An End To Podcast App Agnosticism & Apathy

Podcasters tend to be opinionated. Except when it comes to which app people use to listen to our shows. Most of us genuinely don’t care. But perhaps we should, especially when courting new potential listeners.

Podcast listening apps have been around since the beginning of podcasting. You can’t have one without the other. In order to listen to a podcast you need (generally speaking) an app. Yeah, sure. Some listening happens directly on the website of a podcast, but the vast majority of listeners listening to their favorite shows via a dedicated podcast listening app.

For the better part of 15 years, I’ve had the attitude — and have passed along the attitude to all of my clients — that we really don’t care what app someone uses to listen, because all podcast apps do basically the same stuff.

They all contain a directory of all podcasts available, with the rare exception of those with exclusive content. They all have a search feature (most of which stink) to help a listener find the specific show they are looking for. They all allow for playback. They all allow for subscriptions so that every time a new episode is produced, it automatically shows up and/or gives a notification to the subscriber. They all do the basic things you would expect a podcast listening app to do.

And it’s because of that sameness that we generally don’t care which one our listeners use. Apple Podcasts is clearly the leader of the space and continues to be thanks largely in part to that sameness. And the convenient fact that they helped define podcasting back in 2005 with an iTunes to include podcasts. Android and non-Mac people have had a slightly more difficult time with things, but nonetheless, Apple Podcasts is still the dominant player out there.

As you listen to podcasts these days, you’ll often hear podcasters end their shows with a call to action of “available wherever you listen to podcasts”. This again illustrates the sameness and uniformity of podcast listening apps.

For now. I think that’s going to change. At least, I think it needs to change.

First off, it is a uniquely podcasty thing to say “available wherever you get your podcasts”. Imagine it wasn’t a podcaster who said those words, but a sculptor. You’re at a party somewhere, and this sculptor is talking about their amazing new piece they’ve just finished and you say, “I would love to see your amazing new piece of art. Where can I find your art?”

And the sculptor says, “Wherever you view your art”.

I’m sorry, what? What does that mean? The potential listener is asking you a question: “Where can I find your show?” And you tell them, “Wherever you find my show”, in essence. The circular logic is absurd!

We have to stop thinking about podcasting like an extension of radio or television, where shows are segregated by channel, station, or streaming platform. But podcasts are available everywhere! So telling them “wherever you listen” is missing a key point: they clearly don’t know where to find any podcast.

That, or they’re unfamiliar with the fact that podcasts aren’t segregated like channels or streaming apps, and that whatever default app is already on their phone also contains your podcast.

This is your chance for education! This is our chance for education.

Yes. I know you’ve seen the studies that show that now more than 51% of the population has, at one time, listened to a podcast, but I don’t trust that number.

The people who reported that number didn’t measure, watch, or track people to find out whether or not that statement was true. They simply ask people on the street, “Have you ever listened to a podcast?” And a little over half said, “Yes”.

But they might not have really listened to a podcast. They might have watched a YouTube video and thought that was a podcast. They might’ve clicked on a promotional audiogram on their Facebook Feed and saw the little 15-second snippet of the squiggly lines going by and thought they’d listened to a podcast. They might’ve heard a rebroadcast radio program that said, we’re a podcast, but it was actually on the radio and thought they listened to a podcast.

The reality is that many — perhaps most — people actually don’t know how to listen to a podcast. So if anyone ever asks you, “How can I find your podcast?”, don’t tell them, “It’s available anywhere you listen to podcasts!”

What should you do instead? Previously when someone asked about my show or one of my clients’, I’ve asked what kind of phone they carry, and then direct them to the native app on their phone. Or to Spotify if they have that app pre-installed. That’s fine to do, but I don’t think that’s as helpful as it could be.

While there’s a benefit to leaving them to their own devices and preferences, it’s also sort washing my hands of the problem I deeply need to help them solve. Worse, it’s pushing them into a raging stream of content without meaningful differentiation. That’ll just leave a bad taste in their mouth if the content they’ve previously ignored turns out to be crap.

I think, without much in the way of meaningful evidence to back up this feeling, that 2020 might be the year we finally start seeing some differentiation — differentiation that actually matters — in the podcast app space. We saw hints of it last year (largely failures) with new apps launching that were very focused on exclusive content, choosing to carry a limited set of podcast titles. While that’s one way to differentiate your app, I don’t think it’s the right way to differentiate your app.

All throughout podcasting’s past, we’ve seen some apps try to differentiate with social features or by using human-curated editorial lists. Those certainly have their appeals (and challenges), but none have proven to be the real breakout success.

But the thing that I’m realizing is that we may not have a breakout success or big blockbuster that comes along and topple the dominance of Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. In fact, it probably won’t happen. Because differentiation almost by definition means smaller focus.

So what I think you should do, and what I’m going to try to do is, find a favored podcast listening app. One that I know intimately. And one I think you should know intimately. I don’t know which one that is. I’m not going to tell you which one that is, because it’s different for every single show.

I think you need to understand that app, either an existing app or something new that’s coming along down the pipe. You need to understand how to find your show on that app, and you need to understand why that app is great for your potential listeners. Not your existing audience! There’s no need to try to talk your existing listeners into switching. This is for people new to your show who are also new to podcasting! The next time you were at a party or an event and someone asks, “How can I find your podcast?”, you can walk them through the steps that you recommend from start to finish.

I know it sounds crazy, especially if there’s already a perfectly good-but-unused app on their phone! But you’ll make a much deeper connection with that person that way vs saying the equivalent of “It’s been on your phone all along and you’re dumb because you couldn’t find it.”

Now, I could be totally wrong about the coming differentiation. Nothing new may come from app developers, and we’re stuck in a sea of sameness from the point of view of the uninitiated. Regardless, it’s a good exercise for you to get more comfortable with the way new listener consumes content.

Since you got this far, how about mashing that 👏 button a few dozen times to let me know you dig the written-word version of my thoughts on these podcasting topics? I’d sure appreciate it!

This article started life as a podcast episode. The 248th episode of my four-times-a-week short-form podcast called, oddly enough, Podcast Pontifications. It’s a podcast for working podcasters that’s focused on trends in our growing industry and ideas on ways to make podcasting not just easier, but better. Yes, you should listen. Here’s an easy way: 👇

Evo Terra (hey, that’s me!) has been podcasting since 2004, is the author of Podcasting For Dummies and Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, and is the CEO and founder of Simpler Media Productions, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.

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