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Help! They’re Abandoning Your Podcast!

Some interesting new podcast usage stats, as reported in eMarketer:

Research from Bridge Ratings looked at the abandoment [sic] rates of podcasts among US listeners. A quarter of US podcast listeners abandoned podcasts that ran 45 to 60 minutes, though a lower 15% of respondents abandoned podcasts longer than 1 hour. Shorter podcasts had significantly lower abandonment rates. For example, just 5% of listeners abandoned podcasts that were less than 5 minutes long.

I’d like to take issue with the term “abandonment.” This is an awful term that suggests a meaning which isn’t deserved.

You might assume from this description that a “shorter” podcast is, by nature, “better” than a longer one. After all, the shortest podcasts were the least likely to be, as the piece puts it, “abandoned.”

But when we stop listening before the podcast says “the end,” it doesn’t mean we are “abandoning” that podcast.

Sometimes we run out of time. Any podcast longer than our commute will be left behind if the purpose of our listening is to accompany our commute. That doesn’t mean we “abandoned” the podcast. It means we used as much of it as we had time for, and that was all we needed.

Sometimes we get out of content what we want and don’t need to spend more time, no matter how much more content there is to listen to. Just because your podcast runs 30 minutes doesn’t mean we don’t get what we want out of it in less time than that. In other words, “abandonment” doesn’t imply dissatisfaction. It could simply represent that we are full without cleaning our proverbial plates.

None of this means the podcast is “too long.” In fact, your podcast is as long as I, the consumer, make it no matter how long you produce it to be.

Further, if 25% “abandon” podcasts that are an hour long, doesn’t that suggest 75% do not? Anyone who has spied comparable numbers for video will tell you that these data suggest podcasts are infinitely “stickier” than video. Isn’t that something we should be celebrating?

“Abandonment” suggests a quality deficiency. We don’t “abandon” a good TV show, so why should we “abandon” a great podcast episode? However, this ignores the contexts in which audio is used the the reasons why consumers use it.

Your podcast should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story you need to tell.

A 5-minute podcast is likely 5 minutes long not because it is great at “getting to the point,” but probably because that length makes the most sense for the content it contains – for example, an NPR newscast. The reasons one listens to such a show are tangibly different from the motivations to tune in, say, Adam Carolla or Kevin Smith in all their hour-long glory. 5 minutes of Kevin Smith wouldn’t even make any sense, unless it’s strictly a tease or some highlight disembodied from the kind of context the artist intends and the listener desires.

Now, you would be smart to front-load your podcasts with highlights and reasons to keep listening, of course. And you would be even smarter to pace your podcast to the content it contains rather to than some arbitrary spot on the clock (rare are the hour-long podcasts that would not be better shows if they were shorter shows).

But if I tune out your podcast mid-way, that says less about the length of your show and more about the length of my available time window.

A vehicle on the side of the road is abandoned.

A podcast left unheard may just be content we don’t need right now.

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