Is it realistic to expect millions of podcast downloads? Or is it too good to be true? There are a lot of misleading numbers out there, so Tracy Hazzard and Tom Hazzard dedicate this episode to put some perspective on this issue. There are a lot of coaches out there who promise millions of monthly listeners and downloads for your podcast. That’s a big red flag! Even top podcasters like Joe Rogan would admit that such fantastic numbers are BS. Tracy and Tom explain why it’s unrealistic to expect millions of downloads on your podcast and why downloads have nothing to do with podcast monetization and podcast success. If someone is offering that to you, be careful! Tune in and learn what you need to do instead.
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Millions Of Podcast Downloads: Are They Achievable Or Is It Too Good To Be True?
In this episode, we’re going to talk about millions of podcast downloads. Are they achievable or is it too good to be true? I’m glad we’re addressing this.
Are they even true? It’s still a question.
Too good to be true is the same thing. It’s a great topic because there are a lot of misleading numbers out there and we have some information to share to try to help put some perspective on this issue. There are a lot of podcast coaches we hear out there that are touting all these amazing numbers of certain podcasts. People who are starting are thinking, “I can have millions of downloads of my podcast too. I can have millions of listeners of my podcast too.”
Let’s back up a little bit and talk about this. There are lots of people who throw out statistics and a lot of times, they mislead you with the labeling of those statistics. I do want you to hear that and be very careful. When they say, “I have X million monthly downloads,” first off, your red flag is download. Secondly, they probably meant lifetime, not monthly especially if they’re in the millions. It’s been cited everywhere and I’ve seen it repeated in news magazine after news magazine that Joe Rogan has eleven million listeners per episode. He says that’s not true. He even cites that he is at about 2.2.
If Joe Rogan is getting 2 million per episode and you’re only producing 4 episodes a month and you’re claiming 50 million downloads per month in your show, it’s not physically possible that you could be better than Joe Rogan. We know he’s the number one podcaster. He tops every top ten list for the total downloads. You got to think about these numbers as, “There’s a mistake here.” I’ve seen it.
I was giving an investor pitch somewhere and someone came on as the podcasting expert. I’m giving a pitch about my company. They come on and cite a very misleading statistic. The part that I don’t understand is why she even shared it. She said that it was a network, not a show. She misled there. That’s the first red flag. The statistics are right but not right. She caught 50 million downloads. That’s the number she went.
She said they were monthly and they were on a show. They were lifetime on a network with thousands of episodes total. It was well over 3,000 episodes total across the whole network. You’re talking about that as well. Lifetime and downloads versus plays. That’s also a misleading number there. Remember, the difference between downloads is, “I download it to my device but I haven’t listened to it.” A play is, “I listened to it,” and the number of listeners you have is your subscribers in a sense.
It’s the actual total number of people because I might have played an episode twice or played it on two devices. I listened to half on one and a half on another. Even plays can be slightly off in their numbers so it still doesn’t express your total number of listeners. We have to estimate that because Apple, Spotify and all of those places refuse to share your actual subscriber number.
The thing to understand especially for new aspiring podcasters is that the reality is when a podcast coach is trying to attract more people to become podcasters, you set these lofty expectations. You present these misleading numbers that would indicate, “That’s nobody who’s nationally well-known and they have a podcast getting five million downloads a month. I could do that too.” It sets this new podcaster, aspiring podcasters or even existing podcasters up for a major disappointment when they achieve a few thousand plays a month or a few a month plays an episode.
I don’t know how they do that and get returned business. If you failed on that, live up to that, build my show to that and that’s your job and what you’re supposed to do, you failed miserably. I’m never going to recommend you to anyone and I’m going to quit podcasting quickly. It’s not a winning strategy to state misleading numbers. It is unethical and I don’t know why they do it. I have to think that in this particular case, this person is going with a group of investors trying to oversize the market. It’s like doing the total available market instead of doing the actual achievable market.
There’s a 100 billion market for this business so we should be able to get 1% of that and get 1 billion. It’s not realistic.
It’s that mentality but we all know from watching Shark Tank and these things that true people in the know scoff at that because they know how to do the math. That’s what we’re pointing out here. You are not doing the math. Let’s do the math on 50 million downloads lifetime value. Let’s say 5,000 episodes because the math’s easier. If we do 5 and 50 million, what are we getting?
