Skift Take

In the same way that R&K has made the world larger with its travel reporting, expect them to do the same in this new form.

The podcast world is getting more saturated by the day.

A medium that started with a casual “two people and a mic approach” has grown into the media trend du jour, with large publishers and creators seeking a slice of the action.

Yet, podcasting is still a medium where meritocracy counts, and one can still build up a following based on considered effort, editorial merit, and embracing the intimacy of sound.

The founders of Roads and Kingdoms, a site focused on foreign correspondence through food, music, and culture, are throwing their hat in the ring with what they think is a differentiator. Their proposed answer is to invest heavily on nuanced sound and professional production value to bring travel stories to life.

Launching in early 2017, the site’s new podcast “The Trip” is focused on travel stories and structured as six-week “seasons.” The first installment is underwritten by Tiger Beer with cameos from contributor Anthony Bourdain and an assortment of the types of tales you’d tell over a late night drink in a far-flung locale.

The site’s co-founder, Nathan Thornburgh, who will formally host the podcast, describes the product as “the audio equivalent of what we do on the page. Think full-bleed audio for your ears — immersion is the goal. Things like binaural audio is very interesting to us to try to get more texture in the moments … to make you feel like you’re there.”

He suggested they are working on a lot of well-produced sound from on-location, sound-scaping and trying to paint vivid pictures of their reportage — think 30 seconds of a night market in Bangkok — without being “too art-house” about it.

The podcast aims to be a sponsored extension of what is developing to be a strong, niche travel voice that is still not as well known as it should be in the industry, given their recent output.

At a time when a lot of travel reportage feels dumbed down, general, and geared towards pageview bait (I’m looking at you Conde Nast Traveler Facebook posts), Roads and Kingdoms invests in original stories from talented writers that find angles not being covered elsewhere — especially tough when it seems anything interesting is being strip-mined and packaged by the Vices of the world.

The Bourdain effect certainly helps bring credibility to a growing voice — the noted writer and CNN talent is an investor and regular contributor — but it comes off more close fit rather than a forced celebrity name on the door. And it is clear that their interests and passions for travel are deeply aligned.

Recent stories have included a Q&A with an Afghan fixer, highlighting the often unrecognized work from those who help foreign reporting happen; a story highlighting the limbo of refugees in Hong Kong; as well as a couple fighting for Pakistan’s LGBQ community.

Their food and drink coverage is phenomenal, with recent pieces on the Osaka Sake scene, and different and highly unique breakfast rituals around the world.

Niche-minded brands, looking for influence and nuance over scale are taking notice, and the site has been experimenting with producing sponsored content as an additional revenue stream. If the site can get the audio “experiment” right as Thornburgh smilingly underplays it, an educated, worldly and podcast obsessed audience looking for a sharper voice in travel will be likely to follow.

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Tags: anthony bourdain, food and drink, food tourism, podcast

Photo credit: The launch party for Roads & Kingdoms' new podcast "The Trip." The company enters a saturated podcast market. Roads & Kingdoms

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