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How to decode your audience data

Dan Page 

Dan Page is founder and CEO of Podspike. He has made it his mission to give podcasters access to easy, affordable and effective marketing services, and regularly contributes his advice to the podcast marketing community

Dan Page Headshot

Part 1

One of the best ways to market your podcast can be to cross-promote with your fellow podcasters. But when doing so, often the first question you’ll be asked is “how many people listen”? Or “how many subscribers have you got”?

Like it or not, these numbers are often treated as the key way to measure the ‘success’ of a podcast. They’re not necessarily the best way, but are something most podcasters can relate to and answer… except everybody has a different understanding of these numbers. 

When someone asks you how many people subscribe to your podcast, what exactly do you say? And where do you find this number?

You see, each platform that your podcast appears on – be it a host such as Podbean or a distributor such as Apple – records different stats and, worse still, may record the same thing differently.

For instance, Castbox shows two stats publicly: the number of subscribers (in this instance 14) and the number of plays (108).

Screenshot from Castbox

But look at the same show on its host platform (Podbean) and you get a different story: 4,300 downloads and 25 followers.

Screenshot from Podbean

Checking the numbers on Apple Podcast Connect (Apple’s podcast management app) gives yet another answer: 208 followers, 288 listeners and 1,200 plays.

Screenshot from Apple

Followers vs downloads

So does The Pocket Astronomer have 14 subscribers (Castbox), 25 followers (Podbean) or 208 followers (Apple)?

To ‘subscribe’ or ‘follow’ a show simply indicates that a listener has asked to be notified when a new episode has been released. If you want to measure how many people are following/subscribing to your show in total, there isn’t one place you can go to find this information – you have to decide which distribution platforms you are going to count and then go to each one in turn. This only works on the assumption that a listener hasn’t followed/subscribed to your show on more than one platform – but that is a reasonable assumption, as most people stick to their favourite podcast player.

What about downloads, plays, streams and listens? Surely these are easier to measure?  Well in some ways yes… and in some ways no.

You see, a download happens when your podcast (or at least a bit of it) is downloaded to a device. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) standard is to count anything over 60 seconds of content as being a download…but not every platform uses the IAB standard.

Furthermore, a download doesn’t necessarily equal a listen, as some platforms ‘pre-download’ a show to an app, regardless of whether it is listened to or not.

A listen or play is when someone presses play and then (presumably) listens, although it varies by platform how long you need to listen for it to count. Apple counts any unique devices that play more than 0 seconds as a listen – something that Spotify calls ‘starts’. When it comes to ‘listens’, Spotify calls these ‘streams’ – and only counts them if someone plays an episode for more than 60 seconds. 

To make matters even more complicated, Apple correctly points out that not all listens are equal. For them (and others) regardless of whether someone listens for one second or the whole episode, it is counted as one play/listen. Yet one of those ‘listens’ is clearly much more valuable than the other. To help cut through this, Apple also counts the number of ‘engaged listeners’, which it defines as those who listen to at least 40% of an episode within a single listening session. 

In short, there’s a lot going on and it can all quickly get very confusing!

Surely, though, you can add up all your plays, listens and streams and get a useful number? In a way yes, but it is not worth trying to do so.  

You can’t add the downloads from your host, such as Podbean, to the plays from a distributor such as Apple because you’d be double counting.

And while you could add up all the plays/listens from every distribution platform your podcast is listed on, it will take you a long time to do so (assuming your show is listed on as many as possible – which it should be for discovery reasons) and you’re not necessarily adding up numbers that mean the same thing.

So what’s the answer?

Your best bet is to go back to your podcast host and count the total number of downloads. Why? Your host is where your podcast ‘lives’ and every time someone wants to listen to your show on Apple or Castbox or Podcast Guru, they’re (almost) all basically asking your host to send them the file. Sending data on the internet costs money, which is why you pay your podcast host, but you don’t pay Apple (at least not for sending podcasts).

So arguably the only meaningful ‘total’ in our example is the 4,300 downloads from Podbean – eg various platforms requested it 4,300 times. And if you’re lucky, your podcast host will tell you how many of these came from which platforms.

So the next time anyone asks you how many listeners your podcast has, your response should be to ask them to define more precisely what they mean. And if they don’t know, you can forward them this handy guide!

Look out for Part 2

Now that you’ve got to grips with where to find your podcast stats and what they mean, look out for Part 2 of this series next month, when we’ll cover how you can use these same podcast stats to decode the type of person who might be listening.

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