Your listeners are time poor, so challenge yourself to offer them value every minute – or cut your episodes down to size
I’ve spent some time this week catching up on all the news from last week’s Podcast Movement. PM is the big, annual US conference on all things podcasting. And while many sessions caught the eye, VP of Libsyn, Rob Walch’s session busting the marketing myths of podcasting was standing room only.
The myth that captured the most attention in Rob’s talk revolved around the ideal length of a podcast. Conventional wisdom says it should be about 22 minutes, as that’s just below the average length of a commute. Complete bunkum, says Rob. In fact, of the shows that had hit a hundred thousand downloads within 60 days, only 10% were under 30 minutes. 84% of them were 50 minutes or longer.
I worry people cling too tightly to stats like these. New podcasters may decide to go longer because they think that’s the way to get bigger downloads. What they might not think about is whether they have enough quality content to sustain 40 minutes, 50 minutes, or an hour.
Ideal Length of a Podcast
So how long should a podcast actually be? The question is impossible to answer; unless you’re happy with the answer “It depends”. It depends on the subject matter, it depends on the target audience. Our physical and emotional circumstances dictate the length of our attention spans from one day to the next.
Your podcast should be as long as it needs to be, providing that it remains compelling. If it doesn’t, you’re likely to lose people’s attention. Harsh as it sounds, you’re likely to start wasting your time and theirs.
No one is ever ungrateful to be handed back time. No one is ever disappointed if a delivery that was due between 9 and 5 turns up at 9.05, or even 9.30. So, if you’ve got some great points to make in your podcast, make them and get the hell out of there – while your listeners still want more.
Personally, I shudder when I see a podcast stretch over an hour, because I know I don’t have an hour to give. I will make exceptions, but the chances of me listening in one sitting is very unlikely.
Of course, what feels long to me might not feel long enough to someone else. But what unites podcast listeners is the need to derive value from what they’re listening to. Quality counts. I may balk at an hour but I wouldn’t listen to a 20-minute podcast if I thought it wasn’t going to be an investment of my time.
The average duration of the Top 10 Podcasts in the US right now is 40 minutes. Take Up First and Planet Money out of that Top 10 – both of which are under 20 minutes – and that average shoots up to nearer 50 minutes. Most, if not all, of these podcasts have big production teams. The latest edition of This American Life credits 34 people, plus presenter Ira Glass. These are resources beyond the reach of nearly all of us. Most UK radio stations don’t have 35 people on their staff, never mind on a single programme strand.
No one begrudges This American Life this level of production. It is magnificent. Perhaps the original podcast galactico. My point is that every word on every edition of TAL is measured. Poured over. Thought through. Nothing is wasted. No second of those 59 minutes is left to chance. This episode of Gimlet’s Start Up lifts the curtain a little on how much effort goes into producing big podcasts like these.
Would I give 50 minutes of me-time to Start Up or This American Life? Absolutely I would. I do. But that’s because I trust them that each minute of that programme is worth the investment.
Can the same be said of your podcast? Are there any areas that are flabby? Is that introduction too long? Are your jokes too ‘in’? Is your audio quality good enough to listen to over a sustained period? Is your content well thought through? Do you know how you’re going to start, move on, and end? Are you guiding your listener by the hand through your episode, so they know what’s coming next?
Challenge yourself. Does every minute offer value? If it doesn’t, cut it back.
Because we’re all time-poor. And your listener is trusting you with one of the most precious commodities they have; their time. If you handle that with care, then you’ll build a relationship that will see them transition from occasional listeners, to regular listeners, to fans, to advocates. If you don’t, then you have to expect the opposite.
Steve Austins is the Director of Bengo Media. Talk to us about helping you deliver great content, every time.