Podcasting: How to Decide If It's Worth Doing
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 are 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.
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© 2018 Heidi Thorne