What you need to know
Taipei-based Ghost Island Media is at the frontline of Taiwan's podcast industry, producing quality shows both in Mandarin and English.
By Daphne K. Lee and Syrena Lin
Podcasting has gone mainstream in the United States, with nearly 90 million Americans listening to podcasts at least once a month. Taiwan’s listeners are quickly catching up, too, but there are far fewer active content creators in comparison.
Ghost Island Media, a Taipei-based podcast startup, stepped up to fill the audio content gap in Taiwan last year. The startup aims to produce quality shows in Mandarin and English by collaborating with unique and talented guests from both at home and abroad.
The co-founders of Ghost Island Media — Emily Wu, Thomas Lee, and Cathy Hsu — had years of experience in media and journalism before diving into the podcast scene. They shared the love of listening to podcasts, but Hsu was particularly fascinated by the free online university courses that exploded in popularity since 2011.
Consuming free information and new knowledge online through multimedia formats proved to be entertaining and educational. However, a quick search through Taiwan’s podcasts at the time uncovered a lack of content volume and creativity.
“What we had in Taiwan in previous years were FM radio programs that got imported onto podcasting platforms. Very few shows were created specifically for podcasting. I just kept thinking, why doesn’t Taiwan have more podcasts?" Hsu said.
Giving Taiwan a voice
Podcasts generally appeal to a younger audience who wishes to access meaningful content while doing something else, according to the 2019 Digital News Report.
“We’re spending less time watching online videos. We just don’t have time to sit for an hour and glue our eyes to a screen, but our ears are always listening,” Wu said. "Sometimes we even turn on YouTube, only to listen to the audio. Audio content requires less commitment. It’s something we can listen to even while eating, working out or walking. Audio will continue to be a growing trend."
Major news publishers such as The New York Times quickly picked up on the trend and launched a wildly successful daily podcast series. The Guardian, Washington Post, and The Economist followed suit in 2019.
In April of the same year, Ghost Island kicked off its first podcast series, Waste Not Why Not. The show focuses on debunking myths about environment protection and is also one of the very first English-language podcasts in Taiwan. It not only appeals to English speakers living in Taiwan, but also to foreign audiences who could benefit from Taiwan’s perspective on climate change and environmental conservation.
Despite being an environmentally conscious society, Taiwan is banned from joining the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Hence, Taiwan cannot share its technology or join the global conversations on adjusting climate impacts. Waste Not Why Not, in a sense, gave Taiwan a voice and a chance to engage with international audiences.
Nate Maynard, the host of Waste Not Why Not, said he had already been planning a podcast on greenwashing before meeting Wu by chance. Working with Ghost Island Media has helped deliver his vision more effectively, he said.
"I could easily make a podcast on my own, but it wouldn't sound good. Ghost Island helped me refine my voice for a larger audience, I don't have to worry about music or levels or production sequence, just on what I want to say," Maynard told The News Lens. "That's the power of working with professional podcasters."
Will Ghost Island Media become the Gimlet Media of Taiwan?
Wu noted that she looks up to Gimlet Media, an award-winning narrative podcasting company with massively popular series like Startup and ReplyAll. Spotify purchased Gimlet for approximately US$230 million last year, marking the biggest acquisition in the digital content industry.
"Taiwan hasn’t been the fastest at adopting foreign technology trends, but that gap is closing in. And right now there’s a momentum for podcasting in Taiwan," Wu said.
Ghost Island has so far released three programs, including the recently launched Mandarin-language series, In the Weeds With Lawyer Zoe Lee (大麻煩不煩). The host, Zoe Lee, is a lawyer who has been vocal for a rather taboo topic in Taiwan: the liberalization of cannabis use. While smoking weed is still highly illegal in Taiwan and remains a cultural stigma, Lee openly raises questions and concerns over a rarely discussed subject with humor and useful information.
Beyond creating original content, Ghost Island is inspired by Brooklyn-based Pineapple Street Studios to become a podcast production company for hire as well. The Pineapple founders created the company because of the many offers they had received to create shows, notably from the New York Times and actress Lena Dunham.
In Taiwan, more Mandarin podcasts have been created since 2019, along with the founding of SoundOn, a new podcast platform designed for the Taiwanese audience. Podcast listeners can expect to have a wider variety of options produced by Taiwan-based companies like Ghost Island and SoundOn, which are at the forefront of a growing trend in the country.
"We’re excited about the growth of the entire podcasting industry in Taiwan," Hsu said. "The more competition there is, the better we can grow collectively."
TNL Editor: Jeremy Van der Haegen (@thenewslensintl)
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