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Stats and Facts About Podcasting That Most Guests and Hosts Don’t Know
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In this post, Alex Sanfilippo and Tom Rossi talk through the current state of the podcasting industry. Get ready to learn some encouraging stats and facts about the podcasting industry that most podcast hosts (and guests) aren’t aware of. Get ready to learn more about where podcasting is heading and why it’s the best time ever to be involved in the space!
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Alex: Tom, thank you so much for joining us today on PodPros and Podcasting Made Simple.
Tom: Thank you, Alex. I am very happy to be here.
Alex: I have to mention that you have been a great mentor in my life, especially since I got into podcasting software. I appreciate you being here for this conversation. We will be talking about the state of podcasting in the past, present, and future. To kick off: How did you get started with podcasting? When did you first start listening to shows?
Tom: My history with podcasting started with listening to church sermons. At that time we still had tapes or CDs and it was very difficult to put the content online. So we developed a software product to simplify that process for a number of churches. Then podcasting started to grow, which eventually led to Buzzsprout.
Our goal from the beginning was to create something simple for people who did not know anything about audio engineering, coding, or creating RSS feeds. Today there is so much good content out there. Now I find myself listening to more and more authors. That’s my shortcut because I can usually listen to a few episodes and glean a lot of the content from the book. I also listen to a lot of podcasts on leadership and personal growth, which motivate me.
Alex: I think it’s great that you have stayed true to that vision from day one. Even today, when people ask me why I pay to use Buzzsprout, I answer because it’s so simple and straight to the point. It is exactly what I want as a podcaster. Thank you for having such a great product. It really does serve a lot of people.
Tom: Thank you so much. It’s great to see so many people come into podcasting. It’s not like it used to be when podcasting was a very technical thing. They just have a message that they want to get out to the world and they are passionate about that. Making the process simple for them, that’s a really fulfilling purpose for a product.
Alex: That leads me to what you have going on today. Since Buzzsprout is one of the biggest podcast-hosting providers, I’d love to know what you think about where podcasting is today.
Where do you see podcasting right now, both for hosts and guests? And also from a listener perspective, are podcasts becoming more popular, less popular, or staying the same over the years?
Those of us who have been around podcasting for a while remember saying to people, “You should listen to this podcast.” They would then reply, “A what?” Then you had to explain to them what a podcast was and how to access it. But that’s changed a lot. I was looking at some of the statistics from Infinite Dial. This is a project by Edison Research that looks at audio content (which includes podcasting)
One of the stats they released in their recent study showed that 79% of respondents were familiar with podcasting. That’s a lot more people than we had during the early days. Look at things like Serial, which I thought was the start of an explosion of people getting into podcasting. Then there are Saturday Night Live sketches that make fun of podcasting or Only Murders in the Building, with Steve Martin and Martin Short, which appeals to a completely different age group. Even my mom is talking to me about podcasts. More and more people are becoming aware of podcasts.
Tom: When you talk to podcasters, you are often asked, “How can I grow my listenership?” It’s about figuring out where your listeners are and making sure you are there. The main platforms people use to listen to podcasts are Apple and Spotify. They usually switch back and forth between those two platforms. On the Buzzsprout platform, we look at our data and sort of roll it up to figure out which app is the most popular that month. But that does not necessarily mean that’s going to be the case for every podcast.
For example, if your audience is younger, it’s more likely that most of them are using Spotify. Usually, the nature of the content and audience lend themselves more suited to one platform or the other. The exciting thing is that there is not just one player that rules them all. If you think about consuming video content, there’s only one way – YouTube and, more recently, TikTok. Podcasting is a different story. We have countless apps that allow you to consume podcast content. Podcasting 2.0 is doing a great job of finding new ways to extend the capabilities of RSS feeds so we will have even more innovative and creative players. I encourage podcasters to talk to their audience and ask them: Where are they listening? What are the things that drive them?
