Soundcloud? Anchor? Free is Never Free
Updated: Jan 20, 2022
I see these questions every day in Facebook groups:
"Should I use Anchor? How about Soundcloud?"
Instead of typing out the reasons into Facebook groups daily, I'm taking this moment to write a rare blog piece. I have experience using both and can speak to their limitations for podcasters.
When Soundcloud first came onto the scene, it was this handy place to share audio. Having managed a few radio stations in my time - it was a great way to share audio socially. It's something I became very used to, ugly orange audio player and all. In 2016 when I started to podcast, I used Soundcloud as my host. It was right around this time that standardized metrics were called into question and the "what constitutes a download" question became important to podcasters who were serious about making agency advertising money and/or measuring their audience. Now my background is radio and most of my working life has been dedicated to understanding audience behaviour in order to grow the show. Radio consultant and podcaster, Mark Ramsey told me about the issues regarding Soundcloud measurement after we had stopped recording a podcast episode back in 2017. That's when a red flag went up for me. The second flag was the financial stress that the company was under. The third was Podtrac discontinuing counting any Soundcloud plays that happened outside the RSS feed. That was enough for me - I moved my podcast out of there and blogged about the podcast numbers I was seeing.
So if someone use the Soundcloud player or listens directly from the website - it counts as a ZERO towards to your listener stats. While you might feel it is unjust or harsh, consider that no can truly determine if that listener is really a human. Anything that involves the manipulation of stats is bullshit - and no one wants or needs bullshit. The end result was that I moved my podcast to an IAB 2.0 Certified host. You can read more about what that is here - but know that the numbers were going to be counted according to industry standards and not bullshit.
At its core, Soundcloud isn't even a podcast host. They are a music host who have managed to take money from podcasters. They haven't updated their category tags to reflect Apple's since 2018. That means you can't properly categorize your show into Apple's catalogue. Yes you can submit the show to Apple Podcasts, but you likely won't get it into the category your show need to be in. This is like hiring an interpreter that only knows one language.
Finally, the price? Their free model has storage limitations that will have able to keep only your last 8 episodes in Apple, and their paid model is the same price as a real host. So why not use a real host with real metrics and real support?
Hope for the future: Pandora / Sirius XM purchased a piece of Soundcloud in February 2020. Maybe they will clean this shit up.
UPDATE! (Jan. 2022) They haven't cleaned this shit up.
Another host people ask about every day is Anchor.
Full disclosure: My company carries three podcasts on Anchor, so we know of what we speak.
The first thing you need to know is that free is never free. You are giving up something when you put your podcast on Anchor. Namely, control, flexibility and YOUR stats.
Understanding your stats is important in growing your show. It gives you a glimpse of what works and what doesn't work. Trying to grow your show without proper stats is like driving at night without lights; you may or may not get there and you're likely to hit a few things along the way.
Understanding that, Anchor stats remain a mystery. While they are IAB certified, the stats back some incomplete on the dashboard. Ir's not very indepth. Anchor also does not offer the ability to add the enclosure tag to make that happen. This is likely to prevent you from using other services like Podcorn who are also in the advertising game. I sent a note to Anchor asking about this and how they compile their metrics and here is the response I received:
Remember that thing I said about keeping control of your podcast? Well it's clear you don't have it with Anchor.
One of their big selling points is "We do everything for you and get you on to all platforms." Don't do that by the way - that's a big mistake. It is work you can easily do yourself. By letting Anchor do that, you will lose access to valuable stats in the Apple back end, like consumption. Yes we are all big on downloads, but it's consumption that really tells the tale of your podcast success. After all, what good is a download if no one listens to your show? The same goes for Spotify, (who are the owners of Anchor). Spotify offers a backend and some interesting metrics you want to keep your eye on. Some good news though for Anchor users - they are going to allow you to see the Spotify metrics you could already be seeing, had you submitted your podcast yourself in the first place. (Makes sense because Spotify is their parent company, right?)
Anchor once made it hard for podcaster to leave to another host, but they have since conformed to industry standards and allow you to leave with a 301 Redirect - which means you can take your subscribers with you.
Now if you have already allowed Anchor to "submit the podcast for you" and you are full of regret as you should be, you're going to need to jump through some hoops to recover your podcast and have it associated with your Apple ID, Spotify, Stitcher etc. I've rescued a few podcasts from their grips and it is becoming easier as people figure out that "We do it all for you" is not helpful.
People also get sucked into the sponsorship offerings. I'll just cut to the chorus on this: You will not be making what you could make if you involve yourself with Anchor Sponsorships. If you are getting 1000 alleged downloads per episode and take an ad at a $10 CPM (cost-per-thousand) - enjoy your ten dollars. If you are subjecting your listener to 60 seconds of you selling something for $10, then you don't think much of the listener. Which is the root cause of why your podcast is struggling; because this is about your listener.
Again, if you don't care about growing your audience - feel free to use Anchor and join podcasting's largest cemetery of shows. All things being consistent with stats from December 2018, (and I have no reason to believe these numbers have changed) more than 50% of the podcasts have three episodes or less, and are inactive. Anchor is littered with quitters because podcasting is hard and takes a lot of time and mental investment.
I can't tell you which podcast host is best for you. Anchor is actually an ideal podcast host for one of our clients who wanted to see the impact of repurposing audio he was sharing through email and Facebook. When it comes to podcast hosts, there are many different features and price points that you will need to explore to determine if it is right for you.
But know that free is never free. And avoid Soundcloud.
Update February 2022:
A story in Podnews details that Anchor has been altering the audio on their podcasts and it is causing apps to produce nefarious results. See this tweet from Marco Ament who is the creator of the Overcast app: