Are Podcasters To Blame For Podcasting’s Slow Growth?

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Photo by Pascal van de Vendel on Unsplash

It doesn’t take much looking to find podcasters grumbling about how hard it is to grow the audience of their shows. Most of the time, that’s an internal, not external, problem.

So many podcasters want to grow their show. But so few of them — us, rather — want to do the work.

I’m not talking about the hard work of learning marketing or managing large scale promotional campaigns. I’m talking about the easy work. The simple things all working podcast should be doing to help their shows grow.

Case in point: Have you heard that Amazon Music now includes podcasts? Yes, you’ve probably heard that. Not knowing that means you somehow missed not only the news but the email Amazon Music sent to the email address listed in your show’s RSS feed. Because Amazon sent an email to every single email address contained in the ~1,400,000 RSS feeds that make up the podcast ecosystem.

Yes, every one of them. I can say this with some confidence, as I personally looked at more than a dozen sends of the exact same email from Amazon announcing the coming inclusion. We use a unique email address for each podcast we manage, and all emails sent to those addresses are routed to my inbox for triage. Every single show I manage — large and tiny — got the email. So you did too.

That was weeks ago, with very clear and straightforward instructions for how to get your show listed on Amazon Music. No hard questions. And not even the extra hassle of forcing you to create an account as so many services do. No, this was simply “click this link, fill out this dead-simple form, and your show will be listed when we launch.”

Yesterday was when they launched. By all reports, the updated Amazon Music service boasted 70,000 podcasts available at launch.

Seventy thousand sounds like a big number, but only if you’ve already forgotten that there is something like one million four hundred thousand podcasts with valid RSS feeds in other catalogs and services.

70K is 5% of 1.4M.

Five percent.

Missing 95% of the content available on other platforms — content not hidden behind paywalls content completely accessible with public APIs — is appalling. It would be one thing if Amazon curated the submissions and was quite discerning in which podcasts they would accept for their catalog. But they did not.

Podcasters just didn’t care enough to submit their shows to Amazon Music. That’s it. That’s the reason.

Don’t Blame This On Amazon Music

Amazon Music is crowing about their inclusion of podcasts! Yesterday, I went to the app store to update the app on my phone. They changed their entire listing for Amazon Music, and even paid for a top placement that clearly shouted “WE NOW HAVE PODCASTS!”, as you can see in the screenshot below:

Amazon is spending money to tell people Amazon Music now has podcasts

55 million people use Amazon music, and a good portion of them are committed to that app. It’s a safe bet that a good percentage of those users aren’t also serious consumers of podcasts on other platforms. Sure, some are. But just like all those people for whom “using the internet” means “I’m only ever on Facebook”, a lot of them listen exclusively to audio content through Amazon Music.

And 5% of the available podcasts are there for those brand new, potential podcast listeners. Only 5% of shows were managed by someone who cared enough to take the single-digit minutes necessary to ensure their show(s) would be included on another brand new platform with an addressable audience of fifty-five million audio-consuming people around the world.

If a podcaster isn’t willing to do that minimal level of effort, they have no business bitching about stagnating growth. It’s their own fault.

Are The Podcast Hosting Companies To Blame?

Most, if not all, of the serious podcast hosting companies had even more advanced notice of Amazon’s plans. Most of them updated their user interfaces so that podcast managers could click a single button to submit their show to Amazon. And most hosting companies sent out notices to their entire user base letting them know that such a feature was available. So even if podcast managers somehow ignored the email from Amazon, they also ignored an email from their podcast hosting company that gave them an even easier way to get their show listed when Amazon announced the addition of podcasts.

Which leads to a fairly obvious question: Why didn’t the podcast hosting companies automatically submit all of their clients’ shows to Amazon?

I recognize that’s a contentious statement. I’m also fully aware of the historical complications and political ramifications of submitting shows to various directories without the express consent of the owner of the podcast. And I know that traditionally podcast hosting companies have taken a “we just host, you do the rest” approach.

In some cases, that approach is wise. Like in the case of Apple Podcasts and Spotify, where additional and private podcast consumption information is provided to the verified owner of the show. Transferring ownership of shows from one person to another is a pain in the ass, often requiring multiple steps over multiple days to track and complete. No podcast hosting company relishes the idea of doing that for thousands of clients.

