We recently started using Podtrac to track the downloads of my Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. We only have two months of data, covering just a handful of recent episodes, but so far the stats seem to indicate that we’re getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000-8,000 downloads per episode. Naturally that made me curious as to what sort of download numbers other, similar podcasts are getting. I’ve spent a week or two poking around online looking for data, and here’s what I’ve come up with.
The most popular geek-oriented podcast right now is The Nerdist, hosted by Chris Hardwick, which reportedly gets about 200,000 downloads per episode. Hardwick is fairly well-known for having hosted the MTV dating show Singled Out back in the ’90s and has extensive Hollywood contacts, and was able from the start to get all sorts of celebrities on his podcast, which is presumably the main factor in the show’s meteoric rise. He subsequently launched a number of spinoff shows all under the “Nerdist Industries” banner. For example, The Nerdist Writers Panel covers mostly TV writing and The Indoor Kids covers video games. I haven’t seen any numbers for those shows, but based on iTunes reviews I’d estimate they’re maybe somewhere in the 10,000-20,000 range, but that’s just a guess. At any rate, the Nerdist audience is growing rapidly and the spinoff shows probably will too. (Nerdist Industries was recently acquired by Legendary Entertainment for an undisclosed sum.)
Incidentally, the only way to know how many downloads a show is getting is for the show to report its numbers. (And assuming they’re not exaggerating.) For shows that haven’t posted numbers, you can get a rough idea of how popular they are by seeing how many reviews they have on iTunes, though of course it’s entirely possible that some seemingly-popular podcasts may have tons of sock-puppet reviews. This is apparently a big problem on Amazon, though I don’t know how much it happens on iTunes. My sense is not a lot, but who knows? At any rate, if a podcast has released hundreds of episodes and received few or no reviews, it seems a pretty safe bet that it’s not super-popular. You can also look at the iTunes charts and see how different podcasts compare to each other. It’s top secret exactly how iTunes determines podcast rankings, but it seems to involve some combination of how many new subscribers you’ve picked up in the past week + how good your reviews are. So if one podcast is ranked higher than another, it definitely doesn’t mean that it’s more popular overall, which complicates things, but you can still get a rough idea over time about the relative popularity of different podcasts.
Among shows that, like mine, cater mainly to fantasy & science fiction readers, the most popular is Escape Pod, which has been podcasting a short story a week more or less continuously since 2005. Escape Pod now focuses primarily on science fiction, and has spun off two other podcasts, Pseudopod (horror) and Podcastle (fantasy). According to Locus magazine, the average downloads per episode for the three shows are 27,000 for Escape Pod, 15,000 for Pseudopod, and 12,000 for Podcastle. The most popular science fiction podcast focused on writing advice is Writing Excuses, which reportedly gets over 10,000 downloads per episode. I also came across figures for The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast (over 4,000) and The Dragon Page (about 3,200).
Another popular podcast focusing largely on fantasy & science fiction books is The Incomparable, which seems to be put together mostly by folks associated with Macworld magazine. Within the past year or so, The Incomparable joined the 5by5 podcast network. 5by5 is run by Dan Benjamin, a prominent tech blogger, and just based on the number of iTunes reviews the shows seem to be extremely popular. 5by5 seems to have made its name with a podcast called The Talk Show hosted by Benjamin and another prominent tech blogger named John Gruber. (Gruber’s blog reportedly has about 400,000 subscribers, and he’s able to charge $7500 a week to be his sponsor.) Gruber and Benjamin were apparently able to get a good chunk of their blog audiences to follow them over to their Talk Show podcast, and then entice a good chunk of that audience to check out some of their other shows. In addition to The Incomparable, they also have fantasy & science fiction oriented shows such as Geek Friday and The Ihnatko Almanac, all of which have hundreds of reviews on iTunes (rivaling Escape Pod) despite the apparent lack of involvement — either as hosts or guests — of anyone well-known within the sf community. (Subsequently Gruber and Benjamin seem to have had a falling out, and Gruber moved The Talk Show over to the Mule Radio Syndicate where it’s now called The Talk Show with John Gruber.) I haven’t seen download numbers for any 5by5 shows, but in an interview Benjamin threw out 40,000 as an example of a show with a high listenership and 3,000 as an example of a show with a low listenership. So just based on the comparative number of iTunes reviews, I’d guess that shows like The Incomparable, Geek Friday, and The Ihnatko Almanac probably fall somewhere in the 10,000-20,000 range.
There are also video podcasts. The Sword and Laser is a long-running fantasy & science fiction book club audio podcast that recently launched a video version as part of Felicia Day’s Geek and Sundry YouTube channel. Based on the iTunes charts, the audio version has never been as popular as, say, Escape Pod or Writing Excuses, but is almost always in the Top 20 or so Literature podcasts, which maybe puts it in the 10,000-20,000 range? Some of the videos on Youtube have gotten 100,000 views or more, but I’m not really sure how to compare Youtube views to iTunes downloads. (It seems like on Youtube you probably get tons of random people stumbling across the video but then not watching much of it, whereas I’d imagine a vastly higher percentage of people who download the episode via iTunes are actual fans who are going to listen to the whole thing.) One of the hosts of Sword and Laser, Veronica Belmont, also hosted a recently-cancelled video podcast about video games called Game On, which appeared on Leo Laporte’s TWiT network. The program reportedly cost about $7,000 per episode to produce and was generating about 27,000 downloads per show, falling short of the reported 50,000 per episode necessary to make it financially viable. io9 also recently launched a video podcast on the Revision3 internet TV network, and those videos seem to be generating in the 5,000-50,000 pageview range, but again, how to compare that to podcast downloads? [Note: Revision3 canceled the io9 show on 10/16/12]
Cliff Ravenscraft runs the Generally Speaking Production Network (GSPN), and is probably best known for his Podcast Answer Man show. In interviews he talks about reaching 60,000 listeners with his suite of a dozen or so podcasts. He got his start doing a podcast devoted to the TV show Lost, then branched out from there, and recently had a pretty popular podcast devoted to The Hunger Games. Podcasts devoted to a specific mega-popular media property seem to grow exponentially faster than other types of podcasts. Even within the Literature category, podcasts devoted to a specific, popular author such as Tolkien or Lovecraft seem to have grown in popularity with disproportionate speed. Podcasts devoted to HBO’s Game of Thrones are ridiculously popular right now. If I were starting out in podcasting today, I would definitely consider breaking in by doing a podcast devoted to a particular franchise, particularly if you can establish yourself as the fancast for something like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, or Game of Thrones before it really gets popular.