There have been numerous attempts by app developers to solve podcasting’s “discoverability problem”, but they’re missing a fundamental fact. I’ll get to that fact in a moment but first let’s address the “discoverability problem”.
There isn’t one. There just isn’t, and we need to stop saying that there is, because it’s boring.
Books, films, music, TV shows, even Youtube channels. They’re all “overcrowded” markets, in that there is more supply than demand, and that’s totally fine. Podcasting is no different.
The publishing industry uses in-store promotions, in-person appearances, and word-of-mouth to sell books.
Film studios typically spend at least half their budget on marketing, which includes trailers, TV spots, social media, print, and other brand partnerships.
Music marketing has become more difficult, but create a catchy hook that people can dance to on TikTok or Reels, and you’ve got a hit. But indie musicians still use gigs and word-of-mouth.
You get the idea. So, let’s dispense with the idea that podcasting faces unique challenges that need a special name.
Saying that “discoverability” isn’t unique to podcasting doesn’t solve the problem though, and designers, developers and entrepreneurs like to find problems they can solve. Naturally creating an app or a service to solve podcasting’s “discoverability problem” feels like a good itch to scratch.
Except you’re now in an itchy triangle where you’re trying to use one person’s arm to scratch another.
You see, discoverability is not a problem for listeners. They have enough to listen to already. Their days are full, and they don’t have time to listen to anything new. And if you’re going to push something on a new listener that they haven’t heard before, it’s from a creator they haven’t heard of, so there’s no incentive for them to check out the show.
In reality of course, any podcaster – and any keen listener – knows that if the content is good, you’ll make time for it. Of course there’s always an extra half-hour that can be shared with the dishes or a quick run or a laundry-folding session. The problem is there’s very little FOMO in podcasting. The stakes on missing out are so low that it makes passing up on the opportunity to check out a new show almost the default response for anyone who isn’t a hardcore podcast listener.
And most podcast apps are not developed by hardcore listeners.
Most people. who listen to podcasts use Apple Podcasts or Spotify. That’s it. Don’t worry about any other apps, because they’re not relevant en masse. And when I say “don’t worry about any other apps”, I mean the one you’re thinking about making right now, developer. If you make an app to solve podcasting’s “discoverability problem”, you’ll likely end up with thousands of users. And d’you know who 99% of them will be? Podcasters.
That’s because we think we’re special, and that “discoverability” is apps’ problem to solve. Sure, an app could solve it, but it won’t, because to do so would mean a team of curators that need to be paid, and most podcast listeners aren’t paying for premium app experiences.
Podchaser and Goodpods are both two laudable attempts at making podcasts more easy to find. But because they’re solving a problem for podcasters, it’s podcasters who use them.
Many of us podcasters – I among them – got wound up by Luminary cannonballing into the pool a few years back. And while their comms team wasn’t the sharpest, they were at least looking to “solve” podcasting for listeners, not podcasters.
So what can be done?
I don’t think you solve podcasting’s “discoverability problem” through tech. At least not by building another app that is sort of a podcast player and sort of a social network and sort of a database and sort of a… no.
What you do is make it easier – hell, aim for effortless – for podcasters to swap trailers or promos. Since everyone† uses Apple Podcasts or Spotify, it’s not a problem that can be solved by making the app ecosystem better, because no-one’s going to move. Why? Again for the cheap seats, because this isn’t a problem facing listeners, so there is nothing for them to be solved.
Make it easy for Jo Podcaster to put a break in their podcast, near (but not at) the beginning, middle, and end of each episode. Let them tag what the episode was about – or use their transcript or the links in their show notes to infer topics discussed – and throw in a promo for a podcast participating in the same program. Let podcasters choose which categories or shows to exclude (no “sermon audio” for me please), and make it easy for them to add their trailer to the mix.
Podcasters will jump on any tool that can help them find more listeners, if it’s done with their best interests at heart, doesn’t mess with their content, or try to own, control, or censor it.
I actually built a system like this – not as technically advanced, but it was a start – so I’m open for a consult. You can go as deep into the stack and get as fun and technical as you want – build something that hooks into the RSS feed or works as an analytics prefix, for example. Or you could just remake a Google Sheets document that existed a few years back, where people listed their shows for cross-promo purposes.
If you genuinely want to solve the problem, you can. And maybe you’ll get lucky and get bought out by Spotify or Amazon, and then get shut down so that only people within the Megaphone network can use it. But please don’t try and solve podcasting’s “discoverability problem” by building another podcast app. You’re literally solving a problem no-one has, and ensuring that the only podcasts that will regularly be featured in your algorithm – through likes or comments – are podcasts about podcasting. It’s just our nature. 🙂
† You and I both know I’m using hyperbole, but I didn’t want to break my flow. There are lots of people using apps like Overcast, Pocket Casts, Podcast Addict, etc. They’re genuinely great apps. They’re just not used by the vast, vast majority of those who make up the potential listening audience that needs to be targeted. You get it.