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Podcasting’s Big Hits and Long Tail

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(By Larry Rosin) When people in podcasting talk about monetization, inevitably someone will throw out the term “long tail” – referring to the hundreds of thousands of active podcasts with relatively small audiences. While a concept in mathematics for many decades, the notion of “Long Tail Distributions” achieved mass attention with Chris Anderson’s book on the topic in 2006.

We all know podcast listening has a long-tail distribution, with the big hits leading the way. But now with Edison Podcast Metrics data, we can take a look at the relationship between the hits up top and how they compare in size to the smaller shows out in the tail.

Let’s start by examining the head of the curve – the top 100 biggest shows in podcasting. Even here, just looking at the 100 biggest shows, there is a very large gap in size between the top show (yes, The Joe Rogan Experience) and the 100th biggest show (currently the “Phil in the Blanks” podcast from Dr. Phil). But this is the picture of only the head of the distribution. So let’s widen the lens – here are the top 1000 podcasts, with the above data noted: Basically, any orange on this graph represents podcast listening. And while there is plenty of listening represented all along this view, more than half of all the listening happening in the top thousand podcasts is happening in the top 100.

Finally, here is our lens on the top 7500 podcasts. As you can see, entering the land past the top 1000 gets one far into the long tail – with small audiences. That doesn’t mean they aren’t avid audiences, and it certainly doesn’t mean they are not monetizable audiences. Just that they are small by comparison to what counts as ‘hits’ in podcasting. While I’m just me, I have looked through podcasts 1001-1200 and I didn’t recognize a single name as a podcast (although I did recognize some celebrities’ names, just not their podcasts).

And of course the top 7500 podcasts only scratches the surface of the podcasting universe. There are hundreds of thousands of active podcasts and millions of titles in podcasting history. A graph looking at the total distribution would, for better or worse, portray a tiny orange blotch in the left edge of a distribution followed by a nearly invisible orange line trailing towards infinity.

So for the advertiser’s purposes, one gets a sense for just how big the ‘hits’ of podcasting are relative to those shows along the tail.  How much reach can advertisers obtain by buying different combinations of shows? This will be the topic of next week’s insights email.

Larry Rosin is the President at Edison Research and can be reached by e-mail at


Harry Alexander -

If a podcaster wants advertising on their show, they should seek those advertisers that mirror their listeners. While it could be argued that any product will mirror a podcast listener’s “wants”, I would be nuts to seek out advertising from a national brand simply because I don’t have “sufficient” downloads or “live” listeners, based on the metrics created by someone in some far away place and not connected with reality. My podcast is supported by advertisers–most of whom were with us when the show was on commercial radio. My additional sponsors are those in my program’s particular niche. And, we’re all happy with our results. I don’t (nor want to) make millions of dollars with my program. Don’t care about making thousands of dollars, either. We do this for the love of our topic. My advertising pays to “keep the lights on with a little bit extra” and that’s the way I like it.

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