Why are podcasts so popular?

Content Marketing 6 min read

We all know those kind of days, right? The ones where you defy the pouring rain by just staying inside, heating up some hot chocolate, wrapping yourself in a blanket, and doing whatever it is you enjoy the most. These are the perfect days to spend listening to podcasts. To allow a calm, soothing, and warm voice to entertain or inform you. We like to imagine ourselves listening to a podcast like Myths and Legends, where a narrator tells us stories, just like our parents did when we were younger.

person holding string lights on opened book
Photographer: Nong Vang | Source: Unsplash

Well, good news, because the future will provide you with an even broader range of podcasts, as the podcasting landscape continues to gain popularity all over the world.

One can't help but wonder: what caused this popularity and will podcasts stay this relevant in the future?

Table of contents

1. How did podcasts become the huge deal that they are right now?
1.1. Journalism (pod)casts a light on the situation - the rise of podcasts in journalism
2. Why do so many people like podcasts?
2.1. YOU get a podcast! And YOU get a podcast! - a podcast for everyone's tastes
3. So are podcasts really the future?

How did podcasts become such a huge deal?

One of the early key moments in podcasting history took place in 2005 when Steve Jobs announced that iTunes would support podcasts on their platform. He believed that they would become huge in the near future. As it turns out, he was right, as they are steadily becoming more popular. Overall, 34% of the world population accesses a journalistic podcast at least once a month. South Korea has the greatest percentage of podcast enthusiasts. With over half of their population (!) listening to podcasts on a somewhat regular basis.

The most recent wave of popularity for the podcast is often attributed to Serial, which, as the name suggests, tells one true crime story per season in 9 to 12 episodes. It is perceived to have been the first podcast to take the medium seriously as an art form, separate from the radio.

Serial broke the mould because it was a podcast first, not just a radio show uploaded to the internet after broadcast, as was typical at the time. (Philippa Goodrich, Technology of Business reporter, BBC)
picture of the serial landing page. Image of a bar with graffiti on the side wall. The graffiti shows a young woman dropping a bottle, while surrounded by flowers.
The first episode of the third Serial season

Journalism (pod)casts a light on the situation

In journalism as well, podcasts have become indispensable. One of the pioneers of this trend was The Daily, a podcast by The New York Times, hosted by Michael Barbaro. When The Daily gained massive popularity, many newsrooms hopped on the podcast train. In Belgium for example, De Standaard (newspaper) and VRT (public broadcasting of Flanders) have started their own podcasts. In the rest of the world as well, nearly every reputable newsroom now has their own podcast.

Picture of Michael Barbaro against a black background. he has h-curly hair, a grey and black beard, and round glasses
Michael Barbaro of The Daily
There's always been amazing audio in the world of public radio. (...) Then technology evolved in the world of digital on-demand radio. (...) That technology just opened the flood gates to this whole new world of podcasting. (...) Any news organization can now make a podcast. (Michael Barbaro, The Daily, The New York Times)

Why do so many people like podcasts?

One reason why podcasts got a popularity boost, is the on-demand nature of the medium. Nowadays, people are getting more used to enjoying whatever they want, whenever they want, be it tv shows, movies, music, news, etc. They no longer need to listen to discussions on the radio they don't really care about, they can just choose something they like from the podcast candy land that is the internet.

Homer Simpson in chocolate land, having a bite of everything
Frolic through the wonderful world of podcasts

Podcasts are in general cheaper and easier to produce than, say, videos. This is a big factor as to why the production of podcasts is this high. You just need a microphone, a computer, maybe some editorial software, and potentially a friend - as many podcasts have multiple hosts. If you compare this to the hassle video often entails, podcasting can be a much easier - and cheaper - option to bring your ideas to life.

YOU get a podcast! And YOU get a podcast!

Another factor is personality. There are many podcasts out there, with a huge variety of concepts and niches. There really is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you are looking for content that is informative, entertaining, artistic, or something else, you will probably find something you like in the grab bag that is the podcasting landscape. A great example of how specific they can be, is Welcome to Night Vale, which... Well... Just read their description.

Thumbnail of welcome to night vale. Black desert city, purple background with an eye in it. Moon in the iris of the eye
WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.

So... Yeah, they can get very niche!

On the other side of the spectrum, you also have podcasts that don't stick to a single theme but instead cover all sorts of topics. One of these is Stuff You Should Know. Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant started this podcast in 2008, well before Serial gained widespread popularity. Stuff You Should Know was one of the first podcasts to use the format that is commonplace today. In their last 10 podcasts, they covered Interpol (the police organization, not the band), elephants, and saunas. Following informative podcasts like these allow you to gain knowledge about topics you didn't even know you cared about. Great to impress your friends at the bar without needing to chug five bottles of beer!

picture of Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know, standing in front of a blackboard with scientific mumbo jumbo written on it
Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know

So are they really the future?

According to Forbes, the increased adoption and advancement of technology, such as smartwatches and voice recognition devices (Google Home, Amazon Echo,...), will make podcasts even easier to access, in turn further increasing their popularity. There will also be more options to consume content while mobile, which is favorable for podcasts, as they are much more suited for on-the-go enjoyment than videos. Yes, videos are getting more mobile as well, but they cannot be consumed in every situation, like when you're driving or at work.

black and gray camera lens
Photographer: Status Quack | Source: Unsplash

Study also shows that younger generations are the most avid podcast listeners. Young adults are also very "loyal" to their podcasts. Many of them have developed a listening routine. As this study on the habits of podcast fans points out, 48% of the young adult podcast audience listens to news podcasts once a month! The fact that so many people have already made something of a habit out of podcast listening, bodes incredibly well for the future. The Digital News Report survey also showed that lifestyle podcasts - with subjects like fashion, literature, travel, etc. - are almost as popular as news podcasts.

8 podcast facts. Basically, highly educated, young people make the biggest group of podcast lovers

The future is now!

So you could say the future of podcasting is looking quite prosperous. Not only is the technological landscape evolving in favor of the medium, the interest seems to expand rapidly as well. Just recently the world's biggest music streaming company Spotify acquired Gimlet and Anchor, two podcasting startups. They bought Gimlet for a dazzling 230 million dollars and are planning to spend up to 500 million dollars on deals that involve podcasting! CEO Daniel Ek believes that podcasts will make up 20 percent of total listens in the course of time. Possibly a great move for Spotify, without a doubt a great one for podcasts!

If you haven't got into podcasts yet, we strongly recommend you give them a try. Compare them to a great radio show, but you get to decide what topic you want people with attractive voices to discuss. No matter what your interests are, there is definitely something for you out there!

Are you already an active podcaster? Did you know that with StoryChief, you can easily embed your podcast in your blog posts? Here is a list of podcast platforms we integrate with: