No Longer New or No Longer Noteworthy?
by Noah Lugeons
I apologize in advance for what promises to be a self-pitying, egocentric kind of blogpost. If that’s not your flavor of Gatorade, feel free to skip this one and return tomorrow when I’ll get back to being a caustic, anti-theistic personified rage comic. But today I’m kind of in the dumps and what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t use it to bitch when you’re in the dumps?
I’ve joked that I’m a “new daddy” when it comes to my podcast. I’ve only been doing it a couple of months now and it’s still so novel to me that I feel like I have to sneak into its room at night and check to see if it’s still breathing. That’s hardly an exaggeration. If I get up to pee in the middle of the night, I’ll often log on really quick and see how my overnight downloads are going. Every time the podcast reaches a new milestone, I feel like a proud father.
So you can imagine how depressed and horrified I was when I checked the crib two nights ago to find that my baby was sick.
In the podcasting world, everything starts and ends with iTunes. Sure, Stitcher is out there and there are more and more alternatives for podcast listeners, but iTunes is still the first, second and third name in podcast aggregating. It’s where the overwhelming majority of podcast listeners go to get their favorite shows and, more importantly, where people go to find new ones. And luckily for us new podcasters, iTunes is set up to give everyone a chance to get noticed. It’s as close to a true meritocracy as I’ve encountered. When I uploaded my first episode, I obviously couldn’t compete with the people who have been doing it for years, so iTunes helped me find an audience by promoting my show in the “New & Noteworthy” section.
It was really something. The podcast went from getting a dozen downloads a day on a good day to getting over a hundred. We moved onto New & Noteworthy in both the Religious and Science categories so anyone who clicked on either of those options was going to see the Scathing Atheist logo right there at the top left of the screen, right where your eyes go first.
We were up there for a total of seven weeks and during that time the downloads continued to grow. By the time I released episode 5 we were garnering nearly 500 downloads a day. We shot up the ranks of religious podcasts and in our subcategory (other) we even took the number one spot a few times. All 5 episodes were showing up in the top 100 most downloaded episodes in our subcategory and the numbers just kept on growing. And even though I know that I shouldn’t, I started counting the shit out of those chickens. I started extrapolating from the growth we were seeing and I made predictions about when we would cross 10,000 total downloads and 100,000 and even a million.
And then the fairy tale ended. iTunes demoted us.
I guess in a sense I could consider it a promotion. We moved off of page 1 of the “New & Noteworthy” section and on to page 4 of the “What’s Hot” section. As much as this seems like a step forward, the actual result is that our podcast is no longer prominently displayed anywhere on iTunes. If you happen across it, it will be because you’re scrolling deep into the “What’s Hot” list on the “other” section of the “religious” section. In other words, the odds that you’re going to happen upon it have dropped to near zero. And it shows in the numbers. Our downloads over the last 2 days have been cut by more than half… and my baby is crying.
I suppose that on some level my arrogance blinded me to just how significant that endorsement from iTunes really was. I guess that I thought we were just so incredibly awesome that we were fast-tracked to outpace all of NPR’s shows combined. I stroked my ego and told it that it was simply the high quality of the program and the soothing mellifluence of my voice that was garnering all these downloads. The kids on the streets were shouting about it, deviants were plastering the underside of bridges with coded graffiti messages, businessmen were talking about it in hushed tones around the water-cooler, socialites were gabbing about it, learned men and women were analyzing it, Hollywood writers were listening to it with jealous reverence, the entire podcasting community was abuzz about it and they all recognized that soon it would grow to eclipse even the most established shows on iTunes.
But no, it was just the “New & Noteworthy” thing.
That’s not to say that we haven’t made some serious gains. During our brief stint of promotion we did pick up more than a thousand subscribers, more than 9000 total downloads and enough buzz that we should be able to continue to grow an audience even when pitted against far more experienced podcasters with far more established shows. That being said, there’s something painfully sisyphean about watching that fucking stone roll all the way down from 498 downloads one day to 147 the next.
Clearly, if I didn’t care enough about the show to be depressed about this, I don’t think I’d care enough to produce something worthy of our fine listeners. I know that we can continue to grow our audience even without that advantage. I know that by crossing that threshold into the “What’s Hot” category, iTunes is pushing us out of the nest a bit and that should be seen as a vote of confidence rather than an abandonment. It certainly wasn’t fair to all these shows that have been producing high quality content for years that I was able to rise above them in the ranks on the merit of having a really prominent position on the page. I recognize that it’s fair and it’s just and it’s part of the process of growing our show.
And I also recognize that there’s nothing to be gained by looking at all the shows that are still on the “New & Noteworthy” section and pointing out that fully eighty-fucking-percent of them are older than our show, some of them by more than a year. I know there’s nothing to be gained from checking every hour or two just to see if iTunes rethought their algorithm based solely on my depression. I know that there’s nothing to be gained by pointing out that a show with only 5 episodes can’t really compete on the “What’s Hot” section against shows with 100+. I know there’s nothing to be gained from writing meandering, self-indulgent blogposts about how we should really still be New & Noteworthy and our baby bird isn’t quite ready to fly just yet, but I’m gonna do all that shit anyway. After all, I’m a new daddy and that’s what new daddies do.
Obviously, if you want to help, you can help. After all, when iTunes closes a door, Stitcher opens a window so there’s still hope. If you listen to the show and you dig it, I need your help to spread the word. We can’t count on iTunes to do all the work for us anymore. I know ours isn’t exactly a show everyone can just share on Facebook, but if you have a friend that is an anti-theist or a completely areligious person who enjoys caustic humor, let them know that we kick ass. If you haven’t left a review on iTunes, please take a few minutes to do so. And if you haven’t listened to us on Stitcher, give that a try to. It’s a great way to get your podcasts and they have a New & Noteworthy section we haven’t cracked just yet.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a navel to gaze at.