Understanding Your Podcast's Impact

by Chris Gratien
updated 29 January 2020

What is the value of a podcast? This article draws on nine years of experience to address some of the most common questions about the impact and listenership of the Ottoman History Podcast asked by our guests and contributors. 

Is anybody actually listening?

Yes! A large number of people are listening to you on Ottoman History Podcast, and if you work on the Ottoman Empire, the modern Middle East, or the Islamic world, it is probably one of the best ways to reach them.

Currently, the median total for plays and downloads within the first month of release for an episode of Ottoman History Podcast is over 5000 with all episodes falling between a range of 4000 to 7000. Over the course of a year, that translates to a median total of over 8500, with roughly 10% of episodes reaching 10,000 plays and downloads within a year. Good data going back to 2016 shows that eventually one-quarter to one-third of all our episodes currently reach that figure. Even after five years or more a typical episode still courts dozens of listeners each month. To see how many plays and downloads your podcast has received, simply visit our SoundCloud page, find your episode, and look at the play count (data for episodes from before 2016 is incomplete).

Traffic levels vary, but largely in step with how much content we are releasing. There is no time of year that isn't perfect to appear on Ottoman History Podcast.

Your appearance on Ottoman History Podcast also results in wider exposure for your work. Currently, we have 35,000 Facebook followers and our Twitter followers approach 10,000. This translates into many thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people seeing our posts on social media. For every person that plays or downloads your podcast appearance, there are more who at least saw that it happened. This may translate into further engagement with your work in another venue at a later date.

Just how much are they actually listening?

If your podcast has been played or downloaded 8000 times, does that mean 8000 people heard it? No. Some users play the same episode twice or several times, sometimes because they simply left it and wanted to come back to it later. In addition, some of the plays are probably not by humans. There are various bots downloading or playing podcast episodes for various purposes. More importantly, many downloads are simply never played. These facts are true for all podcasts out there. But then what does that mean for understanding just how much people are actually listening to your episode of Ottoman History Podcast?

About 20% of Ottoman History Podcast traffic comes through SoundCloud (that's our hosting service) players on our website or elsewhere, directly through the SoundCloud website, or through various SoundCloud apps for mobile devices. Anyone who clicked play even for a moment on SoundCloud registers a play, and we don't really know how long they listened. But at least we know they clicked play.

Our episode entitled "Spies for the Sultan" has clocked over 15,000 plays, about 20% of them streaming via SoundCloud. One person even listened to Emrah on their Xbox.

80% of our podcast traffic comes through the RSS feed, which means most of them were downloads (as opposed to streaming plays). The majority of RSS feed downloads are from people who are subscribed to the podcast through a podcast app (Apple apps like the iPhone Podcasts app or iTunes account for about half of all podcast traffic on the internet). This means that a large portion of the downloads, especially most of the 3000 to 4000 downloads that happen during the first week in which a podcast is released, happen automatically. Maybe the person will listen, or maybe the episode will sit unopened in their phone until they delete it or drop it in a toilet.

Spotify is one of many websites that use data from our RSS feed to automatically populate and update playlists, but there is no need to sign up for Spotify to hear Ottoman History Podcast!

Data from Apple show that roughly 80% of downloads come from podcast subscribers

We do not know how many downloads are never opened, but we can partially understand how many were opened and for how long. Here are some exemplary scenarios based on real podcast data from SoundCloud and iTunes Connect Podcast Analytics:

