A Pointed Perspective on the Purported Podfading Problem

Tom Webster
Jun 26 · 2 min read
By Don Toofee from Dammam, KSA — empty chair, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32225232

Recently, my friend Steve Goldstein posted an article using stats from Blubrry that track the total number of historical podcasts (approximately 706,000) and the percentage of those that were updated in the last year (39%) or even Feb-April of this year (18%).

I’ve seen this article and the Blubrry stats shared across social media and multiple podcasting groups on Facebook as evidence of “Podfading,” and the reactions have ranged from well-meaning encouragement to, well, a bit judgy, I think. “Be consistent!” “Stick with it!” “I haven’t missed a show in 5/10/15 years!”

You get the picture.

I think Steve’s point at the end of the article gets lost: it’s really hard to make the kind of content that is good enough to create an audience. Podcasting gurus will tell you that consistency over time is the key to building an audience. Maybe that was true for podcasting in 2006, when people listened to podcasts because they were podcasts. Today, people listen to podcasts because they are great shows. And great shows, my friends, are not easy.

But as someone who has immersed himself in the numbers of podcasting for nearly 15 years, let me put these “podfading” numbers in perspective.

In 2015, there were about 1,500 primetime television shows. Let me emphasize, that’s just in primetime! These shows included everything from Big Bang Theory to Babies Behaving Badly. Neither is still on the air. Counting how many of these 1,500 shows are still on the air would be a good job for an intern, but even amongst the top 20, 30% have “telefaded,” and that percentage goes up sharply the further you go down the list.

I am positive, in other words, that the percentage of TV shows still around from 2015 is very likely in the low single digits, which makes the 39% of historical podcasts that were active in the past year look a little different, yes?

The only difference between a TV show and podcast is who decides to cancel it.

I think too much is made of “podfading.” If your show is not getting traction, maybe it’s time to retool it. Or decide how committed you are to promoting it. Or get some reliable, third-party feedback on its quality. Or stop. Or keep doing it. It’s really up to you. But let’s retire “podfading.” It’s derogatory and unappreciative of the myriad reasons why someone might stop doing a podcast.

Let’s celebrate the starters.

Tom Webster

Written by

SVP, Edison Research. Co-author of The Infinite Dial, The Podcast Consumer, The Social Habit, and other widely cited studies. Other half of @tamadear.