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Are People Giving Up on Podcasting?

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If you’re feeling a little confused about the state of the podcasting industry right now, that’s understandable.

Podcasting made the headlines a lot in 2023. But it seems like every other day, a new story or study emerges that creates a contradictory picture of where the industry is at right now, and where it’s headed. 

One minute, we’re hearing about major acquisitions and giants like TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube moving into the podcasting space.

Then just last week, there were layoffs at Spotify, Google Podcasts disappeared from search results, and a report emerged suggesting that new podcast shows are down 80% compared to 2020. 

As a podcaster, news like this is, at best, confusing. At worst, it might even make you worry that the world is giving up on podcasting and that you’re investing in a dying medium. 

But this is not the case.

With stories like these, it’s always important to consider the context and the bigger picture too.

Is Spotify Giving Up on Podcasting?

You may have heard recently about Spotify dropping some of its exclusive podcast shows, laying off 6% of its staff and content executive Dawn Ostroff leaving the company.

But while cuts are never good news, these changes aren’t as concerning for the podcasting industry as they might seem. When you look closer at what’s actually going on at Spotify right now, you’ll see that these layoffs are all just part of a major re-strategy.

In the last couple of years, Spotify spent $1 billion on acquisitions, content and hiring in the podcasting space. They did this so they could produce more original content that would help them better understand how to sell ads in this space. And it looks like it worked: Spotify shared that podcast ad revenue has been growing “in the mid 30% range Y/Y” and podcasting is “improving profitability” for them.

So now, Spotify is pivoting to focus on advertising instead of exclusive shows, which is more lucrative. In fact, they’re counting on podcasting for revenue growth over the next few years, not music.

Spotify surging ad sales data chart by bloomberg
Source: Spotify data. Image credit: Bloomberg

Have New Podcasts Fallen Off a Cliff?

And then there’s the report that emerged from Listen Notes claiming that new podcast show numbers have fallen 80% since 2020. A shocking stat that, unsurprisingly, sent ripples through the podcasting community.

However, Podnews’s James Cridland was quick to publish an excellent deep-dive into the data that contextualised the numbers. His evidence shows that the headline paints a misleading picture about the state of the podcasting industry.

You can read the full analysis here, but the TL;DR is that Listen Notes only has access to a slice of published podcast data. They only count shows that are available in Apple Podcasts (so not Spotify exclusives, for example). Free podcast hosting provider Anchor also stopped auto-submitting shows unmoderated to Apple Podcasts in 2021, which meant they sent half a million fewer podcasts to Apple in 2022 compared to 2020. Many of these weren’t even proper podcasts, but “is this thing on?” style test recordings.

And while new shows are undeniably down in 2022 compared to 2020, comparing these two periods is a bit like comparing apples with oranges. 

During the pandemic, podcasting skyrocketed (for new listeners and creators), and many people who started podcasting for the first time during the pandemic gave up quickly after lockdown was over. Therefore, it’s inevitable that the data will show a huge drop in the figures. That’s just how numbers work.

And if you look at new episode numbers rather than new shows in the same report by Listen Notes, a different picture emerges. Episode numbers continue to grow steadily. 

how many new podcast episodes per year bar chart from Listen Notes
Source: Listen Notes

What Can Podcasters Take From This?

The main takeaway here is not to panic when you see negative headlines about the state of the podcasting industry. The podcasting landscape is vast, future proof and – as I learned this week – enshittification resistant.

So here are three things to keep in mind next time you read that inevitable story about podcasting going down the drain.

Data Is Often Deeper Than Headlines

In a world of tweets and micro-content, it can be easy to take a headline as the whole story, but it rarely is. As it turned out, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the data reported. Nuance, reason, and perspective are important – they just don’t perform as well on social media.

Pandemic-era data should also come with a massive asterisk beside it. Remember just how different literally everything was for that period of time? It doesn’t make sense to compare anything from 2020 to any other year – before or after.

Podcasting Is Not One Company or App

There are big players in the podcasting industry (Apple and Spotify, to name just two), but they don’t own or control the medium. If either or both disappeared tomorrow, podcasting would survive. This is the beauty of open RSS, and also the reason why some who’d like to monopolise podcasting are so critical of it.

Big companies can make waves in podcasting. They can invest in it, promote it, help grow it, or actively damage it. But, when they either get bored or run out of money, they can never pull the plug on it.

You’re in Control

Whilst some journalists were announcing the impending death of podcasting, thousands of confused indie podcasters were checking their stats to see record levels of growth and engagement.

Ultimately, as a podcaster, the key metrics are the ones telling you how your own content is performing. If they look good, then what more is there to say? If things have plateaued or even declined, though, then the good news is that you’re in control. Take this as an opportunity to re-focus on your niche, your USP, and your marketing strategies.

podcasters gathering around a big bag of money

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