Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Podcast spotlight: Seeking Tumnus

Established in 2015, Seeking Tumnus is a podcast in which its hosts ‘revisit the books of [their] youth and … explore the uncanny wilds of contemporary adolescent fiction’. Hosted by four friends—Keith, Patrick, Laurie and Bri—the podcast has over 50 episodes to date, and looks at classics as well as current, locally authored titles. Patrick Moon spoke to Books+Publishing for our ‘podcast spotlight’ series.

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

Seeking Tumnus is a group of four friends who are keen to reconnect with the books we loved when we were young, and to figure out just how rose-coloured our glasses have become over the years. On alternate episodes we read the popular YA books of today, and realise that we’re tragically unhip.

What makes your podcast unique?

We have such diverse tastes that it leads to some unique and passionate conversations about the books we’ve loved through the years, and gives us incredibly diverse opinions on the new releases. One of us will bring a book to the podcast thinking, ‘This is a slam dunk,’ and then watch in horror as it’s torn to shreds for the next 30 minutes. Laurie and Patrick’s all-encompassing love for fantasy is tempered by Bri’s investment in Little Women. Keith adds a dash of He-Man to the mix, to the consternation of everyone involved.

We also try to feature a lot of exciting Australian fiction, which has been a successful formula so far. We’ve had wonderful conversations with authors like James Bradley and Steph Bowe. We’re keen to keep expanding in that direction.

When and how did you get started in podcasting?

Laurie brought the idea to the rest of us in 2015, and we threw it around for a while before we figured out the exact details of how it would all work. Even so, we trashed some material before we felt that we had a product that we were happy with. The lost episode about the Hardy Boys in The Tower Treasure is a testament to us making a bit of a mess of things before we began to find our unique voice. Prior to that, we were all avid listeners of podcasts, and had that very common thought: ‘I bet we could do this!’ That was back before we knew better.

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

There are just the four of us involved in Seeking Tumnus. Starting a podcast seemed like a straightforward enterprise at first, but there’s a lot of work behind the scenes: we each read the books, host the show, edit the episodes, maintain the website, attend to social media, and try to live as semi-functional adults for the rest of the time. That makes it much more time-consuming than it appears, and so we’re now training our pets to take on administrative duties.

We record remotely via Skype—Keith and Patrick are based in Sydney, while Laurie and Bri are in Melbourne. We each record an individual track, and these are collated and edited after the fact. It can be labour-intensive, but it ensures that every episode sounds as good as it can be.

What kind of listeners does your podcast reach?

The listenership has been surprisingly broad. At first we saw a lot of listeners from Australia, which was expected, but since that time we’ve really taken off around the world.

Now, the USA is probably our largest market, followed by Australia and the UK, and even a few countries where English is a second language.

It’s a weird experience because it feels so intimate in the recording—it’s just you and three friends, talking as you normally would—and then suddenly a whole heap of strangers from every corner of the globe are privy to your thoughts. We’re hoping we haven’t said anything that might undermine our future political campaigns.

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

We’ve had some fantastic guests, including brief guest snippets from Bri’s sister. James Bradley and Steph Bowe are wonderful Australian authors who came on for a chat, and we’ve become lifelong fans in the process. Patrick recently sat down with Hamish & Andy to discuss the podcast, which rapidly devolved into what some might describe as bullying, when Hamish repeatedly suggested that Andy has been moonlighting as a writer of erotica.

There are a lot of other memorable episodes, often because they bring about strong feelings of nostalgia, or delight at unearthing a hidden gem, or bewildered glee when someone roasts a book comprehensively. We love Harry Potter, so those episodes are a treat; we hate ‘Twilight’, so ditto.

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

True crime rules the roost and we’ve missed our opportunity to collect truckloads of money. Jokes (and bitterness) aside, there’s been a real shift in the way streaming content of all kinds is valued and monetised.

More and more people are picking the online content that is most valuable to them and supporting it directly, whether it is by subscribing to Netflix, funding projects on Kickstarter, or donating to podcasts and other creative projects via Patreon.

This selective, subscription model of creativity is a shift away from the scattergun approach of broadcast media, and it probably means that more niche content will become financially viable now and into the future.

Why do you think people are drawn to this format?

We’ve just talked about how the medium of podcasting is the perfect avenue for making niche content marketable, and the reason that works is because it makes it so easy for people to connect with the things they’re interested in.

There’s an appetite for the journalism of Serial and The Teacher’s Pet; sloppy lo-fi improv comedy in Hello From the Magic Tavern; polished non-sequiturs à la Welcome to Nightvale; and still a bit of room for cheeky explorations of fiction like Seeking Tumnus.

And there’s no limit to how many of these you consume; everyone’s phone has become a sweeping, personalised expanse of shows that cater to their own interests.

One other aspect that might be underappreciated is the relationship you build with the hosts of a show. As you spend dozens or hundreds of hours listening to someone’s voice, you definitely begin to feel like you know them. As the host of a show, you’re desperately hoping that familiarity breeds affection.

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

We all have our various day jobs! In an ideal world we would look to make the podcast at least self-sufficient, but in the end this is a show that we do because we love books and we love making room in our lives to chat to our friends.

What plans do you have for your podcast going forward?

We’ve maintained the same format since we started the show, but a lot of things have changed. We’ve developed some good relationships with Australian authors and publishers, and we want to keep building on those. It’s always so interesting to get the perspective of voices from inside the industry.

What other bookish podcasts (or podcasts for people who love reading, writing and sharing ideas) should we be listening to, Australian or otherwise?

Can we spend a couple of pages on this one? If we’re narrowing it down to a few, Words and Nerds, The Garret and Lost the Plot are all wonderful podcasts in the bookish space.