It’s 2.5 years now since I joined Syp and Steff on the adventure of podcasting about MMO music. Without fail, we have recorded two episodes per month – about 2.5 hours of time spent on Skype and a couple more hours to actually prep for the shows. Battle Bards is somewhat more time intense than other podcasts I have participated in because the entire concept is based on thematic challenges between the three of us, meaning research must be done in advance and picks must be shared and prepped. That sounds like a lot of work for a niche podcast but we’re obviously really into the subject matter or we wouldn’t be doing it. Same as for blogging, you have to podcast for yourself first.
Intrinsic motivation or not, it doesn’t mean you don’t hope for a degree of feedback and positive reception. Blogging and podcasting in a public space are social activities and about connecting with kindred spirits. So whatever content you put out, you hope it’s somewhat useful to somebody else, informative or entertaining. Most of us assume it is at least a tiny bit, but we rarely get unmistakeable “proof”. For one, much fewer people tend to comment on blogs than there are readers; no matter a positive or more critical comment, feedback is therefore valued and appreciated. About half of my frequent commenters are bloggers themselves who understand this very well.
In my humble experience, podcasting is a similar beast yet different from blogging. It takes time to establish a podcast, get the word out and build a backlog – that last part being a major factor both for blog traffic or podcast downloads. It’s very easy to misinterpret podcasting stats by mistaking monthly downloads for individual listeners; as long as you remain active in whatever you do, you’re bound to get more hits and/or downloads over time because of a growing archive. This is especially true for episodic and thematically narrow podcast formats where individual episodes aren’t subject to time / decay of interest. It actually takes dedicated services like Libsyn for more accurate analysis if understanding your podcast’s growth and audience are what you’re after. Often it’s all you can do and even then, you can’t track downloads from other platforms such as iTunes.
Battle Bards is maybe a curious case insofar that our first two episodes were both downloaded 1000 times when they came out, looking at libsyn. I personally did not expect this and put it down to several factors including the three of us being longtime bloggers (which is three times the advertising power) as well as novelty and curiosity (“let’s hear how these folk sound in real life”). Our initial numbers didn’t remain steady – they went back to an average of 300-500 downloads per episode in our first year. Today, our first ever ten episodes all range between 800-2000 downloads each which demonstrates what has happened over time. The backlog is still being listened to.
Roughly from Q1 of 2015, our average downloads per episode have now doubled from what they were in year one. This means there must be a bigger audience but it’s difficult to say how many regular listeners we have, joining from start to finish. Really, who IS our core audience? When do they listen to Battle Bards and from where? Cold numbers give no feedback.
We receive comments from time to time and emails which are always a highlight. They’ve become more rare of late which to me indicates that our more vocal listeners have already made themselves known. Podcasts don’t really inspire continuous interaction the way blogs do; our format certainly raises no big questions to be debated and there isn’t synchronous interaction happening in a comment thread. If someone leaves us a message, it can take up to a month before we reply on air.
So generally, unless you’re part of a super popular podcast with a huge following, you have to deal with the silence of an invisible audience. Stats can tell you that you’re still alive and going but they won’t tell you anything about who’s listening. They also won’t give you a thumbs up and say how much they enjoyed that last episode. Your absence may be noted but as long as you’re always on schedule, your listeners are counting on you silently. Or so you hope.
And that’s okay. It’s still really sweet whenever one of them steps out of the shadows to announce they’re still there, though.