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Overcoming Download Depression Syndrome

Jul 15, 2019

This week on Podcast Pontifications, I'm tackling statistics that we podcasters use (or should be using) to find out how well our podcast is doing. Because statistics can (and should) help us make our podcasts better, right? 

Today, the focus just on downloads. For all practical purposes, downloads are the same as play, streams, or any other word you might have heard that relates to the same thing. Your podcast media hosting company keeps track of and reports to you the number of times the media files of your podcast are requested by some service, software, or app. That’s what we mean by download.

But not all downloads are created equal. Quality podcast hosting companies certified by the IAB -- Internet Advertising Bureau -- to insure their reported downloads are accurate, filtering out bad actors and false positives. 

But I'll be really honest with you: I don't like downloads. Don't get me wrong, I love having downloads. But downloads really don’t paint a perfect picture for podcasters. Downloads do not mean listeners. If an episode of your show gets 145 downloads, that doesn't mean 145 people listened to it. Heck, it doesn’t even mean that 145 people downloaded that episode. Those are human-focused metrics, and a download is a software-focused metric.

But it’s the metric most bandied about, even though it doesn’t mean what many (most?) of us think it means. And when we don’t see download numbers growing -- either enough or quickly enough -- over time, that can be quite depressing. 

Shocking statement #1: Significant growth is not the natural state of podcasts. 

You can hope for “up and to the right!” all you want, but unless you implement strategies and tactics designed to cause that growth, you’re probably not going to see significant growth.

Yes, over a large span of time, shows do typically see some growth in downloads. Podcasting is a long play, and if you stay at it long enough, your downloads will increase. In the year since I've been doing Podcast Pontifications, my downloads have clearly increased -- by a modest degree.

Shocking statement #2: I don’t measure the success of Podcast Pontifications based on downloads

I know that sounds like total heresy. But I recorded this episode with a streaming video camera pointed at me. Some people watched me record it live. More will watch either the live video or the recorded video. And none of those “views” are reported back to my media hosting company, and few of those people who watched the episode will go back and listen to the same episode. Why should they?

You’re reading this article, which started as a transcription of the edited audio from that video. It’s been completely re-written into a ~1500 word article published on my website, on Medium and more places. If you read my words, you don’t have to listen to the audio. You’re still getting the content, albeit in a different container. 

Perhaps the episodes of your show play a role in public relations for your brand or your company. Those published episodes may signal your importance or influence in your industry, a signal that’s doubly reinforced when someone listens to just a snippet. If so, and people start hiring you or turning to you for advice, it doesn't really matter what your download count is, right? 

The only podcasters who should care deeply about downloads are podcasters who sell ads in their episodes. To be blunt: If your downloads are directly tied to your revenue stream, then (and only then) should you care deeply about downloads. 

Here’s a thought exercise: Pretend you bought a billboard for your podcast (which I do not advise you do). The success of that billboard is directly tied to the number of cars that drive by that billboard, right? So what are you doing to cause more people do drive by that billboard?

Nothing.

(Of course, podcasters can do things to cause more people to download episodes of their show. That’s called “promotion, and it’s a topic for another time.)

Do not become so obsessed with “downloads” so that they make you depressed. Downloads should not be your only success metric, and a singular focus on them isn’t making you a better person. And it’s not making your show any better, either.

Stop obsessing over software accessing your media files. Unless you're paid by the number of downloads your episodes get, there are other metrics that are more important for you. We're going to talk about them for the rest of the week, so stay tuned

If you need some help figuring out this for your podcast and you can't wait for tomorrow, get in touch with me. evo@podcastlaunch.pro reaches me. Also, you can go to PodcastLaunch.pro to see a list of all the services that I offer.

Tomorrow: metrics that actually matter. Right here on Podcast Pontifications.

Cheers!