Podcast Subscriber Tracking Is Pointless

Photo by La-Rel Easter on Unsplash

Most podcasters want one thing: for people to listen to their content. So it makes sense that understanding a podcast’s total subscriber count would be a good thing. Only… it isn’t.

I know it sounds totally crazy, but you really don’t have to care about how many people are subscribed to your podcast.

Last week a new service launched (not important enough to name or link) that lets anybody see how many subscribers any podcast has.

There isn’t a privacy issue here. This service simply checks the handful of podcast listening apps that publicly report this data and aggregates all the info. When the buzz hit last week, many podcasters who checked their own show reported that the public subscriber counts didn’t match up with the private download data provided by their podcast hosting company, the service responsible for serving the media files.

So what’s going on here? Nothing of importance, other than a chance to remind you that subscriber counts are pointless.

Take this show, for example. The service in question reported my biggest audience of “subscribers” are on SoundCloud. As a working podcaster, you should be familiar with SoundCloud, an online music service that barely supports podcasting. (Sorry, SoundCloud, but it’s not like you haven’t tried to figure out podcasting for a long time and continued to pull up short.) Yes, I do publish my episodes on SoundCloud. My philosophy of podcast distribution is to put the show and it’s episodes everywhere and anywhere someone might want to listen. SoundCloud is one of those.

Yet when I look at my downloads from SoundCloud, the picture is quite different. I get only a handful of downloads from SoundCloud. And if an episode of the show isn’t downloaded (streamed, whatever), it can’t be listened to.

Subscriber count doesn’t matter. I’m personally subscribed to something like 178 shows in Apple Podcasts. Do I listen to every episode published by those shows? Of course not. Some (most) haven’t been touched in so long, Apple isn’t even checking the feed for new episodes anymore.

Subscriber count doesn’t matter. Poll the new wave of listeners coming into podcasting, and you’ll find many don’t even know how to or understand why they should subscribe. They’re sampling episodes or getting them catch-as-catch-can when the episodes come across their social feeds. They’re following episode lists provided by “tastemakers”. They don’t need to subscribe to keep their listening queues full.

But my biggest beef with counting podcast subscribers is that they don’t represent anything tangible.

Ask any email marketer out there about their open rate. Or do a search for the current average open rate for an email campaign and you’ll be shocked at how few people open emails they have specifically subscribed to. Then reflect on your own inbox. How many un-opened emails from various places do you have?

Take a look at the gigantic YouTube channels, some with tens of thousands of subscribers or more. With few exceptions, those channels don’t see tens of thousands or millions of views on their video. It’s often only a single-digit percentage of subscribers who actually watch any of the videos published by those channels.

Think of all the apps you have on your phone that send you push-notifications that new content is available. How often do you respond to that notification? How easily do you ignore that ever-incrementing number in the little red bubble?

Why would you think it’s any different for people who subscribe to a podcast?

Not that I’m suggesting having subscribers is a bad thing. Clearly it’s not, and clearly having more subscribers is better than having less. So yes, you should continue to ask people to subscribe to your show. I’m not suggesting you stop doing that.

I am suggesting that tracking subscriber count is something you should stop doing. And if you’ve done something silly, like continue to use FeedBurner or some other service that claims to provide an accurate subscriber count, stop that right now. You’re wasting your time and probably putting potential listeners through a whole lot of hoops they don’t need to go through just to listen to your show.

So yes, list your show everywhere. And yes, encourage people to subscribe. But stop trying to count the subscribers of your podcast. That number just doesn’t matter.

I’ll be back next Monday because the rest of this week I’ll be attending Podcast Movement Evolutions this week in Los Angeles. When I return, I’ll do another Podcast Pontifications.


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 261st 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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