I recently had a client ask me why he should keep his file sizes small, for his podcast episodes. He wanted to know why he would use 64kbps encoding or 96kbps encoding to get smaller file sizes, when 320kbps would produce better quality sound with larger files. I have to admit, I was stumped. I didn’t have a good answer, and I sort of stumbled over an answer involving upload limits for podcast hosting services… but I wasn’t even convincing myself at that point.
Fortunately, the podcast technology group on Google+ came to the rescue. After asking for advice on that group, I got a lot of great responses – which I am compiling here, as # reasons that you should care about your podcast episode file sizes.
Reason #5: Podcast Hosting Charges
Whether you are self-hosting your podcast or using a hosting service such as SignalLeaf, you probably have an upload limit and/or bandwidth that you have to pay for. If you’re self hosting, then you may be paying for bandwidth. Using Amazon S3, for example, is going to cost $0.12 per gigabyte of data transfer. Hosting services on the other hand, usually have an upload limit that allows you to upload a limited file size amount each month.
Bob DeGrande also notes that not all “unlimited” plans are really unlimited:
Hosting limits are certainly an issue, many sites claiming to offer “unlimited” downloads really don’t, and the bigger file sizes you download will get you closer to having a problem.
Whether you are self-hosted or using a service to provide your podcast to listeners, reducing file size can save you money every month.
Reason #4: Podcasting Is Global And Mobile
It’s easy to imagine that your audience is just around the corner from where you live – especially if you live in the U.S. We tend to have a very narrow view of who is and is not listening to or reading the materials that we produce, as humans. But podcasting, among other forms of content creations, really is a global medium. It’s important that we remember this when looking at what we are producing.
Additionally, podcasts are often listened to while on the go. Glenn Bennett remind us:
Most podcast consumption today is via mobile and the file size impacts a mobile user
There are a number of ways that mobile and global audience is affected, as well (as you’ll see in the next 3 reasons).
Reason #3: Data Transfer Limits for Listeners
Monthly data transfer quotas are becoming more and more prevalent, no matter where you live. Even in the U.S., we are seeing more internet service providers putting caps on data transfer. Mobile devices are getting more and more restrictions on data transfer as well. It’s hard to find someone with a truly unlimited data plan, these days.
Jim Collison talks about how we need to find the right mix of quality vs file size, so that we don’t burn up our listener’s data transfer limits:
Some listeners have bandwidth caps. They are very sensitive of what they download and how big it is. For them, its about the right mix of quality and quantity. The trick is as small as possible with the best sound for your brand.
Reason #2: Bandwidth Problems
If you are only considering podcast listeners in countries with more advanced Internet connections, you’re going to be leaving behind a large segment of your audience. Podcasting is a global medium, and your show is likely to have listeners form all around the world.
Ray Ortega reminds us that our audience is global, not just local:
Think internationally not just domestically. Podcasting is global and the producer should take into account the fact that bandwidth is not the same everywhere and caps exists for many places.
So imagine a listener in a country that doesn’t have the same high quality / high bandwidth internet access that many of us enjoy.
Reason #1: Limited Space on Devices
Not everyone has 128GB of space to store audio, on the device they use to listen to podcasts. More often than not, podcast listeners are dealing with very limited space.
David Jackson recalls a time when he had problems with a very large file:
I once downloaded an hour long video that someone had sent down their audio feed. It about destroyed my phone.
If you’re encoding a file with an exceptionally high bit rate and you’re taking up 200 or 300 megs on a device that only has a few gigs of space available… well, that’s not a very nice thing to do to your audience. They will be forced to choose between you and probably 3 or 4 others that they want to keep around.
What This Comes Down To
In the end, all of the above reasons come down one thing: being kind to your audience by saving time and money then. Sure, you can save yourself some money in hosting charges, as well. But ultimately this is about your audience, not you. Downloading large files takes up more bandwidth and can cause data transfer limits to be hit quickly. You don’t want to be a hog and take up all the space on the listeners devices, or cause them to wait several hours while your episode finishes downloading.
Todd Cochrane goes so far as to say,
I typically unsubscribe from shows with higher encode rates due to file size.
I complete understand Todd’s perspective, here. Given a choice between a podcast that respects my bandwidth and storage space and one that doesn’t… well, it’s an easy decision to make.
Finding The Right Balance
There’s a downside to encoding your files too small, of course. You’ll quickly lose audio quality when you drop down to 64kbps or lower, for your .mp3 files. You have to decide where your audio quality vs file size should sit, finding the right balance for your audience.
I recommend using 96kbps encoding for your .mp3 files. If you’d like to read about / hear why this is the recommended setting, check out my post on MP3 Bit Rates, Audio Quality and File Size.