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The incredible shrinking podcast industry | Semafor

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Apple has quietly tightened its reporting of how many people listen to podcasts, sending shock waves through an embattled audio industry still reeling from the end of the COVID-era production bubble.

The shift, Apple wrote in a blog post, was technical: The dominant podcasting platform had begun switching off automatic downloads for users who haven’t listened to five episodes of a show in the last two weeks.

But while few users noticed the shift, some of the biggest podcasts in the world saw their official listener numbers drop dramatically. Long-running shows that publish frequently were hit particularly hard. A user who listened to a show like The New York Times’ The Daily a few times, subscribed, but stopped listening would continue to count as a download indefinitely. Even better under the old rules: For people who listened to a show, dropped off for a while, but started listening again later, Apple would automatically download every show in between. The arrangement drove big download numbers, a crucial metric for ad sales and a sign of the vast reach of podcasts as a medium.

For instance, The Daily and Dateline both publicly touted reaching over a billion total downloads. But representatives for these shows would not say if those numbers or other impressive daily or weekly download stats are still accurate, though several of the biggest podcasts acknowledged privately to Semafor that they had seen noticeable declines, and were still trying to determine the actual size of their audience following the change.

The shift came with no immediate warning. People who work on audio at The New York Times, NPR, and other major publishers told Semafor they were surprised by the September change, which had been years in the making but came with no advanced warning from Apple. One podcast network told Semafor it had seen its downloads drop between single digits and low double digits depending on the show. Another well-known podcaster and executive said for some shows, the decline in downloads was as high as 40%.

“Nearly every podcast that regularly publishes got an enormous haircut,” one podcast industry insider said.



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