You’re going to get 10,000 downloads an episode.
That is barely qualifying for advertisement. Let’s continue to do the math.
With some advertising groups, for sure, it does.
Most advertisers say at a minimum, you have to have 20,000 downloads per episode to qualify for the ad programs that are there but there are some smaller networks that will allow 10,000 per episode. You met the minimum metric but remember, they divide that by 1,000. What we’re going to pay is 10,000 divided by 1,000 so we get 10. We multiply that by the industry-going rate, which is around $20 per 1,000. We’re at $200 an episode and that’s being generous.
We’re saying $200 an episode but I got to split that with the network. I’m only going to make $100 an episode. I paid a lot of money to be in this network because I am pretty sure most of them charge you. That’s why they’re citing these downloads. You’re going in there and make $100 an episode. Does that even pay your expenses? I don’t do anything for $100 an hour ever. My billable rate even a few years ago was $1,000 an hour. Is it worth it?
While you’re not going to make an awful lot of money on it, it might cover some of your expenses. Maybe if you’re doing 5 episodes a week, you’re doing 20 a month. Maybe getting $2,000 might cover some of your expenses.
That assumes that the network does 100% of the heavy lifting to get those statistics and here’s the reality of it. If the average show is 10,000, there’s probably 2% of those shows carrying the weight for everyone else. They’re jacking up the numbers and everyone else is somewhere far beyond because it’s the middle ground. It’s the average.
This all sets up a very unrealistic false expectation for success in podcasting. We can tell you from vast experience that you do not need to have 10,000 downloads an episode to be successful. You can have 500 or 1,000. It depends on how you measure success. Success with third-party advertisers to make money is only one potential measure of success.If Joe Rogan is getting 2 million per episode, and you're only producing four episodes a month and you're claiming 50 million downloads per month, it's not physically possible that you could be better than Joe Rogan. Click To Tweet
That’s why we plan and layer in success along the way. There are always monetization strategies laid in from the beginning. Is my strategy may be the network that I’m trying to create or the relationship that I’m building with my guests? Is it a funnel that I’m going to create for my guests? Is it a JV partnership that I’m going to create with those guests? What is the model for that that is going to expand? Is it a LinkedIn strategy that I’m employing and using the podcast as the content creation but it’s a LinkedIn strategy? There are dozens of different ways that you could be modeling all of this but your monetization has nothing to do with the number of downloads of your show.
Let’s get back to the perspective on some of the numbers. In that albeit simple math model, getting to 10,000 downloads per episode, let’s talk about plays and/or play through.
I didn’t even say that. There might be plays and you might have half as many plays as you have downloads. That can happen but then how many of those people played through it is also a statistic that you don’t know, especially when radio networks put up a whole bunch of disparate shows and if it was a network focused on one topic. We know a couple that put together a network that was all on woo-woo spirituality podcasting and that kind of thing. They didn’t make money off of the advertisements although they had over a million downloads a month that they were going on a regular basis and this was a few years ago.
They could hit a good metric but because their metric was focused on their whole network focused on this certain type of person who would be listening, they had more likelihood for success in the ad model than another network that is like a broad brush. Let’s have financial and sports podcasts. Let’s mix them all up. When you mix them all up, the ad value goes way down.
When we talk about measuring success, that’s where things get very much to be different based on your perspective or your goals. Having a podcast that has 50 million total downloads across the network and maybe 4 or 5 million downloads a month, is that a measure of success? Yes, that’s a huge success but when you have 4,000 or 5,000 episodes across the network and people subscribe, they’re going to get downloaded all those episodes. They probably aren’t going to listen to all of them. Downloads to actual play-through might be a mere fraction, 10% or 20% maybe of all your episodes and it would take people a long time to catch up.
They’re distracted by all the other episodes, people and shows. That’s where a lot of these radio networks are. When you think about a talk show on radio, they go from a medical show to a home show to a psychological health show. You go from all of these different things all the time. They care that they have a certain number of listeners every hour but they don’t care what fits the bill. They’re not looking for that. They’ll put anything in it and see what plays. It’s a shotgun approach. That’s how they do it. That’s where we worry about whether or not we’re making the right choices.
