Why Podcast Listening Won't Ever Return To Normal
Sobering opinion: The habits people formed around podcast listening are changing and will be forever changed. This isn’t the new normal. Just new. Normal is -- and always has been -- an illusion. #thisisthenew
Listenership is down across the board in podcasting. At least according to the podcasters who responded to James Cridland’s request for evidence. No, it’s not a scientific study. And no, not every podcaster who responded is seeing a drop. But generally speaking, podcast listening is down.
That is to be expected. People are changing their habits. We humans are habitual creatures, It was our pattern-recognizing and habit-forming brain that allowed our species to get to where we are today.
Recently, our habits and routines have been disrupted. Your routines and habits have been disrupted. And yes, your listener's routines have been disrupted. In a big way. Some much worse than others, obviously. But rest assured that just about every listener you have is having their routine and habits impacted in some way. And it’s that disruption in habits that is the root cause of decreased listening that your show is likely experiencing.
People aren't going to the gym nearly as often as they used to, which means they aren’t listening on a treadmill, StairMaster, whatever else people do at a gym.
People aren't commuting as often as they used to. If you take a drive or check the traffic cameras in just about any town, there are fewer cars -- a lot fewer cars -- on the roads. Less windshield time means less time spent listening to podcasts and all other forms of audio.
But with all these people now staying home, why hasn’t podcast listenership increased? If you read some of the studies that rely on calling people and asking them to self-report where they listen, a rather large number say “at home”.
Assuming that’s true (and I have my doubts, as I have doubts about any survey that asks people to self-report rather than looking at actual data about what they really do), then it means that even at-home habits have changed. If they’re working from home, maybe they’re expanding work to fit the less-limited time allowed. If your listeners had kids at school, now they have kids at home and are busy trying to keep them from burning the house down.
Habits have changed.
This is the part of the article where you’d expect me to talk about how this is just temporary and that everything will go back to normal as soon as this pandemic is over.
But I’m not going to tell you that. Because that's not true.
I hate the phrase “this is the new normal”. I love the sentiment, but the wording is wrong. What we’re all living through right now is new and certainly is becoming normal. But normal is fleeting. What’s normal today won’t be normal next week. Or maybe tomorrow. But it sure is new, and every day brings something new that disrupts the previous normal. So “this is the new” is much better. That needs a hashtag: #thisisthenew
Yes, the restrictions currently in place will (eventually) cease. And when that happens, of course people will return to the gym, commute to and fro, and put their kids back in school.
But not exactly in the same fashion as they did before.
Your listeners are forming new habits. Your listeners are learning new routines. And here’s the kicker: Businesses are learning too.
Employers forced to find ways to let their employees work from home for a few months might discover that they don’t need to have some of those people be at the office every day taking up valuable resources. They might learn that WFH - work from home - is a huge cost-cutter. That means some of your listeners might never again have a daily commute.
New habits. New routines.
The longer we live in this new world, the more these new routines will become new habits. And the less likely we are to go back to old habits that no longer fit our new routines.
Are you, the working podcaster, considering waiting until life returns to normal before you put out a new episode? Are you waiting for everyone to go back to their old routines before starting your podcast?
There is no “normal” for us to return to. The old habits of the past are just that: in the past.
Please don’t take my words as a doom-and-gloom prediction. Yes, things will get better for most of your listeners. Yes, we will see overall podcast listenership increase to where it was and then beyond that. Podcasting will survive this pandemic.
But podcasting on the other side will be different if only because the habits people formed around podcast listening have changed and will never mirror the way they were before.
That means you, the podcast creator, need to think about what that means to your reality. What does your content look, sound, and feel like to listeners with new habits? Do you need to adjust your release date? The frequency and cadence of new episodes? Episode length? Content?
All of the habits you’ve formed and the routines you’ve learned with your podcast for the years or months you've been doing it were all outdated the moment people started changing their habits and adopting new routines.
As you sit and ponder what this means to your podcast, I’d like for you to do me a favor. You probably know someone who was, prior to the pandemic, considering starting a podcast. Or maybe you know someone who is thinking about using this downtime to launch a podcast. (A lot of creative endeavors were launched during the financial crisis of 2008-09).
If you know someone like that, would you send them this article? Because while you, the working podcaster, might have been dismayed by what you read, a brand new person will likely get more positive vibes out of it, since new things tend to thrive during disruption. The budding podcaster needs to understand that they should just get started on their podcast now and work on forming new habits with listeners right away.
Thanks for reading. I wish I offering up non-pandemic stuff, but it’s probably a topic I’m going to orbit for a while since this show is all about helping you think about the big questions faced by all of us in podcasting. And this is where we live now. #thisisthenew
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.