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WHY ARE NEPALI PODCASTS STRUGGLING

For Sayujya Bhandari, an undergraduate student at ASCOL, listening to podcasts has been a routine during his lengthy commute to and from his campus. Bhandari who has been listening to podcasts since he was in high school and shares that it helps with his thinking process and personal growth. However, he does mention that most of the podcasts he listens to are foreign. “I came across a Nepali podcast named Mero Dui Paisa about a year ago. Though the content was what I usually look for in a podcast, I didn’t find it interesting. This was about a year ago, and after that I have stopped listening to Nepali podcasts altogether.” This seems to be a shared experience for many Nepalis podcast listeners. The reality being that despite a moderate rise in listeners, the Nepali podcast ecosystem is rather condensed.

While creative creators such as vloggers and influencers have exploded into the Nepali internet culture, why is it that podcasters are still plagued by a mediocre presence? The answer may be found in a series of factors that include its primary audience, the platform in which it publishes its content, the hosts, and the genre. Currently there are only a select few who have been able to consistently put out new content while maintaining a dedicated stream of listeners.

Picking the right genre

One of the more successful podcasts that has sprouted from Nepal is the Bojubajai podcast. First airing in May 2016, the Bojubajai podcast was started by two women, Bhrikuti Rai, a Kathmandu based journalist and Itisha Giri, a poet and editor living in Spain. At the time of writing, they have 41 published episodes. Primarily consisting of casual discourse on social justice issues along with interviews, Rai shares that the show addresses issues that they felt were important to them. “There’s only so much that you can achieve through a tweet or commenting on a Facebook post,” says Rai although she goes on to say that they didn’t initially intend to focus on just social issues. But the feedback they got from the early few episodes pushed them in the direction. Sticking to the content genre has proved favorable for the show, with most recent episodes crossing over 1200 plays, and some going over the 3000 mark on the audio streaming platform Soundcloud alone.

A relatively newer podcast What the Guff comes with a catchy name and an even catchier logo and first started airing in May 2020. The podcast is only six episodes down the production line and composed of improv discussions on contemporary issues. It has a humble 184 subscribers on their YouTube channel with over 3700 total views currently, but promises to grow. Other podcasts such as HamroYatra and The Incomer are shows that base themselves around interviews and focus on Nepali diaspora and immigrants abroad. Both shows being produced by women living outside the country have based their shows on documenting stories of immigrants giving Nepalis living overseas the representation they need. If you look further down the rabbit hole, you will also come across more intriguing podcasts such as Antariksa, a show that focuses on science and speculative fiction.

The platform for podcasts

The internet has certainly created a vivid landscape for people to publish creative content. Platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Medium have become central hubs for vloggers, photographers and writers. This however, does not seem to be the case for podcasts. While there is a huge array of platforms in which shows can publish, listeners in Nepal seem to lack a general consensus on the platform they prefer the most. Of the podcasts mentioned above, some prefer to publish their content on Soundcloud, while some opt for Spotify and Apple Podcasts, and some even finding their major audience on YouTube. “Our content is distributed across several platforms because of this it is very hard to get a standardised and uniform data,” shares Rai.

While creative creators such as vloggers and influencers have exploded into the Nepali internet culture, why is it that podcasters are still plagued by a mediocre presence? The answer may be found in a series of factors that include its primary audience, the platform in which it publishes its content, the hosts, and the genre. Currently there are only a select few who have been able to consistently put out new content while maintaining a dedicated stream of listeners.

This isn’t the only issue that Bojubajai experienced. Rai also mentions that a key reason why these shows lack audience is because most Nepalis are unfamiliar with audio platforms. Sankalpa Gurung, who hosts the HamroYatra podcast shares, “A few of friends suggested that I make a YouTube channel.” But Gurung believes that adopting a video format would diverge the show from the idea of being a podcast. Despite sticking to the audio only format, Gurung shares that HamroYatra has had almost 1900 downloads in only six episodes with the first episode getting nearly 500 downloads. However, it should also be taken into account that 46% of HamroYatra’s listeners are from the UK, 9-10% from the US and Australia each, and only 20% from Nepal.

Actor and host for The Incomer podcast, Richa Ghimire shares Gurung’s sentiments on sticking to an audio format. Ghimire who has been running her show for over a year now states, “My demographic wanted me to do it in visual format, many would say please do it on YouTube, but I was adamant to do only audio podcasts.”

However there are also podcasts who have found home in visual platforms like YouTube and IGTV. The What the Guff team, for instance, believes that for their show to reach and retain a larger audience, it is important for them to adapt to a more popular platform such as YouTube and Instagram. Rajan Thapa, one of the five producers of the young show, shares, “A few friends have even shared that they watched it because it was my show, otherwise they wouldn’t have.”