This is why I want to bring this up, thinking about your choices as to who you’re going to work with or where you’re going to locate your show. We’re getting a lot of networks pushing people to come on their network and months later, they quit those networks. They don’t get results. We see it again and again. No matter how many times I say, I don’t think you’re going to get the results that you’re looking for. There’s been a lot of failures there.
This is the question you should ask but they don’t ask the question and they get clouded and hyped up by 5 million or 50 million downloads number. They won’t achieve the numbers. Let’s do the math if you’re going to join the network. You give away some rights, authority, identity, brand and a lot of things to be associated over there in these networks.You do not need to have 10,000 downloads per podcast episode to be successful. You can have 500, you can have 1,000. It really depends on how you measure success. Click To Tweet
The number one question I want to know is how much money are you spending to drive traffic to my show? My show in specific, not the network in general. It can be the network in general, as long as the network is 100% my audience. I’m okay with that. I have 100% and that’s the kind of audience I would like to reach. I’m good with that. If you’ve got a sports podcast and its sports network and they’re driving you all sports fans and spending the money at the network level but they’re spending a significant, decent amount to drive new listeners, I want to hear that. You’re spending money to drive people for me so I’m not spending that. I am spending it but I’m contributing.
I’m contributing by being on your network and paying for that privilege. How much does the average person earn? How much is the low and how much is the high? From there, what are the real play and subscriber numbers? If they tell you they have the subscriber numbers, they’re lying. That’s a red flag. It’s a trick question because they don’t have it. They can tell you we’ve estimated it to be this number of subscribers or they have an opt-in and this is opt-in on our network page. That’s a decent number. You want to know that. That’s a great number. That’s like, “What is their email lists circulation?”
I want to talk about this internet radio model for a second because it’s important. We do see a lot of people being disappointed after their experience participating with an internet radio model, which is syndicated as a podcast also a lot of the time. The problem is these radio networks still think of their audience in terms of the big picture, aggregate audience like, “We have this many people that listen to our shows or our radio station or radio network every month.”
Some of those are going to be estimated numbers. Terrestrial radio is fraught with the estimated audience because there’s no actual way to measure how many people are listening randomly on the open airwaves but when you get to internet radio, how many streams, downloads and plays? Also, a podcast is very measurable but it’s very notorious.
We see radio networks do not share the actual data with individual show hosts, creators and podcasters who have a show on their network. Whenever I talk to people, “I’ve been in this network and they tell me my play through is this or my audience is this but they won’t let them log in and see any analytics anywhere,” that’s the first red flag for me that they’re not being transparent.
Also, any analytics specific to you that are not generalized because they will share you generalized statistics but they will not share them specifically for your show and that’s a red flag.
Here’s the thing. This is 2022 when we’re recording this. The numbers and data are there. I don’t care if it’s people listening to internet radio through the website of the radio network or listening to the podcast through an app. The actual data of how many people are listening exists. If you’re on a radio network and they are unwilling to be transparent about that data and let you see it, if they’re emailing you an email saying, “Here are your numbers,” and they’re writing it in an email for you, I don’t trust that at all. I want to log in and see the actual dashboard where the analytics are collected to show you those numbers. I meet people every week who are coming from ready networks that have no idea. They think they’re being told they’re getting all kinds of value but there’s no proof at the end of the day.
The number one problem is if I type their show name into the search engine that is a podcast player, 90% of the time, I can’t even find their show. It doesn’t show up properly because it’s not listed as its show. It’s not listed at a show level. It’s listed only as an episode level when you’re in a network. It’s like, “The X radio network.” That’s the name of the show at the Apple directory level or the Spotify directory level. Your show is only one little episode blip on it assuming they title it right there. That’s where I find a lot of mistakes happen too and you don’t find it.As a podcast coach, consultant, producer, or network, it is in your best interest to have full disclosure built into your process and for you to be up front about it. Click To Tweet
If I also type your name in there, you’re not a host. The radio network is the host so you don’t show up either. Your guests will probably show up before you host your show. That’s where you’re talking about this muddiness that you’ve given away your brand, authority and all of those things and probably paid for it and not received back proper statistics and probably not receive value back forward either in dollars.
