Why do podcasts like mine want more listeners?

This might seem like a really obvious question: why do I, an academic and independent podcaster, want more listeners? Of course it’s because we want our content in more ears, right? But why do we want our content in more ears?

I have two shows right now: one that’s a history podcast called Consolation Prize, made by academics but targeted more toward history-lovers who aren’t in academia (though many of our current listeners are academics); and one that’s for kids, called Big If True, about random big things in the universe. Both of these shows need listeners, and here’s why.

Minifigure with headphones and laptop

Why listener numbers don’t matter

Before I get to why we do want listeners, there are few ways in which listener numbers DON’T matter to me.

I don’t care about ad revenue.

It’s important for us to say at the outset that we don’t need listeners to drive ad revenue. Many podcasts survive only on ad revenue, and I don’t have any problems with ads in podcasts. Goodness knows I’ve bought things because of podcast ads, so they clearly work (research bears this out). However, at this moment in the life of both of my shows, no one would advertise on our show anyway because…we don’t have enough listeners! But even if we do ever hit that mark, ad revenue is never going to be a primary driver of listenership. For starters, I don’t know that we’ll ever even do ads. Certainly there are some ethical issues with placing ads on a kids’ show. And since Consolation Prize is run by an academic unit, there are likely some complicated legal issues with ad revenue there as well.

So will my shows always be ad-free? I can’t make any promises, but signs point to yes, or limited ads at most.

Listenership isn’t an ego trip.

There are some podcasters who seem to view their listener numbers as some sort of validation of their worth, or, less charitably, a trip for their ego. I won’t lie that it feels good to see the listener numbers go up, but we don’t want listeners solely so we can brag about the number of listeners.

Girl listening on her bed, with headphones on

We do need listeners, however!

Listenership numbers still matter. Here are a few reasons why.

We think our shows have value.

For both of the shows that I helm, I think we’re telling stories that people need to hear. (If I didn’t, it would be stupid for us to have a show.) I’ve become increasingly convinced that podcasting is an effective way of disseminating information, and I think our shows do a good job of it. So of course I want people to hear it. Plus, we put a TON of work into each show, and so it’s nice to see that other people value the work as well.

We want to showcase other people.

We love having guests on the shows because it gives other people a chance to show off what THEY do well. That’s why I love having junior scholars on Consolation Prize; it’s why we reach out to scientists and historians and other people. It’s so fun to spread the news about all the amazing scholarship and adventure that’s happening in the world, and we want our guests to get as much great feedback on their work as possible.

Bigger numbers breed better content.

There are a lot of ways bigger numbers breed better content.

First, bigger numbers mean more incentive for guests to come on the show. Naturally, if people are going to sit down for an interview, they want to be heard by a lot of people. So the larger audience, the more likely prospective guests will say yes. Plus, the likelihood of a guest having heard of our show and thus be more interested in coming on the show goes up if the listenership is bigger.

Second, bigger numbers mean more revenue through other means. We don’t have a Patreon or microdonation system set up yet for either podcast, but it doesn’t seem worth it right now because of the small listener numbers. The numbers just don’t support us even bothering with the setup of those accounts. But at some point, Big if True in particular is fully self-funded, so it would be nice for us to make a little bit of money in order to improve our setup and expand our outreach.

Third, bigger numbers, of course, is a self-fulfilled prophecy: the more people who listen, the more other people who listen. Right now, I know probably 75% of our listeners personally in some way. It sure would be lovely to get people to listen whom I DON’T know personally. Everyone says that word of mouth is the best advertisement for podcasts, so the more mouths words can come out of, the better.

So, what’s the conclusion?

Well, there are a few takeaways:

  • Listen to my shows. 😂
  • Actually, that’s it. Listen to my shows. 😂