A Stray Thought on Apple vs Spotify for Podcasters

Back in October last year, I wrote a long(ish) blog dissecting the performance of a 6-episode podcast documentary that I had just made, The Town That Didn’t Stare. In that piece I observed a trend that would only continue over the next 6 months: despite an overwhelming headstart for listeners accessing via Apple, the steady, slow rumble of Spotify listeners was rapidly catching up. This was a trend that became canonical as the months progressed: several hundred new listeners a day were coming to the show via Spotify, whereas audiences from Apple peaked early and tailed off. By the start of summer 2021, Spotify accounted for a greater share of the podcast’s overall audience than Apple.

This, in and of itself, is not a super interesting observation. And it’s also one that’s quite easily explained (though I didn’t realise this myself at the time): someone at Spotify told me a month or two back that they had featured the podcast on one of their playlists, and so it had sat there accumulating listeners through a simple discoverability mechanism for months (one that I, bizarrely, couldn’t reverse engineer). Despite appearing on the Apple Podcasts ‘New & Noteworthy’ list (in the Society and Culture sub-section, not on the homepage) that placement was only for a week or so. With Spotify, it seemed to be featured for many months. And so Spotify just persisted while Apple trailed off, and eventually that steady accumulation overtook Apple’s early bursts. It is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint.

This summer, I launched a second season of the show — The Town That Knew Too Much — utilising the same feed (just with a total rebrand), and that’s what allows me to make this stray observation:

At this moment, my analytics deck is telling me that, over the last 60 days (which is pretty much the timeframe that the podcast has been out), 54.5% of listens have been via Apple and 21.7% have been through Spotify. This is a big switcheroo from those positions in June 2021. So what am I inferring from that trend?

My suspicion is that this speaks to the relative resilience of Apple as a ‘subscription’ platform. When the new season launched (a year after the first) it seems that a relatively low-percentage of listeners via Apple Podcasts had unsubscribed during that down time (which would’ve been totally understandable, as the podcast gave no hint at a second season and seemed like a self-contained story), whereas listeners on Spotify were either never subscribed/following in the first place, or had unsubscribed/unfollowed during the hiatus.

That’s my suspicion and it makes sense to me. Apple Podcasts is a discrete podcasting app. People who identify as podcast listeners tend to be loyal to about 6 podcasts at a time, but they are presumably subscribed to more: ones they’re trying out, ones they’ve got bored of, and ones they’ve finished. Even with that, the interface is unlikely to be particularly cluttered — let’s say they’ve ended up with 20 to 30 subscriptions, that’s pretty manageable with a single flick through. And podcasts that aren’t producing new episodes to go into the download queue are more likely to be ignored than deleted. In all my time using Apple Podcasts (and then Overcast, which I suspect operates for users quite similarly) I’ve only unsubscribed to a tiny handful of shows. I am still subscribed to plenty of shows that I haven’t listened to in over a year, and a number that I’ve never listened to at all.

Spotify here is, I suspect, the victim of its omnimedia approach. Most people who use Spotify for podcasts have migrated there as a result of being Spotify for music users. And this double pathway means (at least) twice as much time spent curating your feed, refining your following list. Clutter and excess are more visible in an app you’re using more frequently and more generally. That and the fact that ‘following’ podcasts on Spotify is still less intuitive than ‘subscribing’ on Apple Podcasts.

This is just a stray observation from my own experience, but one that I think is quite useful. Apple Podcasts gets a bad rap because the UX is unfriendly and its market share has been devoured by Very Hungry Competitors. But it’s still sticky; anyone who’s using Apple Podcasts in 2021 is committed to it and blind to alternatives. And there are lots of reasons why your podcasts might end up taking a break — be that a few weeks, many months, or well over a year — and, in that case, listener loyalty is going to be very important. And from this anecdotal case, I feel like, over time, Apple Podcasts users are still proving to be more loyal than Spotifiers. But who knows what 2022 will bring.

Please follow me on Twitter for more fun stuff. I’m considering some sort of Patreon for more detailed pod analysis (and because I’m running out of money) so if you have any thoughts on that I’d be grateful if you ping me an email to nick@podotpods.com. Oh, and I’ll put the first episode of my podcast below just in case anything in the above has made you curious.

Writer. Podcast entrepreneur. London. Interested in politics and the media. Co-founder podotpods.com Email: nick@podotpods.com.