Back on December 12, Pete Davis published a great article on Medium titled "Downloads, listens, listeners, and about those podcast numbers" that dives into all these different stats. Davies was reacting to the hype over the podcast "Serial" and wanting to make sure people understood some of the nuances of how you can measure podcasts.
As he points out, the number of people downloading an episode can be very different from the total number of downloaded episodes. One person, who we will call a "downloader" might download many different episodes. As he notes, people might have different devices or podcast apps that all pull down episodes.
And the number of downloads is VERY different from the actual number of listens that occur. I can personally attest to this - my apps download many different episodes of podcasts... but I only listen to a few of them. The others have been downloaded but will probably never be listened to.
The challenge is that finding out if people have actually listened to a podcast is extremely hard. As Davies writes:
Nobody really knows exactly how many people are listening to podcasts.
This has a lot to do with the many different ways people can listen to podcasts. They can play them in a web page... play them in a podcasting app... play them in a music program like iTunes... download them and play them in some other music app.
All we can do is make guesses... or use imperfect numbers like downloads to make some kind of estimate of the popularity of a show.
It's a good article... and as he concludes, we do need better data around all of this. I also definitely agree with his conclusion that a large part of the success of "Serial" and "Startup" is that they offer compelling content! It happens to be in audio form... but the content and storytelling expertise is what draws people to these podcasts.
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