Are Podcast Apps Part Of Podcasting's Problems?
A healthy and varied system of podcast listening apps should be healthy for podcasting. Well... assuming they all provide at least a similar user experience. But in many key ways, they don't. Why is that?
As you know, podcast listening apps are programs your listeners use to listen to your podcast episodes. We, the working podcasters, make content. But that content is consumed (listened to) via the interface provided by various podcast listening apps. And as you also know, Apple Podcasts is responsible for something like 60% of all podcast consumption.
You might have a handful of people who visit your website and click on your embedded media player. And because you’re smart and have listened to me, you send out emails with a link to the MP3 file for each episode. There are few other non-mobile app ways people might listen, but by and large, the majority of people that listen to your podcast will use a podcast listening app -- sometimes called a podcatcher -- to do so. Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pandora, Overcast… there are dozens.
We podcasters are at a disadvantage when it comes to listening apps. We can't control which apps our listeners use to consume our content. Sure, we can influence their choices, as we decide which apps we list on our podcast’s web page.
But it’s really not up to us. It’s up to our listeners, current and prospective. That’s why we make sure that our podcasts are available on all of those platforms. Because we really don’t care what app they use to listen, right?
Maybe we do. The problem I see is that the user experience across these apps is vastly different. In many cases, I think that can be a good thing. I think that some app creators have a vision of how they feel their app best serves podcast listeners. As such, I firmly believe they should be able to execute on that vision and do things the way they want. After all, both Kia and Mercedes both make vehicles, each with steering wheels, seats, and tires. But the experience of driving the cars made by each are quite different.
I think this is a conversation we working podcasters need to have together, and then we need to bring our consensus (if we can find one) to the podcast app makers. Perhaps a healthy discussion will break out in the comments here. Or perhaps this is just the excuse you need to download the Flick.group/podcastpontifications app, already filled with a few dozen people also committed to making podcasting better. Regardless of where the conversation happens, we need to talk about this.
Here’s the big and glaring issue that puzzles me. Around two-ish years ago, Apple released some new “specs” for podcast feeds that would allow Apple to better present content to users of the Apple Podcasts app. One tag allows you to group episodes together in “seasons”. Another lets you identify the best way to consume your content -- either from the beginning or with the latest episode. Another lets you number the episodes. And another lets you create “special” episodes that behave a little differently than “normal” episodes depending on how you’ve implemented other tags.
For example, I’ve used those new tags to mark this episode as episode 230. It’s part of the second season, and it’s normal episode. Oh, and the show is set to “episodic”, which means you don’t have to start from episode 1.
However, a brand new person discovering my show on Apple Podcasts today will not see this episode first. When they find my show in Apple Podcasts, they’ll see a trailer episode for the 2nd season listed first. That’s a short episode I recorded months ago that acts as an introduction to the show. And having this episode not just available but listed first should be helpful, acting in concert with the show artwork and the description to assure the potential listener that yes, they should subscribe.
The real power of these not-really-new tags is seen in multi-season shows that are designed to be consumed start-to-finish. If, by way of example, I find a great fiction podcast for a road trip I’m about to take, I click “subscribe” once and all of the episodes are in my player in the correct order. Assuming the producer of the show used the right settings, that is.
Two very helpful and common use cases, I think you’ll agree.
But -- and this is the thing we need to talk about -- those use-cases are only fulfilled by users of Apple Podcasts. Why is that?
The tags may be in the Apple iTunes namespace, but that shouldn’t stop other apps from reading those tags. These new tags are now effectively part of the RSS 2.0 spec. They are in our feeds and able to be read by any app set up to read them and change the way episodes display in those apps.
But they don’t. Or if app makers are reading and using the tags, they do so only sporadically, resulting in an experience -- especially for new listeners -- that is vastly inferior to what Apple Podcasts is doing.
No wonder Apple Podcast reigns supreme. It’s better for new people.
Don’t believe me? Try it on your show. (Yes, all working podcasters should have access to an iOS device and an Android device so you can see how your show appears. Yes, that means you might need to make another investment. Sorry.)
Pull up Apple Podcasts. Unsubscribe to your show. Now search for it. If you've set it up properly and have a trailer for your show, it will be listed at the top. If you have seasons, you’ll see how the episodes have been grouped together, as mine are. Doesn’t that look nice?
Now pull up any other podcatcher and do the same thing. Unsubscribe if you’re already subscribed, then go search for your show. When you find it, marvel at how terrible it looks versus how great it looked on Apple Podcasts.
No wonder Apple Podcast reigns supreme. Your show just looks better on it.
I’ll admit that my investigation wasn’t exhaustive. I did check how my show appears on the more popular apps, and none of them are making full use of these tags.
And I can’t understand why.
Can you help me figure that out? Better yet, can you help us figure out what we, the working podcasters, should do about this? How do we pressure makers of podcast apps to make their apps better?
Or maybe I'm wrong about that, and you feel that the experience -- especially for new podcast listeners -- is vastly better on a different app. Let's have a conversation. Again, you can comment here or you can use Flick.group/podcastpontifications to join the Podcast Pontifications community.
OK, I’ve ranted enough. Enjoy your weekend as you ponder this yourself. Ask your friends how they feel. And let's find a way to get the app makers on board with using these tags to make our content more accessible to the new people.
Because that’s how we grow podcasting.
I'll be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.