Your Hatred Of Apple Podcasts Isn’t Helping

Here’s a harsh reality, podcasters: More people use Apple Podcasts on iOS to download your show than any other method.

I realize you hate what Apple did to the iOS 11 version of the Podcast app. I realize you are a power-consumer who may have switched years ago to a far superior app that gives you all the control you want. And I realize you’ve been working hard to get more Android users listening to your episodes.

None of that matters. According to the data*, downloads of your episodes are still largely direct to iOS, and the majority via the native Apple Podcasts app.

Reality is that which continues to be even if you don’t believe in it.

This is the reality of the podosphere late 2017. Embrace that reality.

While Apple has yet to release in-app listening behavior, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out Apple’s play: They are betting that the new app — yes, the one you hate — will increase the amount of time iPhone owners spend on their device. And you know what? I think they’ve done it.

Yes, I fully recognize there are bugs and problems with the new Apple Podcasting app in iOS 11. Search results limited to eight is stupid. Replacing serial sequential numbers with the date of publication is goofy. I doesn’t adapt to landscape mode. And the inability to autoplay the next episode is… well, hold on. Maybe that’s not a bug. Maybe it’s a designed feature.

Maybe Apple built the new app not for existing podcast consumers but the ~70% of users who’ve yet to try out podcast-listening in the more than a dozen years since podcasts were added to the iTunes store.

But let’s say you’re right and I’m wrong. Let’s say that a good chunk of listeners have bailed on Apple Podcasts post-iOS 11 in favor of some other app that works the way podcatchers have behaved since… forever. If that’s true, since the data show no appreciable drop in Apple Podcast on iOS 11 downloads as a percentage of all mobile downloads, then it must mean that a whole bunch of brand new people have started using Apple Podcasts.

The accounting has to balance. And while it’s possible that the numbers will shift in the next few months, I don’t think that very probable. And even if I’m (again) wrong, that’s not helping us face the reality of right now.

I’ll restate the reality: the Apple Podcasts app has fundamentally changed how podcasts are consumed by the majority of listeners.

That’s going to cause a stir. And should spark at least one question that keeps you up at night: How well optimized is my content for this new consumption pattern?

This marks the beginning of the end of the “subscribe and forget it” lazy mindset we’ve all been in for the last 13 years. Yes, people will still subscribe. And some of them will figure out the hidden “Stations” option that does allow for continuous autoplay. But ask any email marketer: getting someone to subscribe is only part of the battle. It’s much, much harder to get them to click. Or in our case, listen.

I predict that most listeners will slide into a more active consumption mode. According to the data, they already have. This means subscribers who used to listen to whatever was next in their queue now have decisions to make before they can listen. That decision is to play, skip, or delete your next episode. (Paradoxically, deleting is is easier than playing.) Keep in mind that decision isn’t being made based on the quality of your production on the episode in question. It’s based two things: feelings and visuals.

By “feelings” I mean how the listener feels about your show based on prior episodes they’ve already listened to. If they are deeply in love with your content, the visuals don’t matter obviously. Conversely, if they have no built-up love, are apathetic, or maybe only like your content a little, visuals matter more than ever.

By “visuals”, I mean how the descriptive elements for the episode appear in the app. And yes, you have control over them. (If not, fire your media host or stop using that shitty RSS generator.) Those new <itunes:somethingorother> tags you’ve been ignoring or just populating with the same info you use in other fields when you publish? It’s time to get serious and strategic about those, because they represent an opportunity you can’t afford to ignore. Not in the new reality of changed podcast consumption.

In the next post, I’ll write up my suggestions on optimizing your feed and episodes based on where Apple Podcast currently stands, with some ideas on future-proofing them (because chasing changing specs sucks).

* Confirmed by Rob from Libsyn and Todd from Blubbry, the two largest podcast hosting companies by far.

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