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Topical vs Chronological

Jordan Harbour May 28, 2014


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Topical vs Chronological

Here’s the million dollar question: should your new podcast be topical or chronological? Let’s look at all the pros and cons…

Topical Podcasts

A topical podcast has an overarching theme, and then jumps around from topic to topic within that theme. Some examples:

  • When Diplomacy Fails
  • Hardcore History
  • Revolutions
  • The History Chicks
  • Ancient Warfare Podcast
  • Samurai Archive
  • Twilight Histories
  • How Jamaica Conquered the World
  • Born Yesterday
  • The Podcast History of Doom
  • History in 5 Minutes
  • Ancient Rome Refocused

Here are the pros of doing a topical podcast:

  • You don’t have to stick to a chronology
  • If you miss something fascinating, you can do an episode on it later
  • You can focus on all the most interesting things and leave out the rest
  • You can keep it going forever and ever and ever…
  • You can always freshen it up for yourself by jumping to a radically different topic

Here are the cons of doing a topical podcast:

  • People may only listen to shows that interest them
  • You won’t capture a grand narrative–only short stories

Here are listener habits when it comes to topical podcasts:

Listeners will select one title that interests them. If the episode is good, they’ll go onto another title that interests them. They will keep jumping around until they are either bored of your podcast, or they have listened to all shows. If they listened to everything and are still engaged, they’ll continue to listen as each show is released.

Generally, topical history podcasts have a sporadic popularity pattern. Some shows will do well, others will be less popular. Topical podcasts also have consistency–the 1st show and the 40th show will be similar in popularity.

Take a look at the popularity of the Ancient Warfare podcast:

Ancient Warfare Podcast Popularity

In the above example, some topics are of medium popularity, such as ‘Rome in Crisis’ and ‘The Barcids at War’. These are the shows that people leave to last. This probably has more to do with the titles not being sexy enough, than with the content. They’re a bit vague.

The most popular topics include ‘Elite Units of the Hellenistic Era’ and ‘The Roman Conquest of Spain’. These are titles that just beg to be clicked on.

What’s important, though, is that there is a consistency in listenership. You can’t tell if there is a bleed over time. People will definitely drop off after only a few shows, but if your quality is solid your show’s popularity will remain consistent from beginning to end.

How to make a topical podcast work:

  • Treat each show as though it could be your listener’s first
  • Create titles that stand out and capture your audience
  • Add keywords so each show can be searched on its own

Chonological Podcasts

A chronological podcast is one that tells a grand narrative of something huge from beginning to end. Some examples:

  • History of Rome
  • History of WW2 Podcast
  • The British History Podcast
  • The Podcast History of Our World
  • The History of Philosophy
  • History of the Crusades
  • History of the Papacy
  • A History of: Hannibal
  • Russian Rulers History Podcast
  • History of Iran
  • The Arab Spring: A History
  • Space Rocket History

The pros of doing a chronological podcast:

  • You can tell a grand narrative, such as a nation’s history or the biography of a famous person
  • You can explore the details as deeply as you wish
  • Those listeners that stick around will be very high quality fans

The cons of doing a chronological podcast:

  • Usually, there is a noticeable bleed as listeners engage with the early episodes and drop off as it progresses
  • You can’t go back if you missed something
  • If you want to make this your business, keep in mind that your story will one day end and with it your business

Here are listener habits when it comes to chronological podcasts:

Listeners tend to start at the beginning and slowly drop off until you are down to a core of die hard listeners. There’s really nothing you can do about this. It’s the same pattern for all the chronological podcasts no matter the quality. You’ll see this pattern for The History of Rome, The Podcast History of Our World and the British History Podcast.

Look at the popularity of shows for the History of Rome. Shows are massively popular at the beginning. That popularity gradually decreases as listeners bleed away. There’s a spike at the final shows because listeners who are more sporadic want to know how to story ends:

History of Rome Popularity 2

History of Rome Popularity 1

How to make a chronological podcast work:

  • Put a huge amount of effort into making your first shows the highest quality possible
  • To hook your audience, keep your first shows short and punchy (under 20 minutes); you can make longer shows later
  • In your introduction, focus on what the listener will experience (enticing), not on your qualifications (boring)
  • Make your titles short and interesting. Mike Duncan does a good job so I’d suggest following his example.


This article was written by Jordan Harbour from the Twilight Histories Podcast

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