It seems that for Nepali podcasts, a key goal may be to introduce new listeners to podcasts rather than appealing to existing listeners that seem to prefer more refined and better funded foreign podcasts. Even the Bojubajai podcast, that is considered to be one the more favored Nepali podcasts, has plans to hop onboard the YouTube train. Rai shares, “The thirsty need to come to the water; and in this case we are thirsty for an audience. In Nepal, YouTube happens to be the most popular and fastest growing platform.”

The price and profits in podcasting

Although podcasts may only seem like a recording of a casual conversation at first glance, there is in fact a lot of preparation and hidden costs that go behind the scenes for producing an episode. A lot of times Nepalis wanting to start their own show do not expect these costs. And even if they do manage to get by, the driving force behind a show seems to wither away if it is not self-sustaining financially. So, what are these hidden costs and how do Nepali podcasters deal with it?

When it first started, Rai recounts that she and Giri would record their conversations with their phones and later stitch the audio clips back together. “We only got a recorder a few months ago,” she adds. Rai also mentions that going to a professional recording studio could cost anywhere from Rs.3000 to 5000 per episode. Even more costs go unaccounted for in the time that it takes these podcasters to research, edit and market their shows, especially given the fact that most of these shows are run by people who have full time jobs. The struggle only expands when you take into account the extra hours that budding producers need to put in to learn new skills. These include but aren’t limited to editing their audio clips, increasing social media presence, and even developing public relationship skills in order to bring new guests and advertisers to their show.

Although all the podcasts mentioned have their own take on how they wanted to monetise or grow their shows, there was one factor that they all had in common; all of their shows were a side hustle for them.

What the Guff gets to this dilemma by making full use of its talented five-man team. Here, Aayush, Rajan and Umanga worry about research and content while Prasanna handles the editing, and Sushan creates the graphics. They even jokingly share that because they’re all located in different time zones, the podcast often ends up being recorded at three in the morning.

Ghimire, who is also a mother of three, shares, “My husband Shankar does the post production so he has to skip going to work on that day. Sometimes I have to hire a babysitter because when guests schedule time for recording, I don’t want to prepone or postpone, and sometimes my kids schedule clashes with that time.” Gurung too found help at home for HamroYatra. She fills in, “My sister helped with the logo and the style while my husband created the intro and outro music for the episodes and helps with editing. I am quite lucky to have such talented people in my life.”

When it comes to monetising their ventures, these shows seem to have different ways and different sentiment towards it. While Bojubajai started in 2016, Rai says that they only registered it as a company last year and that they were unsure on how to monetise their show. “When you go to platforms like Apple podcasts, there isn’t a section that lists podcasts that are region specific to Nepal because the market is too small,” explains Rai who expresses that this makes it difficult for advertisers. As of now, the Bojubajai podcast has opted to stay away from traditional sponsors and instead plans on generating funds through live shows. The show also has it patron page where they currently have 20 patrons contributing a total of US$130 per month. The Incomer podcast, on the other hand, has found its own little group of supporters. Ghimire who is based in Maryland, USA has accepted a handful of sponsorships from Nepali businesses in her community who are realtors and attorneys.

What the Guff and HamroYatra on the other hand have not really gotten a solid monetary plan. Aayush and Rajan share that they would love to see What the Guff grow as a brand, but mentions that they don’t have any concrete plan just as yet. Gurung however feels differently about placing ads into her show. She shares, “What I have realised is that when I listen to podcasts and I hear people talk about ads, I don’t really like it”. Gurung further reasons, “Because HamroYatra came out of my own need to listen to something, I always put myself in the listeners shoes.” She says that perhaps in the future she will be more open to a partnership if it resonates with the show rather than just for the money.

The future

Although all the podcasts mentioned have their own take on how they wanted to monetise or grow their shows, there was one factor that they all had in common; all of their shows were a side hustle for them. This raises the question, should podcasts even be considered a serious venture in Nepal? In an environment where radio programs and big media companies still have a grip on the audience, do podcasts even have a place?

Anusha Nepal, a program presenter at Radio Kathmandu 92.1, believes that there is in fact a need for Nepali produced podcasts. Nepal who hosts a weekly as well as a daily morning show states, “Podcasts present things differently than how the mainstream Nepali media does.”

Even so, Nepali podcasts often end up being outclassed by bigger and better media outlets. A lack of seed funding and audience awareness has certainly limited the outreach and growth that Nepali podcasts could otherwise have had. But despite the odds, the future for Nepali podcasts isn’t all bleak. There are more and more new shows on the rise, and there has been a limited audience but one that has given an affirmative response. Maybe the day is not too far when we see podcasts get the place they deserve with premium programs and wider listenership.

Sajeet M. Rajbhandari is a freelance writer who enjoys spending time writing and sharing stories. Namely having written for business and art magazines, his interests revolve around fields of literature, art, culture, business and communication. Besides this Rajbhandari enjoys traveling and is always up for making new experiences. Currently he is also pursuing an education in media studies at Kathmandu University.

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