A typical episode was released at the beginning of the month, and its play count reached around 4750 by the end of the month. Only about 230 of those plays came through SoundCloud. Most were automatic downloads by podcast feed subscribers. Of those downloads, just over 2000 could be traced to iPhones, iPads, or iTunes app users. Apple tracks play data through through its podcast apps, but only through those apps if the user has upgraded to iOS 11 or later and if listeners consent to have their data tracked. They must also play the file for at least five seconds. The analytics on Apple Podcasts counted 250 different devices that played the said episode for a total of 84 hours. That translates to 20 minutes per device, for an episode of 37 minutes. What this means: at minimum around 12% of people who downloaded the podcast at least opened it. That 12% figure is low, we just don't know how low. On average they listened for 20 minutes, and while we don't have median listen times, it's unlikely that something happened around minute 20 that made most listeners tune out, because the pattern is consistent for most episodes. What the data probably reflects is that a roughly similar proportion of people listened for a short amount of time as listened all the way through, with some quitting someone near the middle. This would be commensurate with data from major podcast conglomerates claiming that most listeners who get in at all end up staying for all or most of the episode regardless of how long it is.

In the same month the podcast above was released, an episode released a year prior clocked 150 plays, a normal amount of lingering traffic for an old episode. About half came from the Apple Podcasts app or iTunes. That resulted in Apple's analytics catching 9 devices playing the episode, the same ratio as with the new release detailed above. But on average, people listen to the old episodes a bit longer, in this case an average of 33 minutes for a 47-minute episode. A listener is much more likely to have actively sought out an episode (as opposed to an automatic download and passive play) once it has dropped low into our RSS feed, and so it makes sense that they'll be more engaged. In other words, more people will play and download your podcast when it first comes out, but the ones who encounter it later will probably get more out of it! The data shows that of those who are actually listening to Ottoman History Podcast, they average about an hour a month, meaning long enough to get through at least one full episode.

Not all episodes perform the same. For example, that same month, three older episodes featuring more dynamic elements such as music clips had much higher than average listen times, and two even had an average listen time significantly exceeding the episode's duration. This phenomenon is not entirely limited to episodes that go beyond the standard scholar interview format, and what is certainly true is that some of the episodes that reflect more sustained listener engagement are not necessarily the ones which were played or downloaded the most. 

It is likely that at least 25% of the plays in your play count actually represent someone listening to the podcast between the RSS Feed and SoundCloud. If your podcast has received a large amount of traffic, say 10,000 in the play count, and has been out for a long time, that percentage is higher. 

Who listens to Ottoman History Podcast?

Is everyone who listens to Ottoman History Podcast an academic specializing in Ottoman or Middle Eastern studies? Not by a long shot, and that is useful to keep in mind when speaking on the podcast. The program reaches people from all age groups and walks of life, and unlike academic books or articles, Ottoman History Podcast it is accessible to anyone in the world with a reasonable internet connection.

Almost half of Ottoman History Podcast's Facebook following is comprised of millennials.

Turkey and the US are home to most of our audience and account for the lion's share of the traffic. In any given month, 20-40% of our traffic comes from Turkey and 30-50% from the United States. Anglophone countries also contribute sizable shares. Most of the rest is split between Europe and countries of the Middle East and South Asia. The audience distribution can vary from episode to episode. Our episodes in Turkish naturally reach many more listeners in Turkey but many fewer listeners outside of Turkey, though even the English language episodes still find large audiences in Turkey. Half of our followers on Facebook and Twitter are in Turkey. 

As for who these listeners actually are, social media observations suggest that this depends whether we are talking Turkey or the US. Most of the audience on Facebook are college graduates or students, but our typical social media follower in Turkey is not an academic. Outside of Turkey, the listeners appear to more commonly be graduate students, people with graduate degrees, or academic faculty as well as people with some personal, professional, or family connection to the former Ottoman world. Note there is no systematic data available to support this; it is an anecdotal appraisal based on more than 8 years of engagement with listeners on Facebook.

When SoundCloud was blocked in Turkey during 2014, our traffic took a hit and we had to temporarily create a parallel feed using Hipcast for Turkish listeners. Now SoundCloud is open in Turkey and all listeners access podcasts through the same feed, but it is unclear what level of traffic is masked by VPN use for other purposes in Turkey.

What do the listeners like?

