Dealing With Decimated Downloads

Photo by Dave Mullen on Unsplash

Have you taken a look at your podcasts’ download stats lately? Are they trending in the wrong direction? And is there anything you can do about it? You’ve got questions, I’ve got… well, more questions for you to ask of yourself.

It’s not often I get to use the word decimated as it is defined, so I’m going to use it!

What do you do in a situation where you notice that your podcast downloads have dropped by 10%? (That’s what decimated really means, by the way. 1 in 10.) If you notice that has happened to your show… what do you do? How do you deal with it? Is there an “other side” to the slump?

So many questions will fill your head when you notice that happening to your downloads. Counterintuitive as it may seem, I have three more questions for you to ask yourself before you jump into “find a solution” mode. Because there’s not a one size fits all answer or a magic “get my downloads back” button you can push.

1. Does it really matter?

Look, none of us like seeing our podcast download numbers dwindle. But I need you to think practically for a moment and ask yourself how much it matters that your numbers have dropped. Put another way: If you hadn’t checked your stats and had no idea that downloads had dropped, would you do anything at all differently?

If you’re not paid by the download, or you can’t tie the size of your audience directly back to income or opportunities, then your answer to that question should be “no”.

Again, I know you don’t enjoy seeing your numbers drop. But if you get the same benefits out of the show regardless of the size of your audience… just roll with it.

If your answer to that question is a resounding “yes’, then keep going. Many podcasters are able to directly correlate downloads to dollars, and a negative trend in downloads probably means a negative financial impact. That’s not good.

2. Was it because of something you did?

Sure, that sounds a little weird and a lot rude. But quite often the reason download numbers drop is because of something you did. Likely unintentionally, but still attributable to something you did.

Maybe you made a minor change to your website. Or what you thought was a minor change and now it’s blocking people from listening on your site. Or maybe the new layout for your episode pages just isn’t working as well as you’d hoped. Did you change hosts or make a modification to how your feed is distributed?

There are plenty of things to check here, so be methodical. If you find a problem, fix it. And then don’t do that again. But if not, then we move on to the really hard question.

3. Is there anything you can do about it?

Chances are, there isn’t an easy yes/no answer here. This requires an examination of the external and internal influences on your download numbers.

Is there an external influence that is not only decimating your podcast download numbers but also the download performance of lots of other shows? Is something is affecting the industry of podcasting overall, with a handful of exemptions in the categories of healthcare, finance, or news (just by way of example)?

If there is something overall impacting the performance of less-than-essential shows — entertainment, career advice, drinking beer on the weekends with your friends — and you make a show that could be consider less-than-essential, then you’ll also be impacted by that dip. Worse, there’s probably nothing you can do about it.

Could there be an internal influence, which is internal to you and/or your existing audience? Ruling out mistakes made in question #2, has the decline you noticed been gradual? It might indicate a divergence between the content you create and what your audience wants to hear. If it’s more abrupt, it might indicate that your audience has found another source for the content they get from you, and perhaps that new source is better. Or it might indicate natural attrition, which you could possibly fight with re-invigorated content. Though see #2 again.

Seeing a drop in downloads is scary to any podcaster. Before you go making drastic changes, try your best to understand why the downturn happened. If it’s a temporary dip, then hopefully you can ride it out. Lots of podcasters are playing the “wait and see” game right now, so welcome to the club.

Of course, that’s little consolation to the working podcaster who relies on strong download numbers to generate income. If that’s you, then you’ve a different set of circumstances you need to deal with. You might need to — and this is going to be controversial — increase the frequency and/or the number of ads you run on your episodes. There’s a risk of saturating your audience, so try to deal with that with a plea to your audience. Chances are, they’ll accept it.

Let’s get to the homework portion of the article: Become one of the many canaries in this coal mine we call podcasting. No one but you knows that your podcast download numbers are being decimated. And you don’t know if something similar is happening to others. We each need to act as our own early-warning system. No, don’t flood public forums with “hey, my number dropped!” posts. That’s not helpful.

Instead, form a close peer group of other podcasters you trust and make it habit to report to each other when any of you see a dip in downloads. I really can’t stress enough the importance of having a group of peers that you can turn to for lots of reasons, not just spotting industry-wide downturns. But if that’s the impetus you need to form one, do it!

And once you’ve formed that group, please tell them about Podcast Pontifications. It’ll give you at least four different things to talk about each week, right?

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

Since you got this far (and going against what I just said), 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 280th 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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