For Podcast Listeners Less Is More


It’s no secret (I hope) that I’m a fan of shorter podcasts. My reasons are connected with my experiences in telling stories, both as a writer and a screenwriting professor in college. But the results of experience, even if they are generally accepted by the entertainment industry as valid, are still anecdotal evidence. Now, this blog post by Amplifimedia adds some support to the theory that shorter makes for a better storytelling experience.

According to the post

Recent analysis of listening habits from the NPR One app reveals that a mere 18 words into a segment, people are deciding whether they will continue listening.  Another recent and equally compelling set of data from one of the podcast aggregators, shows an attrition rate of 40% in the first 7 minutes.  Longer podcasts should expect that 2/3rds of the audience is gone sometime between 20 and 60 minutes.

This is in line with the measured listening habits in other forms of audio entertainment, especially radio. (It’s also anecdotal evidence that listeners see radio and podcasts as the same, or similar, entities). Listeners make decisions quickly and, with an increasing menu of choices, aren’t inclined to settle for what’s “on.” Today, their expectations are “there’s something on for me.”

Capitalizing on the Data

How can you use this new information to your benefit?

Start by watching a Billy Wilder film, especially some of his earlier work. If you’re not sure which one, try Some Like It Hot. (Spoiler Alert: it’s in black and white.) Here’s a challenge: find something in the film, some line, some action, some image, some prop early in the story that doesn’t have a payoff later on. I suspect you won’t.

Wilder was one of the great storytellers of the 20th century in part because he didn’t waste the audience’s time or attention. He didn’t fashion his stories out of what he thought was interesting, he fashioned them out of what he thought was necessary. That’s a good rule of thumb for our podcasts, too. Are we exceeding 7 minutes, or 30 minutes or an hour when we could tell our stories in a fraction of the time? Especially since shorter is what holds our audience’s interest better.

What story?

I’ve yet to hear a podcast episode that didn’t have a story. Some episodes were long enough to have more than one. In my storytelling, I’ve learned to throw away every um, grunt, sigh and paragraph (and, at times, even a word) that wasn’t part of the story I was telling. By “part of,” I mean whatever it was I showed the cutting room floor got there because it failed to move the story forward.

It’s not always easy to throw away something I like, let alone something I love, On the other hand, less has always been more in storytelling, and this new research confirms the two options I knew, deep down, I had. I could have a story my audience abandons part way through or one that has listeners hanging on every carefully-chosen word.

And I like to see my audience hang. (I can’t wait until someone takes that out of context.)


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