Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Podcast spotlight: Better Reading Podcast

Established in 2017, Better Reading Podcast is a weekly bookish podcast where Better Reading founder and director Cheryl Akle holds in-depth conversations with both Australian and international authors. Spanning over 100 episodes to date, the podcast has featured interviews with Holly Ringland, Nigella Lawson, Anne Aly and Tim Winton. ‘We’re nimble and follow the talent,’ Akle said about the podcast’s extensive output. ‘We’ve recorded podcasts direct from the Sydney Writers’ Festival and we’re all set to do it again this year. I’ll break a leg for an interview!’ She spoke to Books+Publishing for our ‘podcast spotlight’ series.

For new or uninitiated listeners, describe your podcast in under 50 words. 

Our podcast reveals the ‘stories behind the story’, with our intimate and wide-ranging conversations connecting readers and writers. Readers get to hear about the dramatic personal experiences that inspire storytellers, eavesdrop on candid conversations about hot contemporary issues and may even pick up some great writing tips.

What makes your podcast unique?

Maybe the most exciting aspect of our podcast is that Better Reading’s reputation as a book recommendation and entertainment website means we have access to pretty much anyone who is touring Australia. Previously we’ve had people such as Nigella Lawson, Tim Winton, Michael Leunig, Marian Keyes, Richard Flanagan, and Jamila Rizvi—just to name a few. The feedback we receive is that the interviews are genuine and conversational.

When and how did you get started in podcasting? 

During a stint in San Francisco, I observed how mad everyone there was about podcasts. No matter where I was, someone wanted to tell me about the latest podcast they were listening to. So, when I arrived home I said, ‘right, let’s do this’ to the Better Reading team. It was a few weeks before we launched. Since then, almost a year ago, we have published nearly 100 episodes and have close to 200,000 downloads.

Where and how is your podcast recorded (and how big is your team)? 

Podcasting need not be a complicated affair. We are a humble but nimble team of three: myself, who does the interviewing; Jack, who looks after the recording and manages the schedule; and our audio engineer Will, who edits and ensures professional sound quality post recording.

What kind of listeners does your podcast reach? 

What we have discovered is that our podcasts engage with a distinct audience to the Better Reading social sites—such as Facebook, Instagram, and Google Newsstand. The podcast audience tends to access us directly from iTunes or Stitcher for Android. They are an entirely separate, incredibly devoted audience who has been invaluable for growing our business.

What have been your most popular guests or most memorable episodes?

Last year I interviewed Booker Prize winner George Saunders while he was here for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, and he said some beautiful and calming things about what was happening in the modern Western world. Then he tied it all nicely into the power of books and how they offer sanctuary from, and solutions to, many of the ailments we are experiencing socially and politically. What a smart and impressive guy!

Another highlight would have to be Monica McInerney, who is a big champion of Australian writing and Better Reading from afar (she lives in Dublin). It was a dream to have her share her writing process and provide some terrifically sage advice to fledgling novelists.

And most recently Tim Winton, whose candor and openness about his life made for a terrific conversation—I was besotted by him!

Listen to founder, director and host Cheryl Akle speak with Tim Winton, shortly after the release of his latest book, The Shepherd’s Hut (Hamish Hamilton).

What recent trends have you noticed in podcasting? (Do you have any predictions for this format in the future?) 

Everyone is listening to them and I imagine that their popularity is only going to increase as people find themselves more time-poor and always on the move. It’s the perfect way to digest information and stay in touch with the things you love (in our case, books and writing).

Why do you think people are drawn to this format?

I think part of it comes down to changes in technology. Smartphones and tablets have compelled businesses such as ours to morph accordingly. With podcasts being such a user-friendly and compatible source of entertainment and knowledge, they are perfect for the curious and time-poor. I listen to a podcast every morning on the way to work, for example. And the stats suggest I’m not alone.

How do you fund your podcast? Do you have plans to explore other funding options? 

We are sponsored by the fabulous people at Bolinda Audio. And also, thanks to our exponential growth as a business, we can support the podcast interviews and help readers connect with their favourite author, as well as giving them the joy of discovering new ones. 

What plans do you have for your podcast going forward? 

We are already in conversations about launching a podcast aimed at children’s books. The idea is to provide teachers, parents, and librarians with contemporary information and tips about the latest releases and trends. With the adult podcast, we will continue to publish two a week.

What other bookish podcasts should we be listening to, Australian or otherwise? 

You can’t go wrong with Richard Fidler on the ABC.

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Category: Features