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Podcasting: How to Decide If It's Worth Doing

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.


In a comment on my recent post discussing the challenges of podcast marketing and marketing with podcasts, a loyal follower asked at what point—minimum number of downloads, listens, etc.—do you decide that this podcast thing isn’t worth your time? Great question, and one that a lot of us podcast hosts are asking ourselves, though it’s difficult to answer.

However, here are some thoughts on metrics, evaluation, and ROI (return on investment) issues for podcasting.

Is Your Podcast on the Cutting Edge or Bleeding Edge?

Like blogging and social media, podcasting as we know it now has only been around since the mid-2000s or so. Compared to television, radio, and other mass media, this is a young media format. So in some ways, it’s still cutting edge.

But as with all cutting edge technologies and innovations, there’s a point where it isn’t yet evolved and adopted enough to make it productive or profitable. This is often called the bleeding edge since those who invest in it may be pouring in cash and resources while experiencing red ink losses on their financials.

So until it becomes a more mature medium, how should you decide whether it’s worth it to continue or even start a podcast?

Podcast Downloads Versus Listens

Usually, your podcast hosting provider will offer you statistics on the number of downloads of your show. Does that mean those who have downloaded your show have listened? Not necessarily. Lots of people may download your show’s episodes and never actually listen.

At this point, the number of listens can be a “black box” type number that you may just never know, although some hosting providers and distribution channels may offer listening stats for each episode. The only solid metric that you may have available to you is the number of downloads. It’s better than nothing but may not provide insight into listener behavior.

Another problem is that Apple iTunes Podcast Analytics really just came online in beta version in December 2017... 2017! One of the reasons we even call these broadcasts podcasts is because of Apple’s iPod and iTunes, and they’re just coming out with an analytics function for podcast hosts now? And if your podcast doesn’t meet some minimum level of downloads, etc., the Analytics program will not even display your stats. (This analysis feature is still in beta mode as of the original post date.)

Podcast Downloads Versus Subscribers

Further complicating the true metrics of your podcast, those who download a particular episode of your show are not technically subscribers. If you promote your show on a variety of media such as email marketing, social media, blog, etc., you may get people who download the episode (or listen to it on your site) but don’t subscribe to the show.

Subscribers are those who have voluntarily subscribed to receive notices on new episodes of your podcast via a podcast distribution platform such as the Podcasts app in Apple iTunes, Stitcher app, etc. Some apps of this type may also have an option to automatically download new episodes to the listeners’ devices. If there is an auto-download feature, that can help build download numbers, even if it doesn’t truly measure the number of listens. This is another aspect over which you have no control.

What's a Good Number of Downloads for Podcasts?

More popular podcasts may tout numbers for the show, usually the number of downloads. “We have 1 million downloads.” So what’s a good number of downloads?

For new or very niche podcasts, it could be as low as 10 or so downloads per episode right after it posts, with possibly more over time. For the bigger, more established shows, downloads in the hundreds of thousands per episode is not uncommon.

As with blogs, you have to look at a few things when evaluating download and/or listen stats.

Compared to others in your niche, where does your podcast stand?

Remember that it can take years to build a sizable audience. So don’t give it up because you’re comparing yourself to another show that’s been around for a long time. Make sure you’re comparing your show to others that are similar in size, scope, frequency, longevity, topic, and host celebrity status. For example, those who podcast daily may achieve higher numbers of downloads than those who broadcast just once a week. Apples to apples.

Are you comfortable with the number of downloads or listens you’re achieving?

Some podcasters may be disappointed if their shows don’t get tens of thousands of downloads of every episode. Others will be overjoyed with getting a dozen. If you’re one of those people who’s easily depressed or impressed by vanity numbers (e.g., number of followers on social media), then you’re probably in for a heap of disappointment, especially in the early going.

Distributing Your Podcast on Multiple Distribution Channels

In order to improve the possibility that people will download, listen, and subscribe to a podcast, show hosts usually distribute their podcasts through multiple channels. For example, it may be available on the podcast hosting provider’s site, plus Apple iTunes, Stitcher, AnyPod, etc. Your podcast host should be able to aggregate statistics from these multiple distribution channels since they are feeding up your podcast to them.

But getting your podcast on these additional channels often doesn't happen automatically. For some, you may have to set up your feed with them.

Do You Even Like Podcasting?

I’ve done a lot of public speaking and teaching in my career, both online and offline. So the leap to podcasting wasn’t that big a deal. But for the more introverted, doing a podcast could be so emotionally overwhelming that they become paralyzed by it.

So your decision to leap into podcasting should be based on whether you think you feel capable enough to learn and practice the necessary skills. You also need to evaluate your own personal comfort level with publishing your voice on the Internet. If neither of those prospects is appealing, you’ll want to think twice about jumping into podcasting.

How Much Does a Podcast Cost?