Alex: That’s very smart. I want to drill down on the other side of that question. Where do people actually listen to podcasts? Are they sitting in the car, at the gym or at home? Are they sitting in front of a computer? Is that kind of data available? As a guest and host of a podcast, I want to create content that’s a good fit for the person who’s consuming it. If they are at the gym, I do not want to say, “Now write this down.” If they are driving, you do not want to say, “Now quickly write this down.” Do you have any thoughts on that?
Tom: For Buzzsprout, we have the podcast stats for the shows in our ecosystem. Remember, that does not necessarily translate to every podcast. That is, 88% of our downloads are through some kind of mobile device. Only 6% on a computer, 1% on a smart speaker, and less than 1% on smart TVs. But in terms of devices, 68% are on Apple devices and 18% are on Android phones.
Keep in mind that these numbers are heavily skewed because we have a lot of American podcasts. In other regions, like South America or Central America, you’ll find more Android users. Depending on how many listeners you have, the distribution may look different.
Alex: Shifting gear to how long a single episode of a podcast is. Now on podcast players like Apple and I think Spotify, you can see the consumption rate. On your end, what are your thoughts in terms of how long a single episode should last?
Tom: I do not know if there’s an expert opinion on the optimal length. The question is, how long can an episode be without getting boring? There are some podcasts I listen to that are an hour and a half long, and others that are only 15 to 20 minutes long. If the latter podcast was an hour and a half long, it probably wouldn’t make it. We hear this question a lot.
We share the basic data on the Buzzsprout global stats page, which shows that more than half of the episodes are less than 40 minutes. I think that’s probably a good thing, especially if you are starting out. With a shorter duration, you have a better chance of not being boring.
Alex: That’s great advice. Initially, I had longer episodes (about 50 minutes) and ended up going shorter ones (25-30 minutes) because I found out I was too boring! Through a survey I found out that most of my listeners listen to the episodes during their commutes, most of them under 30 minutes. Now I occasionally look at my stats and find that listeners on average finish 90% of my episodes, up from 60% when my episodes were longer.
I am not a guy who obsesses over all the data, but I think it’s important to make sure you are on track. It’s also important to have that information in case your podcast guest asks some of those questions. That being said, it does not really matter how many total downloads a podcast has or how many people listen to it. What’s more important is how well you know the person listening. If a host is really in tune with that, you can work some magic together. At least that’s my take on it.
Tom: It’s funny, I was just at a podcast meetup last night. I love asking this question: How do you define the success of your podcast? What keeps you going?” You have to define the why in a way that you can articulate. If the only measure of success is the number of downloads, then that may not be fulfilling enough to keep you going.
Podcasting is hard and you will not be successful overnight. Anything that’s worthwhile takes work. So I think it’s important to articulate your why and then look at the numbers or compare and remember what your why is. Numbers should not be the be-all and end-all. If I can make a difference in one person’s life, then my whole podcast was worth it.
Tom: Let me say this. The reason we give those numbers is that I think they are pretty encouraging. We do not show the average number of downloads, we show how many downloads an episode gets in the first seven days.
At the time of publishing this post, if you publish an episode in the first seven days and get more than 29 downloads, you are in the top 50% of all our podcasts in Buzzsprout. That should encourage you because that’s a number you can reach. If you get more than 373, you are in the top 10%!
Alex: I am glad you mentioned that. And it’s interesting because you mentioned that you are in the top 50% with 29 downloads. I always like to emphasize the value of a podcast listener over social media. Someone liking or commenting on something on TikTok is not as valuable as a podcast listener who listens to you for probably 15 to 45 minutes. And I always want people to get the right perspective. That’s the same as someone sitting in a chair listening to you. If I told you I had a room with 29 people behind me who wanted to hear you speak, that would be interesting to you. That’s a room full of people who want to listen to you, and that gives you some kind of influence.
