It only costs $5 to game Apple’s Podcast charts

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podcast
Making a "chart-topping" podcast isn't that hard.
Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

Scoring a top spot on Apple’s podcast charts is a lot easier — and a lot cheaper — than most listeners probably realize.

Many podcast fans use Apple’s charts on iTunes and its iOS app to find new shows and gauge what’s popular right now. However, an intriguing new report reveals that some shows are paying for a place at the top and its shockingly inexpensive to game the charts.

Apple’s podcast charts are similar to Billboard’s Top 100 charts. There are multiple categories breaking down podcasts for almost every topic you can think of, with the most popular at the top. Unlike the Billboard charts, though, Apple’s podcast charts aren’t based solely on popularity. New subscribers and other metrics are used to show what’s trending, but it’s not a very accurate representation of what most people are listening to.

Gaming the podcast charts

John Perotti, the creator of a drone music podcast, revealed to The Verge that he was recently approached through Twitter to get his small podcast to the top of the charts. All it took was $5. The next day, his podcast, which averages only 300 downloads, went from the bottom of Apple’s Arts chart to #55 on the All Categories board.

Apple doesn’t share data on if people get their recommendations through the charts. However, the charts are one of the most prominent pages on the iOS Podcast app, so it’s safe to assume a lot of people use them to find what’s popular. Podcast app Anchor found that 52 percent of podcast listeners are listening through Apple Podcasts.

“How are you going to find the podcast that you want to advertise on? Well, let’s look at the top of the charts. Let’s see who’s getting heard,” Mike Mignano, CEO of podcasting app Anchor, told The Verge. “So the charts actually, in a strange way, because of a lack of a data around how podcasts perform, became important tools for finding podcasts worth advertising on.”

Is gaming the podcast charts worth it?

In the end, Perotti only got about 200 more downloads. Most of those listeners came from Bangladesh, which is where the person who contacted him is based. Still, some of those new listeners were from the United States, giving the podcast just a little bit more exposure.

The Bangladesh operation probably uses a click farm to generate fake interest in a podcast. According to The Verge, Apple put in safeguards to monitor fraudulent activity on the charts. The company uses both humans and software to look for fraud and bans podcasts found committing fraud multiple times.

Despite Apple’s efforts to crack down on fraud, it still happens. Advertisers take less stock in the charts now as a way to find out where to place ads. Instead, they use alternative methods to figure out what podcasts people are listening to the most and whether they’re able to sell products through them.