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Steve Goldstein: Why is the Google Podcasts App Failing So Hard?

Steve Goldstein’s Amplifi Media works with media companies and podcasters in developing audio content strategies. Goldsteing writes frequently at Blogstein, the Amplifi blog.


Here is what we know. Today, podcast listening is an Apple thing by a 5 to 1 margin over Android. Apple’s Podcasts app is native in IOS, so every user has the purple app on their phone. But smartphones are largely an Android thing in the U.S. and around the world. 55% of U.S users and 86% of the world are on phones with the Android operating system.

After much speculation, Google made a series of high-profile announcements in June of this year and introduced a new stand-alone Google Podcasts app. This pinned the applause meter from podcasters seeking to unlock a potential tidal wave of new listeners on smartphones.

That was June.

So how is the tsunami of Android listening going?

Thud.

According to multiple sources, listening via the Google Podcasts app is hovering at about 1% of podcast listening.

How can this be? Why has this initiative stalled (or flamed) out? And more importantly, what can be done to unlock the vast Android audience and bring them into the era of podcasts?

I turned to some industry pros, not just for observations but also recommendations to get Google on track.

Our panel: Rob Walch, VP Podcaster Relations at Libsyn; James Cridland, Editor of the daily podcasting newsletter Podnews; Todd Cochrane, CEO at RawVoice/Blubrry; Seth Resler, Digital Dot Connector at Jacobs Media; Eric Nuzum, consultant and former SVP at Audible & VP programming at NPR; and Rob Greenlee, VP Podcaster Relations at Voxnest/Spreaker.

SG: Why doesn’t Google Podcasts appear to be taking off?

Cridland: It’s kind of worse than that – Google’s figures, as far as I can see, are decreasing, not increasing, since launch. People tried it and abandoned it. Google’s not promoted this at all, except a piece of paper in Podcast Movement delegate badges. Literally nothing else.

Resler: While Google’s Podcasts app is technically pre-installed on all Android phones – it’s a “contextual app” that automatically opens when you click on certain links — nobody knows that it’s there because there is no homescreen icon.

Walch: It is not truly native – there is not that moment when someone unboxes a new Android device and looks around at the pre-installed apps and finds Google Podcasts.

Cochrane: Apple made it drop dead simple to subscribe to a show, a single click gets you there. The Android implementation needs to be simple and fast.

SG: Are people aware that Google has a podcast app?

Greenlee: I don’t see the energy behind the project, that I saw or felt at the beginning. Google has not decided to be all in on Podcasting yet and has held back on the efforts for unknown reasons. I think the entry strategy to the space was fine, but it needs to keep progressing in more visible ways to expand and to also make a page in Google that allows direct submission of RSS feeds instead of expecting the Google spider to find all the RSS feeds which does not always work.

Cridland: No. Podcasters aren’t even aware, let alone “people.” I think the “Google Podcasts team” is a man called Zack, and perhaps one fulltime developer. I may have doubled its size there.

Resler: It’s a gateway app. To successfully serve as a gateway, people need to know that it’s there.

SG: How is the App?

Nuzum: I think Google’s podcast app sucks for the same reason that ALL podcast apps suck: it is trying to be all things to all people. In order to bring new people in, there has to be something devoted to that introductory experience. The Google app is just more of what’s available everywhere.

Cridland: The product is bare bones, but also – most importantly – not apparently being worked on. There have been no visible improvements to the product since launch, excepting the addition of variable play speed. “Search in episode” was in the code in July, but still hasn’t launched. It looks like they’ve already given up.

Greenlee: The bar for podcast apps quality is pretty high and Google is just not to the level of feature function it needs to be at.

SG: What can Google do to enhance their effort?

Cochrane: Do not autolist shows, make podcasters submit to be listed. This would at least make podcasters aware there is a Google Podcasts destination. Seems they’re in this for the ‘competition’ and not to actually foster growth. They need to step up their game. Adding “audio” or “podcast” to Google.com search similar to Maps, News and Image would fix this.

Resler: Awareness about the Google Podcasts app’s existence is low. I don’t think Google needs to engage in a big publicity campaign around their Podcasts app. I think they just need to get the icon on the homescreen.

SG: Are podcasters promoting the app?

Cochrane: I am constantly reviewing podcasts, podcasters may mention Google Podcasts on 1 out of 25 shows. Yet they mention Apple Podcasts every single show. So it’s a combination of actions. Lack of promotion by Google and podcasters forgetting about the world’s most popular mobile platform Android.

Walch: They must add a submission page – It is one thing that Google is not promoting it – it is worse that Podcasters are not.

SG: Final thoughts

Cridland: What Android needs is an equivalent to the Apple Podcasts app – something that is reasonably guaranteed to be there, something that offers enough base features to be a decent experience, and something relatively frictionless for new listeners.

Nuzum: In order to pry people away from the app they are currently using, there needs to be a tangible benefit for the user, not the distributor.

Walch: Until the app is truly native the chance for real success is minimal and it will stay at the 1% or less range. And that is bad overall for podcasting.

So, here is where we are: Mobile is where the podcast action is. The great opportunity to turbocharge podcasting is an easy-to-use, native app on the Android platform. So close.

Here are steps:

  • Google’s mission is different than Apple. They are about search. Embrace that. Contextual search which surfaces podcast choices can be massively valuable.
  • Podcasters need to get on board and promote Google Podcasts. The thinking and industry voice need to move beyond Apple-only to exponentially grow Android podcast use. This includes education – teaching people how to listen on Android.
  • Google should enable RSS submission. That will improve accuracy and motivate podcasters.
  • True, there are capable podcast apps that operate on Android today, but nothing comes close to having a native app in front of two billion monthly active devices.

C’mon Google. You can do it. Embrace the business. Reach out to podcasters. Make it native.

Rewind 15 seconds.

Reboot.

Steve Goldstein

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