5.2 Min Read • Retention

Podcast Listener Churn: The Quiet Killer Undermining Your Podcast Marketing

The hidden side of podcast marketing that know one talks about but is essential to growing your show effectively.
By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

I don’t know about you, but here’s what I like to think happens when a new listener discovers my show:

  1. They click play on their first episode, the lights dim, and the sound envelops them like their long-lost favourite blanket from childhood.
  2. Within a minute, they pause everything else they might be doing so they can give this masterwork of a podcast their full, rapt, uninterrupted attention.
  3. As the first episode ends, they pause for a moment of silence to soak in what they’ve just experienced… before rushing to subscribe and download every episode in the back catalogue to their phone lest the feed mysteriously disappear and they are forever robbed of the opportunity to listen.
  4. They clear their calendar, book themselves a cabin in the woods for a month, and spend that time immersing themselves in the show, listening through the back catalogue from front to back to front again at decreasing playback speed levels, squeezing out every bit of the infinite pool of wisdom contained in the show.


It’s good to be a podcaster.

Except… We all know that’s not quite how it works.

I’ll show you the sad proof in a second, but you already know this from your own experience as a listener.

We’ve all clicked play on episodes of shows that we didn’t go on to subscribe to.

And we’ve all listened to dozens or hundreds of episodes of shows that we eventually grew out of.

The reality is that every listener has a finite amount of time for podcasts (or content in general) in their lives, and very few (if any) shows maintain a fixed slot in that schedule indefinitely.

Sooner or later, every listener reaches a drop-off point.

In the world of subscription products (which is essentially what a podcast is), this customer/user/listener drop-off is known as churn.

When it comes to churn, there are two important things to note:

  1. Churn is natural, unavoidable, and can never be fully eliminated.
  2. But it can—and should—be reduced.

In fact, reducing churn is as important and impactful (if not more) a part of your podcast growth strategy as getting in front of new potential listeners.

To understand why, let’s look at a scary graph from the Chartable dashboard of a friend of mine with a popular show you’ve almost certainly heard of.

Chartable Ep.png

For context, here’s what’s going on in the graph:

The chart’s left column displays a series of “entry episodes”, ie. Episodes that were the first listening experience for a cohort of new listeners.

The blue background columns display what percentage of those listeners listened to the subsequent episodes.

For example, for listeners, for whom “Episode 1” was the first episode they listened to, 46.17% of them went on to listen to the next episode that was released.

According to Chartable’s data, we can see that on average, less than half of the people who listen to any one episode of this show go on to listen to the next one.

For a broader perspective, we can look at the monthly retention data, which is equally sobering.

Chartable Monthly Retention.png

On average, less than 20% of people who listen to any one episode are still listening one month later.

And by six months, less than 4% of one-time listeners are still listening.

In other words, ~96% of listeners have churned within 6 months.


In one sense, this means that 96% of the time, energy, and potentially money my friend has invested into marketing their show has been wasted.

Keep in mind, this is a popular show with well above average production quality, content, and guests that consistently gets 10k-20k+ plays an episode.

As a podcaster, this is a hard pill to swallow.

And it highlights a core flaw in many podcaster’s marketing strategies:

Most podcast marketing focuses almost exclusively on listener exposure and acquisition, and very little on retention.

And while earning that first play is the single hardest part of podcast marketing, if you can’t turn those plays into engaged subscribers, your marketing effort isn’t worth all that much.

The reality is that your show is something of a leaky bucket with new listeners constantly coming in and flowing out.

What this means, is that even a show that appears to have plateaued is still experiencing a constant stream of new listeners and subscribers… they’re just offset by listener churn.

This graph from the Apple Podcasts dashboard for an old show of mine illustrates this.

Chartable Monthly Retention-1.png

The chart is more or less flat, yet in the breakdown at the bottom we can see that there were actually 100 new subscribers gained and 45 lost.

If you’ve experienced a plateau, this is actually fantastic news.

Because it means that more new listeners are discovering your show than you might realize.

Of course, the bad news is that they—and/or your longer term listeners—are churning in equal number to your new listener acquisition.

So what do you do to fix the issue?

The first step is to get clear on your benchmark performance.

If you have a Chartable Pro plan, you can access the retention graph shared earlier.

If not, you can look at your follower data in both your Apple and Spotify dashboards.

Keep in mind, there are serious gaps in all of this data.

  • Chartable’s data is likely overly pessimistic, based on the fact that it uses IP addresses to attribute listens to a device.

    In other words, if a listener downloads their first episode of a show at the office but downloads subsequant episodes at home, while driving… or anywhere else for that matter—they will appear as separate devices and thus the reported retention will be lower than reality.
  • The Apple and Spotify charts on the other hand are overly optimistic.

    While they do show an accurate representation of followers gained and lost, they don’t account for people who follow your show but don’t regularly listen.

    Personally, I have dozens of shows I subscribed to years ago that I no longer listen to regularly.

    Apple and Spotify also don’t account for listeners who listened to one or more episodes but never actually subscribed. In some sense, this is actually the most useful data, as this is the group of listeners you stand the most to gain by winning over.

Regardless of the flaws in the data, however, it helps to get some kind of benchmark against which to assess your experiments and track your progress.

Once you have that benchmark churn rate, your next step is to reduce it.

At its core, there are two factors contributing to listener churn:

  1. Content Misalignment — Where the show’s content, quality, vibe, etc doesn’t align with the listener’s expectations or desires.
  2. Marketing Misalignment — Where the content of the show doesn’t align with a listener’s expectations. This can result from marketing to the wrong audience, or misaligned show packaging that doesn’t represent the actual content, experience, or vibe of the show.

To reduce churn then, you have three basic levers to pull:

  1. Make sure your packaging accurately reflects the show’s content & listener experience, thus attracting people who are likely to stick around and repelling those who won’t.
  2. Direct your marketing toward specific audiences that are most likely to enjoy the show.
  3. Make better content.

Easier said than done?


But at the most basic level, this is the formula to reduce churn and increase the efficiency of your marketing.

Churn exists.

There’s no avoiding it.

What you do about it, however, is up to you.

You can stick your head in the sand and hope it magically improve on its own.

Or you can face the data, roll up your sleeves, and get to work on reducing it.

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