If you knew the actual statistics and numbers, you would realize this network is not acting in your best interest. They usually are acting on their own trying to have more content to attract more people to their network. They’re not usually bringing as much value to the individual podcast or bringing you an audience or making you available where there is a known existing audience for your topic available.
I want to put this in context why we can see this. We can see very clearly because we pulled our statistics globally at the end of 2021 across every single show we produce. We produced well over 10,000 episodes a year. The numbers are off the charts. It is way over that. Lifetime, we’ve produced a hundred thousand episodes. The numbers that are in our system are very high and I can tell from doing this.
With our clients, we hit 50 million downloads in 2021 per month and those are not downloads. Those are plays because it’s not just downloading the file but playing the file. We can see that data. We know we can hit 50 million plays per month across our network of over 1,000 shows. We’ve got over 1,000 shows doing it but we’ve got tens of thousands of episodes in that mix.
When we look at that, we say, “I can tell the average and the average is hovering somewhere around 5,000 downloads an episode or less.” That’s as if we also cut new shows and seasons like if we cut them into three buckets, which is what we do. If your show is 90 days old, it shouldn’t be measured against one that’s 9 months old or 9 years old. It’s not the same. We cut them into three buckets when we look at them and say, “Here.” A good season show that hits over 500 episodes like the ones on the network we were talking about should be doing that.
We can see those ones running around 7,500 downloads on an average month. If that’s the case and we have such a broad brush of independent shows, that’s probably more accurate a number. Here’s where I liken it, to YouTube. I’ve been in presentations where people are like, “I got 1 million plays of my video or 100,000 plays.” They’ll say it’s on their channel but it’s one video on the whole channel. When you do the math, it’s not physically possible for them to have 500 subscribers. If you hit one million views of a video, the math’s terrible. If that’s the case, then your million-view video is only converting to 500 subscribers. Your conversion rates stink.
You ought to get out of the video-based business because this is not what you need to do. What it says to me is in the video, it’s typical to see bot views, which don’t subscribe because they’re not real people. It’s a bot farm somewhere or a human farm sometimes that is clicking and watching the video and letting a play and then watching the next video. That’s all they do all day. That’s their job so they’re not going to subscribe to your channel. There’s not a clear link between that.
If I’ve got 500 subscribers and most of my videos are getting 500 views, I’ve got an incredible channel because I’ve got 500 people who are watching 100% of my content. You won’t achieve that but that’s the idea of where you want to be. You want to have a good ratio to subscribers and play through. Podcasting is unfortunately misleading in and of itself but it’s Spotify, Apple and all the players’ faults for refusing to share your subscriber data. I’m going to keep saying that and be mean about it in the industry because one day they will change. They will have to give you a connection to your subscribers.It costs more to get a new client than it does to keep one and get them to refer people. Click To Tweet
Also, at least be transparent about how many there are, which to YouTube’s credit, they do. They show you how many people are subscribed. They don’t reveal. You can’t see who the usernames are, even if you want to but even if the podcast apps didn’t give transparency as to who those usernames are, because it regards as their private data, if they just gave you the information of how many people are subscribed, you can see how many reviews or ratings you have like on Apple.
That would be useful information to have but in podcasting, we have to estimate how many subscribers we have. Usually, when you publish a new episode, within 12 to 24 hours, everybody that’s subscribed has received your episode. More people, as it’s advertised on social, people find on your website or they randomly play them on to subscriber happens usually not within that 12 to 24 hours after you publish it. There are ways to estimate how many people are subscribed but it’s still an educated guess. It is a no-way stat that you can depend on or tout in the industry as, “I have these many subscribers.”
At least from a perspective of if I wanted to advertise on your show or buy your services, I can go check this number on YouTube and see your subscribers and your number of views. It has an alignment or an X factor to it. You maybe have 500 subscribers and 40% of them are watching every single video. That’s a great play but if we’re looking at it from the perspective of, “We have no way to double check that,” then you have to ask the important questions. If you’re going to evaluate giving away your authority in this network situation or if you’re going to get seduced by these multimillion-dollar download numbers that a network is portraying, ask for the math. You got to get to the math. Ask for proof on that because otherwise, it’s not worth it.