Unfortunately, social media corporations do not offer the metrics to tell us what percentage of our audience are hardcore Ottomanists, history enthusiasts, or casual listeners, much less the historical questions that matter to them most. They are much better at giving concrete data about what percentage have a favorable opinion of dogs (99%, on par with the Twitter average), which cell phone carriers they use (Turkcell, Vodaphone, and Avea), and what percentage have a household income of over $100,000 (it's 34% for our US Twitter followers).

Most of the detailed statistics about our audience from social media are not useful for anyone but advertisers. While one might have expected our audience to be more into yogurt, we are glad to see our followers are health conscious. Keep brushing OHP! 

Data on the performance of OHP episodes provides better information about what type of content tends to resonate with our audience, generate more circulation on social media, and attract the most traffic by ultimately reaching large numbers of casual listeners. Most of the topics featured in our top played episodes over the past six years seem innately compelling to our core audience. Our two most played episodes feature cutting edge research on the history of genetics and nationalism in the Middle East and a biography of Hürrem Sultan or Roxelana, the wife of Sultan Suleyman I who at one point was arguably the most powerful person in the Ottoman Empire. The top 20 episodes also include sexy topics like spies, pirates, psychoanalysis, and sex, as well as current subjects of historical fascination in Turkey like the history of the dönme community, crypto-Christians in the Ottoman Empire, and Ottoman cuisine. Some of the topics are very expansive like "the idea of the Muslim world," the concept of the Caliphate across all time and space, or slavery in the Mediterranean. Others sound rather specific like Ottoman women who poisoned their husbands, nationality in Alexandria, the Sultan's eunuch, or nightlife in Ottoman Istanbul. A few contain novel elements like field recordings of "Istanbul's historical soundscape" or performances of Kurdish Alevi music by an ethnomusicologist. And a couple deal with the making of modern Turkey and cultural transformations in the early republic

What they all tend to have in common is that they are successful at the core work of public history. Many speak to very big questions regarding how people today think about the past, whether reframing how we think about women in the Ottoman Empire, demystifying a topic of contemporary controversy like "Caliphate," historicizing the notion of a global Muslim community activated by Islamists and Islamophobes alike, or presenting a view of the foundational period in the Republic of Turkey that goes beyond what every Turkish student learns at school. Others find a way to connect two topics that our general audience might not think of together like pirates and Islamic law, Freud and Islam, or the rise of genetic science and the Middle East. They succeed in drawing new listeners into what is ultimately a conversation between academic historians by activating contemporary interests and bringing nuance, historicity, and new perspectives to topics that are already the subject of public debate.

The playlist below contains episodes of Ottoman History Podcast that have reached 10,000 plays since 2014.

All this being said, the episodes that do the best public history work are not always the ones that turn out to be the most popular. Another important facet of any public project is challenging audiences to think of history in different ways that they may have never considered or have even refused to consider. For Ottoman History Podcast, work related to the history of the Armenian Genocide provides a good example. While many in Turkey are interested in learning more about this suppressed dimension of the the country's history, many others find our episodes that touch on the subject an unpleasant surprise when tuning into a podcast about the Ottoman Empire. However, what those who listen will find is numerous guests who treat the subject with nuance and detail not commonly used to discuss the genocide in public discourses.

In this regard, almost all of our episodes push up against some mainstream discourse that circulates outside the academy. Our episode on the idea of the Muslim world questioned the notion of a unified, global Muslim community that many Muslims today believe in, arguing instead that the idea was rather recent, a legacy of imperialism intertwined with the radicalization of Muslims. Our episode on inclusion and exclusion in Islamic modernist thought and the figure of Muhammad Iqbal touched on the history of the Ahmadis, a 19th century religious movement that has been persecuted in Pakistan and elsewhere. Our episode on the origins of French colonialism in Algeria critiqued numerous historical viewpoints that continue to play a role in French and Algerian politics. Our many episodes on the Ottoman and post-Ottoman diaspora in the United States complicate many simplistic narratives about immigration and race in the United States. In virtually every episode of Ottoman History Podcast, our listeners encounter viewpoints that might be unpalatable to at least somebody. While not always adding to the popularity of a subject, episodes that challenge the listener carry out a vital service to public debates about history.

