Tuesday, June 26, 2018


By almost any metric the number of people listening to podcasts continues to grow. The chart on the left from the most recent Edison Research Share of Ear study [link], shows the dramatic growth in daily podcast listening since 2014. Daily podcast listening is becoming particularly strong with folks in the ages 25-54 “money demo.”

[Scroll down to see the latest Podtrac publisher rankings.]

Podcasts continue to be perceived as hip and fashionable, though these anecdotes are hard to quantify. Our company recently produced a series of podcasts for a research center at the University of Minnesota. Telling friends and family "we produce podcasts" increased our “coolness factor” by several percentage points.

In this haze of glory, media observers keep asking where the podcast train is going.  Is podcasting a new ubiquitous mass media platform?  Will podcasts someday achieve the audience reach of traditional media such as television and radio?

We explored these questions recently [link] when we discussed Mark Ramsey’s assertion that (quoting Ramsey): “The path to larger audiences is a path to more regular folks.” 

Ramsey believes that podcasts will have wider appeal if they cover more trendy topics such as tweets by Roseanne Barr. We disagreed and cautioned that dumbing down podcast content to reach the average Joe and Jenny ignores the reasons why podcasts are so popular now – they are a deeper dive for people want to know more about something.


It is true that more people are subscribing, downloading and presumably listening to more podcasts now than every before. Yet, listening to podcasts is done only by a small subset of the general population. The most recent stats show that 20% to 25% of the general population listens to a podcast on a regular basis. Radio reaches around 90% of the population each week.

Also there are “podcast avoiders.” Jacobs Media surveyed over 60,000 radio listeners earlier in 2018 and asked two “avoider” questions in Techsurvey 2018.

The first question looked the percentage of the Techsurvey sample that said they never listen to podcasts (see chart on the left).

According to the Jacobs study 45% of the respondents said they don’t listen, down 3% from the prior year. 

Podcast avoiders are evenly split between men and women. 

The age of the respondent makes the biggest difference. Boomers and folks in the older Silent Generation are the most likely to avoid listening to podcasts.

In the second question, Jacobs asked why people don’t listen to podcasts. The most frequent response (64%) from the respondent was I am not interested. It is hard to unpack “not interested.” But some of the avoidance may be due what Mark Ramsey said earlier in this post, they dislike current podcast content.

Most the reasons for not listening to podcasts were difficulties respondents said they had problems accessing podcasts or finding them in the first place. This seems to confirm notions by Steven Goldstein on his blog (called Blogstein) in a post titled It's Still Not So Easy To Listen To A Podcast [link].

Steven Goldstein

Goldstein said in his post:

“As podcasting grows, there is a false narrative that the ease and usability of listening to podcasts has been addressed and solved.

Indeed there have been improvements in various apps, and the advent of smart speakers is exciting, but many "average consumers" are still baffled with how to find and listen to podcasts.”

To make his point, Goldstein cited a YouTube video by the Godfather of Podcasting, Ira Glass, from a couple of years ago promoting the then-new podcast series Serial

What started out as a simple explanation turned out to a complicated mess that perhaps underscores the difficulty some period experience when trying tune-in a podcast for the first time.  You will get a chuckle out of Ira’s video:


Are you better off today than you were a year ago? If you work developing and marketing podcasts for The New York Times, PRX or American Public Media (APM), you probably will say “Yes.”

Each of these organizations saw major gains in their Unique Monthly Audience in May 2018 compared with May 2017. The Times increased its audience by 59%, powered by the popularity of The Daily.  APM also plays a role in The Daily’s success by providing a radio version of the podcast to its affiliated stations. This partnership has become a wise move by both organizations.

The decline in Unique Monthly Audience for the three podcasts published by This American Life shows an important factor in podcast's life cycle. There is an endless need for new stuff on the shelf. 

People quickly get bored and the shelf-life for podcasts is often short.

Like any product, the “new bell” is an important to way to attract audience. It has been a while since This American Life has rung the “new bell,” and their sagging numbers show it.

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