WHEN Jamie Morton discovered that his 60-year-old father had written an erotic novel called “Belinda Blinked”, he was appalled. A few weeks later, when reading passages of the book aloud to two university friends over dinner, Mr Morton saw the funny side—and a creative opportunity. “It was so bad,” Mr Morton says, “it was gold.” The three decided to record their reactions to Belinda’s not-particularly-erotic escapades and the author’s idiosyncratic syntax. “My Dad Wrote A Porno”, a 13-part podcast and surprise hit, was born.

The choice of medium was significant. Podcasts, series of digital audio files that users can download or stream from MP3 players and computers, were first created in 2001. This was also the year that Apple launched the iPod, the device from which podcasting takes its name. Although it is now, in tech terms, a doughty 15 years old, it has developed only fitfully. While some veteran shows, including “This American Life”, “RadioLab” and “How Stuff Works”, have been broadcast regularly since their launches in the middle of the decade, many more withered away to nothing as quickly as they had sprung up.

The first generation were bedevilled by a lack of professionalisation and an increasingly crowded market. At the same time, podcasts were facing fierce competition for audiences’ attention from a plethora of other new digital-native products including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Podcasting, allied as it was with radio, had an old-fashioned air from the beginning. Another difficulty was that, like other media, many podcasts were reliant on advertising. Reliable advertisers were scarce in the wake of the financial crash and were suspicious of newer, untried brand names. Compared with websites and YouTube channels, podcasts were disadvantaged as they are usually unable to say exactly how many people are actually listening to each episode—and therefore to each advert—because episodes are automatically downloaded to users’ devices once they have subscribed.