Though we always lose a few Facebook followers when a sensitive topic is broached on the podcast, vitriolic reactions are rare among the generally thoughtful people who tune in to OHP. What is certainly clear is that our audience welcomes a wide diversity of guests with all sorts of backgrounds and expertise. Many of our most popular episodes featured prominent historians in the field of Ottoman history who have published multiple books. But some of our other popular episodes featured the work of recent PhDs and students or guests from outside the academy. In occasional episodes, we venture well beyond the Ottoman domains, and though such episodes do not always receive as much traffic, our listeners are often happy to tag along, as in our popular episode on Islamic law in Southeast Asia or our stimulating conversation about the history of coffee and cannabis, which has garnered over 10,000 plays despite being focused on modern Latin America.

Our conversation with Ian Nagoski, a collector and independent researcher who releases digitized copies of music performed and circulated within the Ottoman diaspora of the United States on 78rpm records, was one of the most popular episodes of OHP in recent years.
Our top played tracks from Season 8, comprising about 20% of that season's content

A disproportionate amount of our Spotify traffic comes from Turkey. These are some of our listeners favorite artists on Spotify.

How is the platform transforming?

Ottoman History Podcast has grown and changed considerably over what is now almost a decade of podcasting, and so has the internet. Depending on when your podcast was released, it has been met by different audiences and circulated in different contexts. When Ottoman History Podcast launched in 2011, there were still only a handful of academic podcasts about history, namely New Books in History, which has since expanded to become the dozens of podcast series that comprise the New Books Network today. Just like NBn, the availability of and audience for podcasts has exploded. Like many facets of the internet revolution, podcasting started out as an open arena for independent internet users to freely create and share content, but it is now a corporatized industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue. Podcasts like ours that cater to a meaningful niche still court robust audiences, even as the market for podcasts becomes saturated and non-commercial actors are pushed out of social media arenas.

Since 2011, we've stuck to our pace of releasing episodes roughly once a week. Most conform to a basic host-guest conversation format. They are published openly for distribution or transformative use under a Non-Commercial Creative Commons license. That means that anyone can not only listen to your podcast but also take excerpts from it so long as they give proper attribution and do not use the content for commercial purposes. Students or anyone else can do things like make their own podcasts excerpting from different episodes of Ottoman History Podcast and publish them on the web. So in addition to producing standalone episodes, Ottoman History Podcast produces audio that can be used as raw material or archival footage in other contexts.

Facebook was critical to the early growth of Ottoman History Podcast, but it is no longer as central as it once was, despite its continued status as a leading source of all web traffic. Our relationship with our Facebook audience was most intense between the period of 2011 and 2015, in which our Facebook group grew from nothing to welcome tens of thousands of followers. During that time, we regularly posted images, links, and content from a wide range of affiliated blogs that were highly active. Since 2015, our number of followers has continued to grow but the frequency of our posts has gradually diminished due to the diminishing returns of Facebook posts and promotions. We now post rarely to avoid the negative impacts that over-posting would have on the performance of our episode posts, which are most important. While our number of followers has roughly tripled since 2013, the amount of views and engagement a single episode post gets has not continued to grow at that rate, suggesting that Facebook is becoming more saturated with content, especially paid advertisements. Consequently, we also reduced the amount of money we spend promoting Ottoman History Podcast on Facebook. Whereas we once spent 3-5 dollars per episode, we have been more selective since 2018 due to declining results from Facebook ads. Facebook is still an important platform, but does not play an important role in our future plans for developing Ottoman History Podcast in new ways, primarily because social media labor is time consuming and does not seem to contribute enough to traffic outside of the Facebook platform (i.e. in the form of plays and downloads).

Ottoman History Podcast once attracted hundreds of new followers in a single day, but now the gain and loss of followers each day looks like the above graph. Our Facebook following has grown by roughly 10% over the past two years.

