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Podcast popularity is on the rise. But why?

September 20, 2019


Melissa Guller


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Believe it or not, the term “podcast” has only been around for 15 years. It was first coined in 2004 by Ben Hammersley as a portmanteau two words, “iPod” and “broadcast.”

But especially within the last decade (the 2010s), podcast popularity has skyrocketed faster than Pumpkin Spice Lattes in September.

According to MusicOomph, in 2019, there were more than 700,000 active podcasts and more than 29 million podcast episodes. Additionally, according to Apple’s 2018 reports, these numbers were at 550,000 and 18.5 million last year, respectively.

To put the math together, we see that 150,000 podcasts launched in the last year alone. (The Wit & Wire Podcast was one of them, if you want to check it out.)

The numbers will likely continue to climb, and here are five reasons why podcast popularity is through the roof (and here to stay).

1. Podcasting is portable.

Commuting takes up a lot of time for a lot of us. Whether you drive an hour each way or are stuck on a bus or subway, many commuters have 30-60+ minutes twice a day where they’re stuck in a vehicle.

Unlike reading, podcasts don’t require your visual attention, so they’re a great choice to keep entertained while you’re on the go. It’ll feel like you’ve got a friend riding along with you, sharing all kinds of sweet info or stories.

2. Listening can be a secondary activity.

Reading can be a tough activity for many people because it requires your full attention. (You can’t read the latest thriller while driving to work, or doing un-fun adult things like mopping your floor or paying bills.)

With podcasts, you can have it all. You can catch up on politics while you cook, or follow your new favorite serial series while you vacuum. (Well, maybe during a quieter activity.)

Here’s what Backyard Media reported from an Infinite Dial study:

[This] shows that listeners consume podcasts as an engaging secondary activity, often when their primary activity isn’t mentally demanding. We can see this with the high percentage of respondents who mention transportation (a full two-thirds of respondents, between listening in car and on public transportation) and “at home” (e.g. cleaning, cooking, relaxing).

Because podcasts don’t require active attention, we see high percentages of listenership during rote activities. Interestingly, listening while at work comes in fairly low – only 29%. Despite the high number of hours Americans spending working each week, most of them do not listen to podcasts during that time, as working precludes the type of attention-giving that podcast listening requires.

3. There’s something for everyone.

Unlike classic talk radio, podcasts let you get as specific as you want about that really weird thing you love that your friends don’t understand. In fact, a lot of niche podcasts are quite successful because of their laser-focus on a specific interest or audience. It’s exactly what someone out there is looking for.

Take Bree Noble, host and creator of the popular Female Entrepreneur Musician Podcast. With over 150+ episodes to date, Bree shares insights on how to create a sustainable career as a woman in the music business.

Or the Purple Rock Survivor Podcastwhere they exclusively talk about the CBS Show Survivor. (For any fellow Survivor fans out there, I think we can all take a moment to appreciate their graphic, which says “Outblog, outtweet, outpodcast.”)

Their podcast isn’t about “TV Shows.”

It’s not even about reality TV shows.

It’s not even about reality competition-style TV shows.

They’ve made an entire podcast about Survivor, and there are countless other podcasts dedicated to specific fandoms. This list could go on for days. But trust me; almost any topic – done right – can turn into a great, popular podcast.

4. You can learn, laugh, or both!

Podcasts are more than just entertainment. They’re also a great way to grow your skills or learn more about the world around you.

Many listeners enjoy news updates, how-to shows, interviews, or investigative journalism. There are also comedy shows, book recaps, and movie reviews.

But there’s also a crossover, where a true crime podcast could be a comedy. You can learn and laugh all at once. You can feel all the feels in whatever order you choose.

5. Unlike most media, podcasting creates a conversation.

This is perhaps my favorite reason of all, and the reason why I believe podcast popularity is slowly picking up steam.

To me, what sets podcasts apart is the two-way dialogue it creates between creator and listener. In books, movies, and TV shows – all of which I love and mean no disrespect – we’re hearing a story told through someone else’s eyes. Whether it’s fiction, a documentary, or a reality TV show I’m currently watching where people get voted off the island (ahem), no other mediums create a conversation the way that a podcast can.

Conversation can take place between cohosts, or between host and guest. But even solo podcasters are having a conversation…with you! The listener.

In a lot of ways, podcasts are like listening in on a phone call. I mean sure, sometimes it’s a super well-edited phone call with beautiful background music to set the mood here and there, but what I mean is that someone is in your ear, and you’re hearing their point of view.

And really, I think that’s why podcasts are so powerful. They offer listeners a chance to hear a fresh perspective on beloved topics, or expand their horizons into worlds unexplored. And as hosts, it’s our responsibility to share a perspective – ours or someone else’s – worth amplifying.

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