600,000 Podcasts! Really?

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(By Ed Ryan) Wondering where to host your podcast? Daniel J. Lewis (pictured), the host of Audacity To Podcast, has put in a lot of work researching where podcasts are parked and why.

Lewis posted the research to his website, Tuesday, and what really caught our eye was how many podcasters still use Soundcloud as their hosting company. His research also shows that its likely that thousands of podcasts in the space now are probably junk, or no longer active.

First, what Lewis discovered was that as of today there are about 609,000 podcasts listed with Apple. And we all know, at least for now, the podcasting world revolves around Apple. We anxiously await the Google boom and we closely monitor the Spotify growth, but for now Apple is still where the rubber hits the road. Lewis says there’s a weekly fluctuation of 5,000–7,000 in that Apple total, based on new or removed podcasts.

Lewis also dug into the hosting companies to see where people were parking their content. Amazingly, SoundCloud came in first, followed by the relatively new company to the podcasting scene, Anchor. Both services are free, which may have something to do with the high numbers. Lewis concludes that, “free podcast-hosting companies may boast high numbers of podcasts, but they usually have very low active podcasts. This is probably because ‘free’ asks for very little strategy or commitment. Premium podcasting tools seem to show more committed, active users.”

And while Anchor and SoundCloud are the most popular media hosts, they also have the highest percentages of inactive podcasts. Lewis says “a shockingly high number of Anchor users have three or fewer episodes, indicating very new shows or very uncommitted podcasters.”

Lewis did offer up the following disclaimer about his research: “For data on podcast-hosting companies, I looked at only the podcasts’ RSS feed URLs. This is not 100% reliable and will, for most podcast-hosting companies, result in under-estimated numbers. This is because not every podcaster chooses to use the feed-publishing tools offered by their hosting company. For example, while Libsyn offers a powerful suite of offsite podcast publishing tools, many podcasters may use Libsyn only for hosting and stats but generate their RSS feed elsewhere (such as with PowerPress on WordPress). This also doesn’t account for feed-mirroring or feed-enhancement services, such as Podcast Mirror, FeedBurner, Podtrac, and such, because such services sometimes obscure the source feed URL. Thus, Blubrry will be noticeably absent from this list because Blubrry’s own domains show up rarely in feed URLs, but usually only in the individual episode enclosures.”

Here’s how Lewis says hosting companies ranked:
SoundCloud: 83.3K podcasts (13.7%)
Anchor: 72.6K podcasts (11.9%)
FeedBurner (not a podcast host): 49.8K podcasts (8.2%)
Libsyn/Libsyn Pro: 41.0K podcasts (6.7%)
podOmatic: 37.6K podcasts (6.2%)
Podbean: 28.5K podcasts (4.7%)
Spreaker: 15.2K podcasts (2.5%)
Buzzsprout: 8.4K podcasts (1.4%)
AudioBoom: 4.4K podcasts (0.07%)
SimpleCast: 3.3K podcasts (0.05%)
Omny Studio: 2.9K podcasts (0.05%)
Art19: 1.1K podcasts (0.016%)
Fireside, Podtrac, FeedPress, and Megaphone are all under 1K.
Probably PowerPress: 28.9K podcasts (4.7%)

We reached out to Lewis to ask him what and why he went digging.

PBJ: Why did you decide to break all of this information out?
Daniel J. Lewis: It started with mere curiosity, then I started to see some interesting patterns so I decided to dig further. Initially, I was running queries on my database manually, but then I wrote a script that would give me the information much more quickly.

PBJ: Of the 609K podcasts, how many would you say are active (publishing at least one episode in the last 90 days)?
Daniel J. Lewis: About 231.3K podcasts have published an episode on or after September 1, 2018. This data is now a few days old, so I anticipate it could probably be 2K–3K under.

PBJ: How can you not include Blubrry in some way?
Daniel J. Lewis: My data is currently show-level only, and Blubrry doesn’t show up until episode-level data for most of their customers. Although Blubbry does have their own publishing tool, they actually advise their customers to use a WordPress site instead of Blubrry’s publishing tool. Thus, Blubbry shows up in very, very few feed URLs. Later, I’ll pull in data from all 610K podcast feeds and do a deeper analysis. For this same reason, Libsyn is also undercounted, as I explained in my article. Libsyn, themselves, have said they host more than 50K podcasts, but I found only about 41K Libsyn URL feeds. So the remaining 10K+ are probably buried in episode-level data in feeds generated or enhanced by PowerPress or FeedBurner. I, for example, use a podcast mirror URL for my PowerPress-generated feed with media hosted on Libsyn.

PBJ: Are you surprised that so many people still host on Soundcloud?
Daniel J. Lewis: I was only a little surprised by Soundcloud’s popularity. Even though they’re an extremely limited podcast host (some people wouldn’t even consider them a podcast host because of basic features they’re missing), they have a limited free plan, which is probably what made them so popular, like other free hosts. And like the other free podcast hosting services (especially podOmatic and Anchor), SoundCloud has one of the highest percentages of inactive podcasts on a podcast host. But I was surprised that SoundCloud has a much wider spread of episodes-per-feed (even accounting for the common 10-, 50-, and 100-feed-item limit defaults).

PBJ: What is your conclusion from this research?
Daniel J. Lewis: I think this data shows that lower barriers to entry make it much easier for people to launch podcasts. But it’s also so easy that many people may be launching poorly or even unintentionally. And with very little investment, it’s also easy for people to quit before they even really get started. I now call this a “podflash”: a quick “flash in the pan” or like the seed sown on stone in Jesus’ “Parable of the Sower.” I don’t think the podcasting processes should be harder, only that the podcasting-tool makers should add more education and verifications along the way to help prepare podcasters for the commitment ahead, and to ensure they truly want their content out there.

Read Daniel’s entire research piece HERE.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A podcast I really enjoy is the “After the Fact: A podcast from The Pew Charitable Trusts”. Trying to manage a hectic lifestyle of being a full time graduate student and ICU nurse, I don’t always have time to stay up to date on everything that’s going on in the world. I like the PEW podcasts because they are very informative and short. They are easy to listen to on the go. Recently, I listed to the episode “The Fight Against Antibiotic Resistance”. This episode provided with insight into additional variables that impact antibiotic resistance including finance and pharma organizations. Now I have a greater global understanding of what in influencing this topic rather then just knowing the impact on my patients.

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