Tom: I think that’s an important point that podcasters often overlook. It’s so much more valuable to have a podcast listener than a Facebook-like or YouTube view. We have created a lot of YouTube content and found that our YouTube engagement is not nearly as high as a podcast.
People listen to a 30-minute episode, but very few people watch 30-minute YouTube videos, and certainly not on TikTok and social media. Podcasting is much more valuable than a lot of the other things we compare it to.
Alex: Last season I had Jasmine Star on my podcast and she talked about it, both from a guest’s perspective and from a host’s perspective. She said that all of her best contacts come from podcasting. That means they have already overcome that trust barrier. Because they have heard them for so long, they feel like, “I already know, like and trust this person.” That’s something to keep in mind when you are a guest on a podcast.
A podcast with 29 listeners is not going to get you a lot of leads. But the few you might get are really good contacts who feel like they know you and are willing to work with you. Before we turn to the future of podcasting, I have a question about the present time of podcasting. I always like to ask industry professionals like yourself, “Why do you think so many people start a podcast and stop almost as quickly?”
Tom: I think it has to do with a few things. A lot of people were just experimenting to see if they wanted to get into it or not. Then they just decided they did not want to do it anymore. Especially on COVID, we have seen a massive increase in the number of podcasts being created on Buzzsprout. The question of how many active podcasts there are is always a tough one. How do you define that?
How long have they been podcasting? When was the last time they published an episode? That being said, there are probably about 400,000 active podcasts. That’s not a huge number and should encourage people who are thinking about getting into podcasting because there are still plenty of opportunities to reach listeners.
Alex: The exciting thing for me is that the rate of listenership is growing faster than the number of new shows starting and staying. This space continues to become more and more popular. We even have TV shows on podcasting. That encourages more people to find us and listen to us.
Tom: There’s another element to this. The more people get involved with podcasting, the more podcasts they listen to. I listen to a lot more podcasts today. As a matter of fact, I structure my days around listening to certain podcasts. I think it’s a great opportunity to get out there and podcast.
Alex: It really is. Let’s now get into the future of podcasting. I really only have one question for you. Where do you and Buzzsprout see the future of this industry? What does the future of podcasting look like?
Tom: What excited us in the beginning still motivates us today: we want to help podcasters. We want to get the technology out of their way so they can do their podcast. That’s why we have a YouTube channel where we try to encourage them. We want more and more people to start podcasting. The industry is at an interesting stage where podcasting is starting to garner the attention of people who want to own it or control it. We will always be a voice for independent podcasting. Those are our origins.
We do not want to put obstacles in people’s way or make things exclusive.
I think that’s going to be a big challenge in the next few years as the big boys (Apple, Spotify and the like) battle it out to be the go-to place for listening to podcasts. We are going to do everything we can to keep the competition going and keep it open so that anyone who wants to start a podcast can start a podcast.
I think that’s going to be really interesting. I wish I could look five years into the future to see what podcasting will look like, though. But one thing I do know is that we are going to see more people get on and have more listeners. We are also going to find new ways to do podcasting There’s plenty of opportunity for innovation.
If we look back to the old days of the Internet, before YouTube owned the videos, it was crazy out there, like the Wild West. Now things are reasonably settled, but they are not settled yet in podcasting. So it’s an exciting time for the industry
Alex: I like that and I agree with you. Indie podcasters on the guest and host side – are the ones we want to support. We are fighting to make sure that not just anyone ends up dominating podcasting. I also think it’s going to be a really interesting fight. That said, I think indie podcasters and the way we offer them openly and for free will continue to work. I look forward to working with you on that. Thanks so much, Tom, for coming to the show.
About Tom Rossi
Tom Rossi is the co-founder and lead developer of Buzzsprout, podcast hosting made easy. Buzzsprout supports over 100k podcasters on their journey to share their content with the world!
- Visit Tom Rossi’s Website, Buzzsprout (This is the podcast hosting provider that we use!)
- Tom Rossi on Social Media: Twitter| LinkedIn