprises who hope that we would be the production of their branded podcasts. My partner Roland Cheng felt that maybe we could do our own ventures like Gimlet, Wondery and Pineapple Street Studio. "JustPod" as a company was thus born.

Well, as I've just said, JustPod is both a podcast newsletter and a podcasting company. In such an emerging market of podcasts like China, simply offering quality audio content to listeners is not enough. Parties in the market, including our peer - podcasters, advertisers and audio platforms need much more information, analysis and insights of the industry to help them understand what the podcast stands for.

Thirdly, I am one of the three initiators of PodFest China. It's the first offline event about podcasting in this country. At the beginning of 2019, Rebecca Kanthor, Anita Xu and I jointly launched "PodFest China", hoping to create an opportunity for everyone in this industry to communicate and socialize. So far, we have already hosted two annual events and a series of workshops held in Shanghai. We invited many Chinese podcast producers to share their experiences, and once in November 2019, Emanuele Berry, producer of "This American Life", flew from New York to host one workshop.

I really appreciate the encouragement from Rebecca and Anita in my writing of the newsletter. Rebecca is an American living in Shanghai for a long time, and she thinks it is meaningful to make cross-border cultural exchanges, which is also one of the reasons why we started PodFest China. As a professional audio producer, Rebecca makes audio stories for PRI. Drum roll! Know more about her in the latest episode about coronavirus of “This American Life”.

Find me also in:

Okay. Why are you doing this? in English?

You have heard the story of "The Tower of Babel" in the Bible, right? It explains why people speak different languages.

Before I embark on the journey, I worked for a CNBC-style business TV Network. My colleagues and I usually watched TV shows produced by BBC or Netflix, during which we got to understand them in detail through Chinese subtitles. In the past several years, inspired by the non-fictional stories of Peter Hessler, Evan Osnos and many others, Chinese peers in print bury their heads in studying non-fiction writing of the New Yorker or Esquire.

Compared to video and words, "The Tower of Babel" of audio shows seems higher. You want to understand an English podcast like "Serial"? Language proficiency is a necessity. Oh, as well as knowledge in American culture and its judicial practice. You see the barrier for Chinese listeners.

I recommended English podcasts to my peer - podcasters, and explained to clients who show interest in podcasts how American companies use them to do promotion. Those well-designed items are presented in various forms, and there is a great value in them to be learned and imitated. But few really listen to them. Why? The language barrier plays a significant role.

So here we are. Our newsletter has been doing this for the past year: telling Chinese audiences in their native language what is happening in developed podcasting markets like America and Europe, and how overseas companies take advantage of podcasts to better marketing by writing a summary.

I visited Gimlet, Wondery, and Podfront UK, and also, many producers e-mailed me after reading the interview in HotPod. I found that the problem of "The Babel Tower" exists in the West too, where you can barely see coverages about the Chinese podcast industry. Even if you are lucky enough to have access to them, misunderstanding and misinterpretation are also there to distort the image.

—Is there a big market in the Chinese podcast industry? Like hundreds of million audiences?

—Does "Pay for Knowledge" amounts to "Podcasting in China"?

—Is the Chinese podcast industry the opposite of the government? Is it the voice of rebellion?

These questions make me feel obligated to reveal the Chinese podcast industry in a language that most of the world is familiar with. And, of course, the analysis and insight of the field.

Is it going to cost anything?

Well, maybe at some point. But definitely not right now.

How long will you post?

I thought of an interesting thing when Nick Quah emailed me about THE Interview last spring. Back then, Caroline Crampton had just joined Hot Pod. So when Nick wanted me to write something about Chinese podcasts, or explore some ways to cooperate with each other, I mistakenly thought Nick wanted me to do the same, so I rashly responded, "I'm afraid there is not so much to write about."

Now a year has passed, and frankly speaking, the Chinese podcast industry did move ahead. The format of Chinese podcasts is not just limited to ChatCast. Storytelling/narrative and even comedy podcasts have also been emerging, bringing new life into the Chinese podcasting. Podcast companies are fledging (like JustPod), and some enterprises started to produce their own branded podcasts. But to support a weekly-update newsletter? Far away from enough.

No fixed schedule here, unfortunately. But In addition to gathering information about the Chinese podcast industry, I will spend more time explaining "things" that the rest of the world cares about.

So, One More Thing!

Any question you have about the podcast industry in China, please feel free to contact me through: justpod@yangyi.news.

Your curiosity reminds me of things that peers in the rest of the world interest in the Chinese market and pushes me to do more.

Ask me anything - that's what I'm saying!

Next time, I will post an article about what happened to the Chinese podcast industry during the coronavirus outbreak. Coverages and analysis on how the pandemic impacts the US and the UK podcasts are many: shows are shifting their topics to meet the demand; podcasters and audio producers are recorded from closets in their homes; online recording becomes common; commuting time is reduced almost to zero that podcasts lose an important usage scenario. Guess what? We've been there too, in two months earlier this year. So there is an empathy between us, through which we realize that the whole world, especially the world of podcasting, is interconnected. We have a lot in common.