Using Apple’s “top podcasts” lists to find new podcasts is like using Nielsen ratings to discover new TV shows. You’re missing out on so much good stuff. The top lists are dominated by a few categories (business, news and true crime) and perpetually popular shows such as This American Life and The Joe Rogan Experience. There’s nothing wrong with these shows! They can just get… samey.
And that’s when Apple’s charts aren’t invaded by spammers, such as the network of business podcasts that flooded the charts with shows such as Bulletproof Real Estate and The Sedated Executive.
Apple shut down this particular spam attack in one day, but it’s a great example of how Apple’s charts are based on a feedback loop that keeps recommending the same shows to everyone. For more variety, try the charts on these third-party podcast apps.
The Castbox app runs its own “top shows” list, which often resembles Apple’s list but gets less spam. But you should also check out Castbox’s “Editor’s Picks” and category playlists such as “Films & Movies” and “Football Season”.
Breaker is the most promising social podcast app. I’m trying to switch over from Overcast, and I’m still getting used to Breaker’s idiosyncrasies.
Like Overcast, Breaker lets you “recommend” podcast episodes to your friends (imported from your contacts) in-app. Unlike Overcast, it also lets your friends see what you’ve listened to. That kind of Spotify-style passive sharing feels appealing. Lastly, it lets you send episodes to specific friends.
Breaker also recommends new podcasts based on what shows you actually listen to. Each recommendation includes a reason: Because you listened to this specific episode of Punch Up the Jam, or this episode of Tides of History, here’s this specific episode of another show.
So far all my Breaker recs have been from shows I’d never heard of. Breaker knows I don’t need to hear more about Serial.
Breaker is still iOS-only; its social features will be much more useful once your Android-using friends can join in. But if you’re one of those snobs who sneers at green bubbles in your text messages, then you’re all set.
The app also lists “hot episodes” of the past day, week and month, which is more transparent than Apple’s “Top Episodes” list, which drifts in a timeless void. Breaker (disclosure: I know one of the founders) is still finding its way, but it’s trying out a lot of promising things, and more podcast apps should follow its lead.
Podcast Addict (Android)
As podcast analytics site Chartable points out, Podcast Addict (like several of the apps listed here, but not Apple!) actually lists subscriber numbers for every podcast. It’s a good way to check that a show hasn’t temporarily spammed its way to the top of a list.
Podcast Addict’s numbers are low across the board, since it’s way less popular than Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. So remember to treat them relative to each other, not absolutely.
Stitcher separates “Trending Shows” from “Popular Shows”, so you can check out temporarily popular podcasts. Right now this list looks pretty eclectic: Titles include Cigar Nerds, Sassy Tarot, A Deep Dive Into Riverdale, and something in Cyrillic. Definitely not “Top Podcasts” territory.
In addition to the usual “top” lists, Overcast includes recommendations from your Twitter friends. This is limited to your friends who also use Overcast — and who use its recommendation feature — but it’s one more way to learn what your friends, not the general public, are into.
Apple Podcasts (iOS)
Apple is better at curation than algorithmic recommendation. It’s true for music, for apps and for podcasts. Under the Podcasts app’s “Browse” tab, select “Featured” and check out their featured collections. You’ll recognise a lot of shows, but you’ll find much more variety than you would in the top charts.