For someone like me who can quickly and easily put together a text-based blog post, podcasting is a bigger effort in terms of time and effort by comparison. So my decision to redouble my pursuit of it did not come easily and only came after review of growing market trends in voice technologies and audio content. That being said, I am keeping my investments in podcasting and other audio content in check while still continuing text-based content development (print books, eBooks, and blog).

In my observation, the hard dollar costs for hosting a podcast is relatively low. It can be anywhere from a couple of dollars to maybe $20 a month for hosting for smaller podcasts. Financial outlays can escalate as the show becomes more popular and requires more bandwidth to store and deliver broadcasts. However, the more significant cost is the effort required for marketing the show, especially on social media, since podcasts are not that search engine friendly and discoverable when compared to blogs and other text-based media.

In evaluating whether podcasting makes sense for you, you have to look at in comparison to other efforts that could be more productive and profitable in the short term. You don’t want to end up in a loss from a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” situation where other revenue streams and resources suffer due to higher investments in more speculative pursuits. And if you’re risk and loss averse, then you really want to scrutinize this opportunity. It could be many months, even years, before it starts producing results in terms of podcasting sponsorship revenues or even sales of your regular products and services.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 30, 2018:

Natalie, I'm glad to see you have the self awareness to make a decision to put this on the back burner! I agree, podcasting takes quite a bit to learn. When it's right for your business, it will come together. And I think the tools and programs will continue to improve and get easier over time, too.

Thanks so much for chiming in and have a wonderful day!

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on August 29, 2018:

I was thinking of doing a podcast for a while and even went to a workshop. It just all seemed so complicated with everything involved though it seemed so easy for the person teaching it. I was just lost. I'm not certain I've given up on it entirely but for now I am focused more on growing my writing income. Thanks for writing this. It feels like I have permission to not go that route (:

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 27, 2018:

Peggy, lots of podcasts come and go once the hosts realize how much work it takes! Heck, I suspended mine for like a year or two until I figured out what I wanted to do with it.

Glad you've realized for yourself that blogging is a better fit for you at this time. I wish more people were that self aware.

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 27, 2018:

Liz, glad you're finding these posts helpful! As I've been on this podcasting journey, I've had a lot of questions myself. So I figured I'd share the answers.

Have a terrific week ahead!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 25, 2018:

This was interesting to read. I know one friend who started a podcast but it did not last long. From what you wrote it would take time to develop a good audience for a podcast. I will stick with my blog for now.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 24, 2018:

I really appreciate you opening up the subject of podcasts for me in a clear and understandable way.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2018:

Flourish, you are my HP post muse! I definitely could come up with top mistakes podcasters make. Putting it in the "to be written" pile.

Thank you so much for your support! Means a lot. Have a wonderful weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 24, 2018:

So glad you featured this question, and you so expertly answered it! I could imagine that some of the authors who get a lot of questions from HP readers (even if they don’t have a mailbag) might be able to pull this off. Do you have list of top 5 or 10 mistakes that podcasters (especially new ones) make?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2018:

Linda, a lot of people (including me) have never really considered podcasting until now as audio content is starting to make a bigger impact. Glad you found it interesting. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2018:

Mary, indeed, getting one of those stars like Gladwell or Godin on a podcast will certainly draw in the listeners. But like any guest appearance, it's short lived and you have to keep getting those A-list folks to keep listeners. For me, I'd rather stick with a more consistent stream of regular broadcasts of my own content and not rely on the stars.

I go back and forth about YouTube. Vimeo doesn't do anything for me and I only have an account there because I was forced to get one to be listed with a speakers bureau some years back. (I don't know why they weren't using YouTube.)

Anyway, back to YouTube...

When weighing between doing a podcast or doing a YouTube video, I do think for right now, YouTube wins. This is due to their Internet dominance, integration with Google, and search-friendly platform.

However, since audio, non-visual content and the devices for it are growing at an astounding rate, I'm building my podcast efforts for when those become even more dominant than they are.

You may have just inspired another blog post. Thanks for your always thoughtful comments! Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2018:

Hi Donna! Thanks for your kind words and for sharing. Means a lot. Have a terrific weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2018:

Bill, that's always the big question. But as I've mentioned before, your Mailbag format is a prime candidate for podcasting efforts. Something to add to your list for non-farmers market season? :)

Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific weekend!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 23, 2018:

Your advice sounds excellent. I've never seriously considered podcasting, but it's interesting to read about it. You always offer food for thought in your articles. Thanks, Heidi.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 23, 2018:

Heide, I like podcasts but it looks like you need to a Malcolm Gladwell or a Seth Godin to get people to follow and open what you post. Will a better alternative be just to post in youtube or vimeo?

Donna Herron from USA on August 23, 2018:

Thanks, Heidi, for another timely and informative hub. This is a great list of things to consider if someone is thinking of starting podcasting or looking to evaluate how successful their podcast is. Pinning to share with others!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 23, 2018:

Great information! I have no idea if it would be worth it or not, but I do know I want to do one, or several....time will tell.

Have a fabulous Thursday, my friend.