Steve Goldstein: Podcasting is doing fine; thank you

Steve Goldstein’s Amplifi Media works with media companies and podcasters in developing audio content strategies. Goldstein writes frequently at Blogstein, the Amplifi blog. Steve can be reached directly at 203-221-1400 or sjgoldstein-at-amplifimedia-dot-com.

If you are reading the headlines about podcasting, you might be a little nervous. There has been a lot of confusing and contradictory chatter about what the drop in new podcasts in 2022 means. Has the podcast bubble burst? Are podcasts on the way out?

Not likely.

Automatically conflating podcasting’s rise and drop of new titles as the arc for the entire business is a false signal and inaccurate. We have the data to prove it.

Lots of anomalies happened during the pandemic

Let’s set the stage. For many, podcasting was a ‘new new’ thing during the pandemic. Podcast creation rocketed up 70% between 2019 and 2020. The barriers to making a podcast were reduced to recording and posting for free directly from smartphones. Millions of people stuck at home tried their hand at creating and publishing content. Most of these “pandemic-casts” stopped after just a handful of episodes.

Pandemic weirdness affected many business categories. Airfryer sales shot up 60%. Views of cooking videos on YouTube more than doubled. Sourdough, by the way, was a big winner.

Sales of used cars spiked, and now post-pandemic sales are off.  You see empty Carvana towers.

Streaming video services like Netflix soared with more than five years of expected growth in just two years. Online video subscriptions were up 26% in 2021, hitting 1 billion users worldwide. Now, as the pandemic (hopefully) recedes, video fatigue has set in. Netflix reported its first drop in users. On top of that, smaller streamers are concerned about churn, with many competitors chasing too few credit cards. Predictable, right?

It’s Not Just The Pandemic-Casts.  Many Companies Rushed Into The Space Releasing Lots Of Titles And Many Failed To Capture Enough Audience To Continue.

We have been tracking podcast creation stats since before the pandemic, always with an eye toward understanding the universe of actively produced content, not the box office headlines. The headlines are about competing with millions of podcasts. The reality is a lot different.

The ratio of active podcasts was pretty much the same throughout the pandemic. 

While the number of podcasts undoubtedly rose over the past few years, the ratio of active podcasts is remarkably consistent. We’ve been tracking the mortality rate of podcasts for years. You can dig into the research here: June 2019April 2021August 2022. You’ll find the number of regularly produced podcasts has remained somewhat steady since before the pandemic in 2019.  In fact, before the pandemic, there were more podcasts out of production than in.

As of our last analysis in August, almost half of all podcasts  47% — produced three or fewer episodes and then went away.  Those producing 10 or more episodes and a new one in the last week was roughly just 156,000 podcasts. That’s not a typo.

Today there are 1.8 million more podcasts (2.5 million) on Apple than in June 2019. It’s still the same story. Less than a third (31%) produced an episode in the past year. Only 18% were active in the past three months.  Looking at the 4 million podcasts tracked by Podcast Index, the three month number is 12.2%.

Podcasting is a healthy, but maturing and evolving business

It’s not just the pandemic-casts.  Plenty of companies rushed into the space releasing lots of titles and many failed to capture enough audience to continue.

We saw this happening in real time and wrote about the changes to the business back in October 2022. The rightsizing of the podcast industry is a natural step as the business matures. No one is immune from the learning curve. CEO Daniel Ek talked about tapping the breaks on some of Spotify’s shoot-the-moon tactics in the earnings call this week.

We Just Need A Little More Rigor And A Little Less Throwing Spaghetti Against The Wall.

Just like all media, the podcast space is dynamic, exciting and rapidly evolving. It’s full of possibility and wonder. We just need a little more rigor and a little less throwing spaghetti against the wall. The next generation of podcasts will likely have greater research, focus and muscle behind them. Companies that produce and promote fewer high-quality podcasts will be better positioned for optimal growth.

So, let’s get past the jarring headlines.

The “launch it and they will come” era is over. Great content and smart marketing are the cornerstones of success and remain rarified air.


Steve Goldstein