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Chapter points in podcasts: a waste of time?

December 13, 2017 · Updated September 30, 2018 · By James Cridland

On 1 Dec 2017, we reported on the launch of Forecast, a podcast MP3 file editor released recently by Marco Arment which allows you to add chapter points to podcasts. It's described as a "must-have tool" for podcasters.

So: chapters. Are they worth adding to your podcast, or are they a waste of time? And what do they look like on a variety of different apps? We tested a bunch of the leading apps to see.

Background

For testing, we used episode 251 of the Accidental Tech Podcast. It was released 8 Dec; we tested five days later on Dec 12. This podcast contains a number of chapters, some clickable, and some embedded artwork (we tested at 8.30). In all cases, we let the episode download fully before playing.

Chapter points do appear in some embedded desktop players, but we didn't test for these.

Our findings

Chapter points authored by Forecast (which produces MP3) are only visible in two apps. Those two apps are responsible for just 6.2% of total podcast plays.

To get them into Apple Podcasts, you need to author them in M4A format: the app doesn't support chapters in MP3. Some podcast hosts automatically reformat podcasts in this way, but most don't. Even if you go to this bother, Apple Podcasts doesn't give any visual clues that you've added chapter points until you swipe down the page. It's doubtful that a typical listener will.

It's also worth mentioning that Apple Podcasts does not display any chapter points unless you subscribe to the podcast. Simply searching and selecting the podcast for playback does not display the chapter points. Edison Research says that the majority of users select a podcast for immediate playback, and do not subscribe.

Our recommendation? Spend your time on something else; chapter points have so little support that it's a waste of your time.

As an aside: our research also uncovered that at least two of the podcast apps we tested didn't have the latest version of this podcast, in spite of it being available for five days.

You might also like our research on how your show notes display in various podcast apps.

Our tests in full

Overcast (iOS)
Unsurprisingly, the Accidental Tech Podcast displays a full list with clickable titles. There is navigation between each chapter, and a title in the currently-playing page. Artwork appears (there's some at 8.30). Overcast has a 2% listening share.

Pocket Casts (Android)
Yay! This displayed navigation between each chapter, and a title in the currently-playing page. Artwork appears. You can click on the navigation to see a full chapter list, and links are clearly identified with an icon. Pocket Casts has a 4.2% listening share.

Apple Podcasts (iOS)
We tried the Accidental Tech Podcast, but it doesn't display any chapter points at all. Instead, we tried this episode from the Fun Kids Science podcast, hosted on Omny Studio, which has chapter points (but no chapter artwork or links). No navigation appears in the app, and the existence of chapter points is completely invisible while in the main play window. If you scroll down, below "Show notes" you see the chapter points. Additionally, no chapter points were displayed if you simply searched and selected the podcast for immediate playback. You have to subscribe to see them.

We tested the following apps on the ATP podcast, but they had no support for chapters (neither artwork nor chapter points):

Neither Otto Radio nor Leela had episode 251 of the ATP podcast. We tested 250, which also has chapter points, but none appeared.

We were unable to test: Stitcher or Spotify (since Accidental Tech is not listed), or Google Play Music (since we are in a country that isn't supported).

Previously...

<< Branded podcasts: are they a good tool for marketing?

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