How long should a podcast be?
December 9, 2018 · Updated January 9, 2020 · By James Cridland · 3.8 minutes to read
How long is too long? What’s the right duration for a podcast? This is one of the first questions ever asked when people are thinking about making a podcast. Here’s an attempt to answer.
The scientific method
Podcasts are a multi-tasking medium - that is, you can listen to a podcast while you do something else. If you want to know the optimum duration for a podcast, you might want to know how long “something else” is.
For example, the average commuting time in the US is 26 minutes. If you make a podcast longer than the average commute time, you could reasonably expect that podcast to be less satisfying for those who listen to podcasts while commuting. However, an average - by its very nature - means many peoples’ commute takes shorter, while others take longer.
So, it might be worth looking at the data. The overall average length of a podcast in 2019 is about 37 minutes; the average length of a podcast in the video games category is twice that.
But that 37 minutes figure includes all podcasts, whether they’re popular or not. How long is a popular one? It turns out that the average length of a top 100 podcast (in October 2018) is 53 minutes. Rob Walch from Libsyn also has data from 2017, based on Libsyn popular downloads.
By July 2019, Megaphone, too, was reporting that podcasts are getting shorter. In August 2019, research showed that the most popular commercials on YouTube were just 6 seconds long. And in December 2019, RAIN News was comparing the total length of daily news podcasts with the amount of ads in them - and how long they took to get going.
A podcast survey in Nigeria at the end of 2019 says that 54% of Nigerians prefer podcasts to be shorter than 40 minutes (so nearly half prefer them to be longer.)
Perception is reality, though. Edison Research interviewed 1,000 Americans who were familiar with podcasts - but don’t listen to them. Why? Because, 50% of Americans say: “podcasts are too long”.
Two thirds of listeners do come back to a podcast later to continue listening, according to research of radio fans; but the same survey says 21% of listeners - one in five - never come back.
The creative method
Consider these questions:
I’m going to have a conversation shortly with a mate. I was wondering whether I should chat with him for 17 minutes, or whether 22 minutes is a better duration for a conversation. Could you let me know which you’d recommend?
I’m thinking of making a feature film. I was thinking 97 minutes, but it might be 102 minutes. Which would you think is better?
I’m thinking of cutting the grass in a little while. Should I cut it for 13 minutes, or just for 11? Which will cut the grass more satisfactorily? I look forward to your answer.
These questions are obviously ludicrous. Yet, to ask “how long should my podcast be” is, in many peoples’ minds, much the same. A podcast exists to tell a story or convey an idea. Unlike radio or TV, it needn’t be any specific duration to fit a schedule.
The selfish method
Some podcasters hit 'record’, do their podcast, and then, after hitting 'stop’ simply publish the result. It’s “as long as it needs to be”.
Some believe this adds to the authenticity of the podcast. Others don’t believe editing is worth the time. Ran Levi, and many others, believe they’re wrong.
Helen Zaltzman says:
Everything benefits from a bit of an edit
Roman Mars says:
If you have 100,000 listeners and you edit out one useless minute you are saving 100,000 wasted minutes in the world. You’re practically a hero.
Many of the world’s most listened-to podcasters will tell you that editing takes much longer than recording. Recording is fun, editing can be boring and dull; but it’s important to do, they say, because your number one job as a podcast host is to delight your listeners. If you don’t, they’ll go away.
So, according to many podcasters, editing is just as important as finding the right guests or the right content.
So: how long should I make my podcast?
Here’s what we think:
A podcast should be as long as it needs to be: but not a second longer.
Edit, polish, and be respectful of your listeners’ time. Make every minute matter.
If it takes 25 minutes to tell a great story, with all the fluff taken out and ensuring that every minute matters - then 25 minutes is the right duration for that story. But if it takes three hours, then that’s fine, too - as long as every single minute matters. If not, edit it, and keep editing it.
This probably is a more complicated answer than you wanted. Share your thoughts in the comments.