Facing Podcasting’s Round Peg Square Hole Problem

Photo by Tomáš Petz on Unsplash

Podcasters tend to take a monolithic view of podcast listening apps, as evident by “wherever you get your podcasts.” But human behavior is more complicated than that, and it’s up to us to adapt.

Most podcasters, at least those of us who wish our shows to grow, want three things. And in this order, if you please:

  1. We want people to subscribe to our show so that
  2. they can download our episodes so that they can
  3. listen to what we have to say.

Broadly speaking, we’re not picky and we really don’t care what listening app someone uses to subscribe to our show. We know there are myriad apps used by podcast listeners. So long as we get them to hit that subscribe button (or, fine, follow button) we’re good with whatever they choose.

Where And How People Listen May Surprise You

You, the podcaster, may have a favorite podcast listening app. Regular humans, as it turns out, are a bit less devoted and use several different podcast listening apps to consume podcasts. Don’t believe me? Edison Research has been tracking the behavior of podcast consumers for a couple of years now, and a recent spotlight by Tom Webster demonstrates this difference in perception of reality, summed up nicely in this single data table:

Yes, those numbers add up to 115%. No, that’s not bad math. That’s reflective of the fact that people use different apps to listen to podcasts.

Astute podcasters, or perhaps just those who obsess over the analytics sections of their podcast hosting companies, will have some questions. Like why are those numbers so similar to one another. And what the hell is YouTube doing in there? And why is it on top?

Again, I assure you this is not a math problem. Though come to think of it, there is a math problem. It’s just not the one you’re thinking it is.

Download Is A Useless Metric To Most Podcasters, Take 17

When we dig into the three platforms/services most frequently used by podcast listeners, as reported by podcast listeners, we find three vastly different methods of counting.

Apple Podcasts, the only dedicated podcast listening app in our data set, automatically downloads episodes for followers, both at the time the follow is initiated and each time a new episode is published. The app requests the file from the media hosting company each and every time this happens, and the hosting company dutifully logs and reports that activity. For every Apple Podcasts follower. Regardless of whether or not the human who owns the device ever bothers to listen to the episodes. For reference, I use Apple Podcasts to listen to most of my fiction podcasts.

But Apple Podcasts isn’t alone in this helpful (?) behavior. Overcast, an iOS-only app preferred by many heavy podcast listeners for its advanced features and customizability will also continue to happily download episodes of a podcast you stopped listened to months ago. For reference, I’m also an Overcast user, currently for my “daily” listens and a shared playlist for when my wife and I are driving together.

Spotify doesn’t “download” episodes on its own. Instead, when a Spotify listener plays an episode, it streams the file (actually called a progressive download to satisfy the pedants) from Spotify’s own servers, not the media host of the podcast. Yes, there’s a “data passback” procedure in place between Spotify and most podcast hosting providers to get Spotify’s intent-based activity into the hosting provider’s analytics package, incorrectly listed as a “download” when it clearly is not. For reference, I use Spotify mostly to sample new podcasts.

YouTube will never show up on your podcast’s media-host-provided analytics page at all, because YouTube doesn’t serve audio files. Of the 43% of podcast listeners who say they use YouTube to listen to podcasts, 100% of them are actually watching a video file that was loaded to YouTube’s servers. For reference, I rarely listen to/watch podcast episodes on YouTube. But I have.

So I repeat: Math is a problem, but math is not the big problem here. The big problem is that podcasters see all three of those platforms as distinctly different, yet we try our damnedest to treat them all the same.

Why Don’t Podcasters Make Platform-Appropriate Content?

YouTube always shows up as a popular podcast listening app, and podcasters always poo-poo the data for many true reasons that mean nothing to the millions of people who do, in fact, consume podcasts on YouTube.

While I certainly do not profess to have cracked YouTube’s secrets, it’s no secret at all what works well on YouTube. Just watch your social feeds for an hour and you’ll see that it’s shorter-form clips and highlights that tend to get shared. Yes, long-form content also can live on YouTube. So yes, you can put your full-length episodes up on YouTube and treat YouTube like every other distribution channel. But that’s not all you can do on YouTube, podcaster.

Spotify is a music-focused app. Though they’re making tons of changes to be more than just music, they’re heavily influenced by music. Yes, we can (and do) submit our shows to Spotify so our episodes are distributed there. But what else can we do? Maybe podcasters should experiment with what’s worked in music before. Alternate cuts of episodes? Radio edits, for either brevity or bleeped out swear words? How about live versions of episodes record “on location” somewhere? Why not re-releases of collections of episodes, or even re-mastered tracks?

Every year we hear from consumers that they listen to our shows in ways we have trouble wrapping our heads around. And every year, we close our eyes to the reality staring us in the face and resume our efforts of trying to distribute our episodes everywhere with as little effort as possible.

The data don’t lie. Meeting our audience where they listen (or watch) with the kinds of content they want to listen to (or watch) seems the most rational course of action.

What would you change about your podcast publishing if you considered your Apple Podcasts audience different from your Spotify audience, which is distinctly different from your YouTube audience?

Because they are all three distinctly different audiences. Perhaps it’s time to treat them as such.

Season Break Coming Up!

Season 3 of Podcast Pontifications wraps this coming Thursday. Season 4 will start up again in mid-July 2021. Later this week, I’ll send out a special communique just to those of you who get PPIYI-that’s Podcast Pontifications In Your Inbox-missives. If you’re reading this in your inbox, that’s you!

But if you’re reading this on the website, you’ll want to subscribe to PPIYI to get not just that note, but also some special content while I’m taking a break from the mic and video camera.

It’s totally free. Just head to PodcastPontifications.com and click the big “SUBSCRIBE” button on the top of the page. Then enter in your email, sit back, and relax. It’s easy!

And if my musings from this episode struck a chord, please consider going to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and doing just that.

I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.


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, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.



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Evo Terra

Evo Terra


Professional contrarian. On a mission to make fiction podcasting better. he/him. คุณ | https://theend.fyi | https://home.social/@evoterra