But for Amazon Music (and plenty of other podcast listing services and apps), there is no additional usage information provided by the service or app. These services and apps need nothing more than an RSS feed and perhaps a few other pieces of information that’s already contained in the account settings at the podcast host, even if those data aren’t available in the public RSS feed.

So let me be clear: There would have been no reasonable negative ramifications had a podcast hosting company automatically submitted all of their client’s shows to Amazon Music.

But unreasonable ramifications? Plenty. Some podcast managers might have a personal beef with Amazon. Lots of people do. So yes, I’m sure there would be political fallout had they done as I suggested.

However, they could change that for the next time. They could, if they wanted to, change their stance from “opt-in” to “opt-out”, and change their onboarding practices or client management so that the platform is designed to spread the show to every platform where possible.

Not that it’s easy to do what I suggest. There are implications I’ve not thought about. So if you work for a hosting company are just waiting to fire off an angry “you don’t know what the flip you’re talking about, dude” email, relax. Consider this a thought exercise. What would it take for your company to make this switch? Do you think it would engender more goodwill with not only your existing user base but also the ever-incresting crop of new podcasters?

Are New Podcast Listeners An Alien Species?

If you, like me, have been podcasting for a long time and are an active podcast consumer, you’re probably quite disconnected from how people who are just now discovering podcasting consume podcasts. And by “long time”, I mean a short as five years.

From your perspective, podcasting probably hasn’t changed all that much. It’s possible that you’ve been so focused on the legacy platforms — for creation, distribution, and consumption — you’ve been using for a long time that you miss the ways that new listeners actually discover and listen to podcasts.

Recently, Westwood One released the results of a survey of podcast listeners that highlighted the differences of reported podcast consumption habits based on how long the respondent has been listening to podcasts. It’s a long report, but quite eye-opening.

(Nota bene: I’m always skeptical of survey data that asks respondents what they did vs surveys that track what they actually did. So I tend to look at surveys like this as directional and intentional, where they do provide good insight. Just not necessarily hard data. End skeptical disclaimer.)

The survey showed some indicators that long-time and heavy-use podcast listeners will find counterintuitive. Not only that, the data seem to contradict what actual listener data provided by podcast hosting companies show. The weirdness is really clear when you look at how people who’ve only been listening for six months reply.

Are Your Listening Habits A Predictor Of Your Show’s Success?

I know a lot of podcasters don’t actually listen to other podcasts at all. Which means they aren’t aware of how podcast discovery actually happens. Which means they haven’t the foggiest idea of the customer experience they provide, so they’ve no idea how to influence, change, or enhance that customer experience.

So why should they assume more listeners will find their show by anything other than chance?

I’m as guilty of it as well. If we’re not listening like new people — and there are a lot of them! — or if we’re not discovering new podcasts like new people, how the effective ways to get our shows in front of these new people? We need to change our behavior and start thinking and acting like a new listener.

Are You Making A Podcast New Listeners Want To Hear?

How focused are you on the new listener who’s not only new to your show, but new to podcasting all together? How focused are you on making content that new people not only want to hear, but want to share?

Typically, we fall into one of two traps:

  1. We make and distribute our podcasts’ content the way we’ve always made and distributed our podcast’s content, without any consideration of the changing landscape of podcasting. We’re making assumptions on the entire process based on what we learned when we got started podcasting, which might be (and probably is) vastly different than the podcast landscape today. So we’re missing the boat.
  2. We make podcast content the way we want to make content. And that’s fine. You should be the biggest fan of your show. But if you’re not willing to consider what other people want, you shouldn’t be surprised when the show isn’t growing. If you’re focused only on your needs, wants, and desires, you’re limited to an audience of sycophants. I hope you have a lot of them.

Speaking of growth, do you know of a fellow podcaster who needs to hear this? Well, OK… this article was a bit of a depressing rant. So maybe share another episode! While this show is on Amazon Music and every other platform, it really only grows when listeners/readers like you share it with someone else. So… do that!

And if you want to show your support to me for the content I bring you four days a week, please visit BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and lend me your support.

I’ll be back on Monday for yet another Podcast Pontifications.

Cheers!

Originally published at https://podcastpontifications.com, where it started life as an 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.

Podcast philosopher. Professional contrarian. On a mission to make podcasting better. Hip he/him. คุณ | http://PodcastPontifications.com | http://Simpler.Media

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