Podcasting is booming, from 3000 shows 13 years ago to 18.5 million episodes today

According to Libsyn, one of the oldest and most popular podcast hosting services, most podcasts are consumed in Apple's ecosystem. "Approximately 70 per cent of the shows that Libsyn distributes reach audiences using Apple's iTunes platform which includes iTunes on the computer, iPods, iPads, iPhones, iPad, Apple TV and Apple's Podcasts App on iOS devices."

Apple's dominance as a distributor makes sense. The company first introduced podcasts 13 years ago, in iTunes 4.9. Podcasts have been available through iTunes ever since.

Serial staff, from left: Dana Chivvis, Emily Condon, Sarah Koenig, Ira Glass and Julie Snyder.

Serial staff, from left: Dana Chivvis, Emily Condon, Sarah Koenig, Ira Glass and Julie Snyder.

Back then, the podcast directory had about 3000 shows. Today, there are 550,000-plus active shows and 18.5 million episodes. While podcasting is still seen as a niche by some, Apple alone has served more than 50 billion downloads and streams, with the most popular title, Stuff You Should Know, becoming the first to hit 500 million listens.

The ABC's Kellie O'Riordan credits Apple's iOS podcast app, released back in 2012, for making Serial a breakout hit. The app allowed users to subscribe to a show on their mobile phone, without needing a computer.

"Apple introducing its native podcasting app, that little purple icon on the iPhone that couldn't be deleted. It happened just weeks before Serial was released. Those two things coinciding – like adding ice-cream to soda – is what gave podcasting its fizz," wrote O'Riordan in a recent newsletter.

If podcasts received a second-wave boost with the launch of a dedicated app on iPhones, then it could be due for another soon. At last week's Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced a Podcast app would be coming to the Apple Watch. Pleasing developers in the crowd, Apple also announced support for third party audio players on their tiniest computer.

Google's podcast strategy has been a little harder to identify. The company has never released a podcast app for Android, although its users can access podcasts via the Google Assistant and the company's Home Speakers. Google's Music service also supports subscribing to shows, but this is only available in the US. Apple's numbers seem to make clear that most fans prefer to subscribe to shows, not just individually listen to episodes, so I hope this ability becomes available worldwide.

Filling the gap, there is a vibrant marketplace of independent podcast apps. The most popular by far on Android is the excellent Pocket Casts (which began life on iOS before expanding to Android and the Web). Pocket Casts, developed in Australia, has advanced features for power users – allowing for more fine-grained subscription options.

Russell Ivanovic, who co-founded Pocket Casts back in 2008, is a podcast evangelist in his own right.

"What makes podcasting so great is that anyone can produce and publish a show, which everybody can listen to in whichever app they choose. That kind of openness and freedom doesn't exist in most other industries. We are committed to building a platform that ensures this level of openness remains in place."

Ivanovic recently sold Pocket Casts to a group of independent audio producers, including This American Life, KCRW and NPR, who share his view of the medium.

"They want what's best for the podcasting space, they want to build open systems that everyone can use."

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