How to Produce Less & Grow Your Podcast More

May 10, 2021

So many "gurus" teach that cumulative monthly downloads is the number to worry about and so, they teach "publish more". Let's look at why that's wrong.

Last week I authored a podcast growth thread on Twitter containing five things that I see podcasters doing wrong every day and quick ways to fix them.

Over the next five weeks, I'm going deeper into each of these problems to add more context, take a closer look at how to implement the fix and why I suggested each particular approach.

Cumulative downloads = the total number of downloads that your entire show has had for the month across all episodes. 

Aka “the biggest number”.

The cumulative download number sounds really awesome when you say it out loud.

I do it myself if I'm in the pub (remember those?!) and someone asks how many people listen to my podcast. I'll reel off the monthly cumulative download number because I've had half a pint and it sounds good!

As a marketer and software company founder, the biggest number is the one you keep an eye on and tell your mates about, but it's not the one that you focus on.

In my business, I'm more interested in trial sign-ups, activation rates and churn rates because if those numbers are performing well, the “big” numbers (sales, total revenue) will increase naturally and frankly it's those supporting numbers that drive the big numbers up – without those, the big numbers don't exist.

As a podcaster, total downloads is our “big” number and it's the one that you see smattered all over sales pages for courses from gurus. Rightly so, of course, they have achieved those numbers but in doing that it's often implied that it's that number that matters day-to-day as a podcaster.

It's not.

The supporting numbers are much more important and the total downloads number is a nice to have figure. 

Sadly, many podcast gurus know how to launch a podcast but they don't usually know how to grow one. Often they have an audience already or they created an original idea that got early traction because of its audacity – all to be commended, but not always bought.

Which numbers should we be focusing on, then?

This one: the number of downloads that any given episode gets within 28 days of release. 

The reasons are 1. sponsors want that number because 2. it's a pretty fair estimation of the number of true fans you have and the efficacy of your marketing.

With that in mind, the advice that many gurus dish out on how to grow your show being “produce more content” begins to waver a little. If we produce more, we get busier OR we get more automated.

Often, these two outcomes lead to our content being worse because we're focused too much on quantity versus quality and if we think even deeper on that, it could mean that our per episode download number decreases as our content gets worse.

We enter a cycle of diminishing returns and should focus on producing better content rather than more content to grow our audience of genuine fans.

I've spoken about this before and now that I've added some context, let me get to the fix.

Podcasting is a game of attention. 

First, we have to get it (more on that when we start to talk episode titles!) and then we have to keep it. 

The latter is arguably harder than the former because people change their habits based on their moods.

Sure, I may have a habit of listening to a podcast every time I get in the car, but my mood changes and my habit may be to listen to the one or two shows that I simply cannot miss before hunting for new audio content to satiate today's mood for comedy, or drama, or musical interviews for example.

The only way to keep someone's attention in anything is to be so good at what you do and to give someone something that they simply can't do without, that you become one of those top few “must-listen” shows.

Automating and doing more episodes is not the way to achieve this. 

Producing significantly better content is the way to do this.

But what is “better” when, in theory, “better” is subjective?

I think that there are a few questions that we can ask ourselves as podcasters that can help us to build an internal framework that will, in turn, result in better podcast episodes that “hook” the listener more.

A podcast episode must be constructed in such a way that it benefits the listener, not us. Rather than creating a simple, repeatable format for the show we should be focused on creating a simple, repeatable formula that results in depth of content.

Before creating your next piece of content, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I crafted an introduction that spends time telling the listener why they should stick around? Your London Legacy and Forgotten Boxers do this well.
  • Have I approached my subject from a fresh perspective or dug into elements of the subject that are interesting, yet underserved? A great example of this is rather than telling the story of something, tell the story of someone and their motivations for doing the thing. Humanising everything creates emotional triggers and tethers.
  • Have I focused on editing my episode into the most cohesive, tightly focused version of that episode possible? Have I cut out anything extraneous or that doesn't serve the listener or episode?

I'll be going into more detail in a few weeks on how to motivate listeners to listen to more of each episode and the above questions are there to give you a starter framework when building out new episodes.

By focusing on the questions I've set out here you can be sure that you're looking at your episodes from a more objective, listener-focused perspective and from there you can build your episodes around that listener.

The goal of every podcast episode that you produce is to take your listener on a journey from A to B; from not knowing something to understanding it a little better; from being in need of entertainment through to feeling entertained.

We can't ask listeners to make us their number one, must-listen, podcast choice without giving them a reason to do so and if we do give them a reason to do so then we stand a chance of them sharing what we do with other people. 

More on that next time.

Your next steps

I teach podcasting a lot, and usually for free. So, here's what I'd recommend you do next:

P.S. you can start engaging with your listeners using AWeber. It's free, no credit card required: https://www.MarkAsquith.com/AWeber


This is The Podcast Accelerator, helping busy podcasters to grow their audience in specific, actionable ways.

I’m your host Mark Asquith, The British Podcast Guy and CEO and co-founder of Rebel Base Media, the podcast tech company that creates the Podcast Success Academy, Podcast Websites, Poductivity, Rebel Base Studios & Captivate.fm, the world’s only growth-oriented podcast host where you can get your first month of podcast hosting for just one dollar and transfer an existing podcast in, completely free.

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Mark Asquith

That British podcast guy, Mark is CEO & co-founder of Rebel Base Media, a podcast tech and strategy company that owns Captivate.fm, Poductivity, Podcast Websites, Podcast Success Academy & Rebel Base Studios. He's a wildly approachable Brit and Star Wars/DC Comics geek.

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