This is what I hear again and again of why there’s such a high podfade rate. Also, why there are so many people leave a network? People quit their shows because can’t get out of their network contracts. They lose all their content and everything that they created. All their intellectual property is gone because they signed it away. We have to be careful with that and that’s why we are pointing this out to you. This is not a model for success in the podcasting industry. Anyone who’s telling you that is selling you something.
Selling you future disappointment when your show doesn’t achieve hundreds of thousands or even a million downloads in a month is not the goal for the vast majority of us podcasters out there. I don’t think it should be for the vast majority. There is the real value you can bring your audience, have people that are subscribed and waiting for your next episode to publish getting great value from it that also can produce a great return for you as a podcast.
What that return or goal is for you will be different for everybody in some respects but tremendous value to be had with having several hundred to 500 real active engaged listeners every episode or every month. Yes, some will have thousands and some will have tens of thousands. We do see that there’s quite a range but shows that have been established for years and have several hundred episodes. It doesn’t always happen overnight.
That’s where a seasoned network is going to do better. Some of these networks are like, “I’ve heard this as the answer when I ask for the math.” When you asked for the numbers or say, “Why can’t I get a real report?” “We’re building that into the future of the next version of our portal so that you’ll be able to get your single show statistics,” but it never happens.
The reason it never happens is that it’s not in their best interest to build it. They’ll never put it on the development list. They’d be revealing to you that you’re not succeeding faster because you’d be able to watch that. You’d know that it wasn’t working and you’d complain sooner and try to get out of your contract faster.
More importantly, they’re not providing enough value to justify you giving up some of your independence to be on that network. There are so many different issues at play here. We certainly have built-in in our platform the ability for every individual podcaster hosted there to have complete transparency into all your numbers. They are there and we believe you should have access to it.
We built the network model differently too. The network model is it’s there can be a network that controls a whole series of shows but each show is individual and each person within that, the host of those shows can log in. They’re not at their aggregate in terms of looking at all the numbers across all my episodes in the network. I can look at it from that perspective but I can also deep dive dial deep so that every single person can have their individual access. We built our network that way to make that happen. I want to say the last thing before we head out of this episode.
Ethically, we have been pushing for this full-disclosure model of podcasting. We did the Certified Strategist Program that we built with Podetize with this model of proving to you why as a podcast coach, a podcast consultant, a podcast producer, a podcast network or whatever it is that you are, it is in your long-term sustainable best interests for profitability for you to have full disclosure built into your process and be upfront about it. What we found in our businesses is that referrals return business, lifetime value and people staying with us for a very long time make a much better difference in terms of our profitability than us having to spend a whole lot more money on lead generation and seducing people into our program.
It costs more to get a new client than it does to keep one and get them to refer people. What we’ve been training and teaching our certified strategists are that viewpoint and model. At the end of the day, I believe we’re creating many more ethical certified strategists out there. I’m thrilled with that. That’s what we want to change in the industry model.
We want to set realistic expectations for results that are very measurable but realistic expectations for where success resides.
Our job is to find it with you.
You don’t have to have crazy statistics, download numbers and lofty numbers. You don’t have to have 10,000 an episode to get great success of it. There are certain shows that are doing it on our platform and even some of our shows do that or have done that but you can get tremendous success with several hundred listeners. You don’t have to have several thousand listeners but hopefully, you see continued growth and increase. You will get there. There is the rare show that launches and in the first month gets 50,000 downloads across what they publish. It happens.
It happens rarely and there’s usually another factor. They had a giant email list and a big social following. There’s usually another factor that’s involved in that if you dove in to figure it out. Gary Vee can go and start a new podcast, a new channel, TikTok or anything. He already has a built-in audience that will go check out what he’s doing. You’re probably not like that. You need advice, services, companies, networks and people to support you that are looking at it from the perspective of, “You’re not that.” You’re not Gary Vee or Joe Rogan. Let’s talk about what will work for you.
What your goals are and what that measures of success will be because it’s different for everybody.
Letting us rant about the industry, thank you for indulging us here. We appreciate that but by being harsh about this, we hope we will continue to be able to change these things that are wrong. I’m happy. If our competitors up their game, good. The whole industry is going to improve and it’s going to make life better for our clients. That’s where we’re going.
Tracy, I couldn’t say it any better than that. We’ll drop the mic there. Thanks for reading, everybody. We’ll be back next time with another great episode.
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