If your episode was released years ago, it probably was the subject of more discussion and circulation in what was a more diverse and vibrant Facebook environment. More recent episodes do not necessarily benefit from the Facebook community to the same extent, so if you are trying to compare the reception of your episode with prior episodes on Facebook, note that the number of people who see--much less engage with--a particular post is largely governed by an algorithm that responds to engagement but is not consistent over time.

The good news is that new episodes still receive much more traffic. In Season 6 of Ottoman History Podcast, the earliest period for which we have an uninterrupted record of total traffic, the median play total for a podcast in its first month was 3500. During Season 9, that number has climbed to 5200. That's a 50% increase, and it is namely a result in long-term growth in podcast subscribers.  

The above chart represents available data for the first month play total of every episode between July 2016 and December 2019 (click for full size). While episode performance varies, the black trend line shows the gradual increase in podcast traffic over the past years.

So what is my podcast's actual impact?

We've summarized the quantitative dimension of measuring the impact of an Ottoman History Podcast in the sections above. An episode is at least seen by tens of thousands of people and played/downloaded up to 10,000 times or more, resulting in perhaps a few thousand people listening to a significant portion or all of the interview. When an episode is first released, it might be downloaded hundreds of times per day for a few days. After that it is downloaded hundreds of times per week for a few weeks, then hundreds of times per month for several months, gradually tapering off to a few hundred times per year for many years. Those later plays, rather than resulting from a mass simultaneous download by many subscribers, reflect individuals having a particular experience with that episode, such as finding it in a Google search, clicking on a friend's tweet, stumbling upon it in the iTunes directory, or listening to it for a class.

This is what monthly traffic looks like for an episode from January 2014 five years after its release 

Podcast impact is normally measured in quantitative terms, because those are the terms that matter to advertisers. But as a non-commercial program with no ads, Ottoman History Podcast does not face the same concern. Rather, in thinking about the impact of your podcast, we encourage you to think as an educator would. Does a lecture class with 200 students make a bigger impact than a small seminar? Is it better to make a small impact on many people or a large impact on just a few?

The type of feedback we value most on Ottoman History Podcast - that is personal qualitative feedback - is also the hardest to get. While episodes will be "liked' and "shared" hundreds of times, sometimes just one or two comments or impressions will come through the pipeline. However, these comments show deep engagement and the value of a particular podcast to a single listener and their desire to share that value with the world. No matter what your episode is about or how obscure it is, there are invariably at least a few people out there who found it very meaningful.

In addition to reaching Ottoman history enthusiasts all over the world, your podcast has made an impact on the scholarly and professional development of students. It provides learning material for high school and undergraduate classrooms. It provides teaching material for instructors looking to find alternatives to books and articles. Your podcast has also helped sustain our project, which has been publishing week in, week out since 2011. Over the years, dozens of graduate students have participated in our project as interviewers, some dozens of times. By participating in an interview, you have created a new opportunity for a young scholar to develop their skills.

Below is some listener feedback on the podcast gleaned from the web:

Recent reviews of Ottoman History Podcast in Apple Podcasts directory

Chris Gratien holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University and is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches courses on environmental history and the Middle East. He is also currently an academy scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. His current book project focuses on the social and environmental history of the Cilicia region of Southern Turkey. He is co-creator and producer of Ottoman History Podcast, appearing in more than 200 episodes since 2011.


Ottoman History Podcast is a noncommerical website intended for educational use. Anyone is welcome to use and reproduce our content with proper attribution under the terms of noncommercial fair use within the classroom setting or on other educational websites. All third-party content is used either with express permission or under the terms of fair use. Our page and podcasts contain no advertising and our website receives no revenue. All donations received are used solely for the purposes of covering our expenses. Unauthorized commercial use of our material is strictly prohibited, as it violates not only our noncommercial commitment but also the rights of third-party content owners.

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