Have you ever looked up a podcast about a certain topic, only to find out the show hasn’t produced a new episode in years? Is it only available in a certain directory, or for a fee? Recently, we asked podcasters about a few controversial industry topics, to know what they care about most. Some people feel that “exclusive” or “dead” podcasts are harmful to podcasting because only fresh and widely accessible content makes for a healthy podcast ecosystem. Let’s unpack what podcasters told us.
What Do We Mean By “Dead” Podcasts?
At the end of 2021, Colin reported that Apple hosted 2,395,995 podcasts and that 548,447 of those podcasts release new episodes on a regular basis. So, about 22.8% of the podcasts on Apple are active, and roughly 77.2% of the podcasts are inactive.
That’s just Apple, though. Some hosting services have a distinctive track record with inactive podcasts. In June of 2021, Podnews reported that 43% of Anchor’s podcasts have only one episode. At the time, only 19% of Anchor’s podcasts had been updated in the last three months. Anchor has a reputation as a free platform that’s a good place to get started making a podcast. It’s more of a jumping-off point, though: Podnews also reports that many people move from Anchor to another hosting service. Spreaker has similar statistics: 49% of the podcasts they host have only one episode, and only 10% were updated in the past three months.
Search engines prioritize fresh content and are less likely to display podcasts without new episodes. Some people say “inactive,” others call it a “dead” podcast.
Paid podcast hosts try to use these kinds of statistics to get people to change to using a paid service. Does it have anything to do with podcasting on the whole? I’d use these statistics to give podcasters confidence. It might seem like there’s a lot of competition in the podcasting space. But, if you were playing poker with three other people, and the other three folded their hands while you continued playing, you’d win.
Do Dead Podcasts Matter?
Just because a podcast isn’t releasing new episodes, doesn’t make the content irrelevant or uninteresting.
When asked whether they agreed or disagreed that “Anchor is having a negative effect on podcasting with the number of dead shows on its platform,”
- 32.2% of respondents agreed
- 19.8% disagreed
- A whopping 48% had no opinion either way.
In our discovery survey, we learned that people who use their podcast app to find new shows tend to actively search for topics or keywords (58.1%), rather than browsing through categories (41.9%). If they’re actively searching for your podcast niche, and your podcast description and cover art is clear, these far outweigh how recently the episodes are published.
Let’s say your podcast is about baking techniques. If the script for your episode focuses on the problem you want to solve and the skill you want to build, does it matter if your audience learns how to fold the perfect croissant today, last year, or next year? if there’s a massive croissant shortage next year, you’ll be glad you made that episode today.
This goes double for audio fiction. Sure, your kids might want to hear the latest Disney soundtrack in the car. But, you can also introduce them to a whole world of immersive stories. Archive 81 might be the hot new show on Netflix, but you can have your own personal experience with the original podcast while reducing your eye strain. Audiences are smarter than media companies give them credit for being.
Are Exclusive Podcasts Harmful to Podcasting?
Like I said earlier, podcast content (topics, descriptions, cover art, and so on) motivates audiences more than chart placement. The majority of podcast audiences search out the content they want or rely on word-of-mouth recommendations. If people want to listen to a certain kind of content, they’ll find a way to do it. We asked how people felt about exclusive content and how it reflected on podcasting on the whole.
Opinions were nearly evenly split three ways. Just over a third agreed, just under a third disagreed, and the remaining third didn’t care one way or the other.
The LA Times reported in 2021 that people who subscribe to a particular television streaming service to watch a certain show are more likely than not to cancel as soon as they’ve finished the show they wanted to watch. With exclusive podcasts, audiences can sign up for the platform, enjoy the content as long as they need to, and then cancel when they no longer benefit. And, while streaming TV platforms rush to create new content in order to reduce subscriber churn, the pandemic increased demand for “comfort viewing,” or the phenomenon of watching familiar TV shows or movies in order to feel safe.
Putting content behind a paywall doesn’t convince that audience to only consume your platform’s content. They’re guaranteed to like other things too.
What About An Open, Free Internet?
Some people feel that “exclusive” podcasts with celebrities pull audiences away from the rest of the podcasts available on the Internet. Some feel that “dead” podcasts make podcasting, in general, seem to be a barren wasteland where all the resources have gone to support the celebrity shows. It’s possible that people who are new to listening to podcasts might sign up for one platform because an Obama or a Windsor is attached to it. But, they can also move on when they find something more interesting to consume, or when the podcast doesn’t deliver what they want. They can also come back.
So, Are “Exclusive” or “Dead” Shows Harmful to Podcasting?
Platforms that rely on exclusive podcasts worry about the freshness of their content, to retain customers. However, audiences like what they like, for myriad reasons. People don’t listen to a podcast because it’s new or exclusive. They pay attention to it if it’s good. The LA Times said, “Executives recognize the fickle nature of the audience,” but it’s more realistic to call audiences discerning.
Do audiences care about freshness or rarity? No. They just want your content to be good. And, you can make good content. To paraphrase Neil Gaiman: Make good podcasts.