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On Podcasting’s Retention Rate

Plus: Techmeme's new daily podcast has a big plan to take advantage of day-parting

Retention. My attempt at basic analytics this week didn’t turn out to be entirely successful, though the overall point I was trying to make nonetheless held true — the benefit, I suppose, of not being particularly specific in pulling conclusions or lessons from those numbers.

As a reminder, here was the table I ran:

A reader correctly pointed out that if I wanted to break out the retention rate, the formula I used should have been the other way around: (Monthly Listeners)/(Ever Listened), as opposed to the (Ever Listened)/(Monthly Listeners) pursuit I used to illustrate the broad strokes of the ratio.

But the larger fix, which was also highlighted over Twitter by Steadfast Venture Capital’s Dave Ambrose, has to do with accounting for the fact that Monthly Active User growth generally rolls along at a slower pace compared with the more casual denominator (in this case, “Ever Listened”). Put another way: it’s easier to be casual, it’s much harder to be committed — “it takes time to habituate,” as one reader put it — and therefore it’s that much harder for the underlying dynamics driving the retention rate to achieve some kind of liftoff or acceleration, if there will ever be one.

It was also extended out to me that as an overall listenership grows bigger, there is a tendency for more engaged and nuanced audience measures tend not to grow as quickly or in natural tandem. This makes intuitive sense to me; it’s the story of every small business that becomes a global corporate empire, every town that becomes a booming city. But I wonder to what extent will podcasting’s growth follow in accordance to this arc.

Day-parting. Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera tweeted out an excerpt of this week’s write-up on its new daily podcast after the newsletter wen tout, and there’s something about the way he phrased Brian McCullough’s that stood out to me.

He wrote: “Here’s @brianmcc (of Techmeme Ride Home fame!) on how podcasters are now learning to do what radio people have been doing for almost a century.”

There is, of course, a certain counter-intuitiveness to this idea. Part of the whole point — and structural innovation — of podcasting is how its on-demand nature liberates it from certain defining limitations of broadcast; in particular, it’s linearity and confinement to the terms of the specific physical location it serves, which puts a cap on both the publisher and listener’s sense of autonomy over relating to the program being distributed. If podcasting is free from the particular confines of place and time, then why should it emulate what is essentially a strategy that emerges as a consequences of its predecessor’s limitations?

In my mind, the answer is simple enough: because it can, and because you’d be harnessing the benefits of a strategy without needing to grapple with the downsides of the core weaknesses that necessitated the strategy — it’s the same ceiling, but higher floor. At the same time, though, I have a strong feeling that a podcast’s day-parting moves has more to do with its head than its tail, and therein lies in the nature of the new risk: the more specific you get with the head, the more you likely limit the benefits reaped by the tail.