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The Other Chart

So, I spilled quite a bit of ink last week on the Apple Podcast charts, how it seemed more dysfunctional than usual, and how that complicates the way the industry is represented to the eyes of many newcomers. Apologies for quoting myself, but I posed two underlying questions: “What does it mean when the top of the Apple podcast charts, one of the first touch-points for many newcomers, features more scams than authentic entries? What signal of values does the chart project to those experiencing their first glimpse of the wider podcast universe?”

Versions of these queries very much apply to the Podtrac Industry Publisher ranker, by the way, which is the other major node of industry representation that functions as a first touch for many newcomers — and which still gets cited as an authoritative picture of the “top end” of the podcast industry without much caveat.

As a reminder: Podtrac’s Publisher ranker continues to work with an incomplete sample. Which is to say, its list of Top Ten publishers only includes those who have chosen to participate in the ranking, and a good number of major players still have not. (The case is different for Podtrac’s Podcast ranker, which purports to list shows regardless of whether they opt into Podtrac’s system.) I know nobody really clicks through when I link to my older columns — newsletter analytics, baby — but I wrote about those chart limitations two years ago.

Among the notable publishers that still do not participate in Podtrac’s Publisher Ranker: Gimlet Media, the Vox Media Podcast Network, Cadence13, and Stitcher. That’s not to say that they would all show up in the top 10 if they were included, mind you; I’m just making a point about what the ranker is actually telling you, and many of those noteworthy podcast shops remain excluded at this writing.

This should not be taken to mean that Podtrac industry ranker isn’t a helpful resource. I’ve come to find it really useful as a snapshot of the several major publishers that have opted into the list, and it’s generated some interesting questions for research: I, for one, am fascinated by why many companies in Podtrac’s top ten seems to cluster around the 5 million unique US monthly listeners mark. All I’m saying is that being “the third biggest publisher on the Podtrac” is far from being the “third biggest podcast publisher,” period — which is an interchanging I’ve seen used a fair bit.

In general, I’d counsel being wary of any industry analysis, ~thought leadership~, or self-congratulations using the Podtrac ranker that:

  • Doesn’t mention the fact that its incomplete sampling;
  • Further, doesn’t take into serious consideration the efficiency ratios of listed publishers — a publisher that needs 600+ shows to reach 5 million unique US monthly listeners has a very different industry position compared to a publisher that reaches the same audience number with only 5 or 6 shows.

In other words, I’m advocating for nuance. Which, you know, is an impossible task in this mortal coil, for we are alone in the world.