How the iTunes Podcast Chart works

It isn't a chart and it doesn't measure podcast downloads. But what does it measure?

By James Cridland
Posted 28 August 2016, 4.36am edt
Ollie Svensson

The iTunes Podcast Chart, normally heard about in a podcast where the presenters are saying "We're #23 on the chart at the moment".

Please can we stop calling it a chart? Because it isn’t a chart. Let’s call it the iTunes Podcast Number Thing.

Nick Quah from podcast newsletter Hot Pod asked a bunch of his readers how the iTunes Podcast Number Thing was calculated earlier this year. Here are the opinions he got back.

The fundamental thing is: it doesn’t measure downloads. That’s what I mean when I say that it isn’t a chart. The podcast that’s #1 is not the podcast that has the most amount of downloads.

The iTunes Podcast Number Thing is there to help people discover new podcasts. So it doesn’t measure downloads (since it would be really hard to change the chart). Instead, it measures the number of new, unique, subscribers that a podcast has had, averaged out over a few days.

That’s why it’s constantly changing - because it’s designed to. And why, if you find your position in the iTunes Podcast Number Thing going down, as it inevitably will, it’s nothing to do with the amount of downloads your podcast has or your popularity as a podcaster - it’s merely that the amount of new, unique, subscribers for your podcast that week has decreased. So, promote it more.

Radio talent, especially, thrives on numbers: because we want to be liked, and how better to know you’re liked than numbers of followers on Twitter (11,500, since you asked), or an appearance on another kind of chart: like the iTunes Podcast Number Thing. But this one is nothing to do with consumption or audience or anything.

The iTunes Podcast Number Thing is only an indication on how good you are at driving new subscribers to iTunes. If it is a chart, it just lists the best marketers in the business: which is why we in radio have an unfair advantage in that we have a recognised brand, and hundreds of thousands of listeners every day who we can market a new podcast to.

The real numbers you should be pushing for are total podcast downloads. Go hunt those down. And ignore the iTunes Podcast Chart. Because it’s not a chart.

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.


6 years, 1 month ago

The iTunes charts cause a great many misconceptions, I see it all the time with people presuming the songs table is cumulative across the week - it isn't, just a rolling 24 or 48 hour average.

But yes, podcasts. I've got one which has run for 8.5 years and has been in the same place in iTunes all this time. Only once did I ever notice it making any kind of traction on the podcast chart and that was when I put up an hour long special edition that wasn't part of the weekly formula. The rest of the time I play to the same loyal audience week in week out, so few new subscribers at any one time, hence no visiblity on those charts.

Mind you, the tables do seem to be a law unto themselves. How else to account for the presence high up the charts of long-abandoned feeds for radio brands and shows which ended half a decade ago or which haven't been updated since 2009? Unless the Official Hit 40 UK podcast does indeed still gain new listeners.

5 years, 2 months ago

Great article. iTunes/Apple Podcasts is a phone book. A very big, and very popular phone book. Becoming rich and famous because you are in iTunes is like saying you're going to be rich and famous because you are in the phone book. Don't get me wrong. Don't ignore it, but it's not the ticket to the big time. In regards to being placed in iTunes, there is an element that takes into account the total number of subscribers (which is why old shows still rank - even after they quit producing new episodes).

5 years, 2 months ago

Thank you, David - I very much appreciate that!

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2 months, 1 week ago

I've used similar podcasts in the past too. Until I found a chat of interests for me I really liked the communication there, now there is a free minute, I'm always there.

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