Spotify gives its podcasts the playlist treatment with three new curated sections

True crime, 'best of,' and fun facts now have designated playlists. That could boost engagement, but Podtrac data shows people are tapping out, not tuning in.

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With the advent of streaming services, the nature of distribution around music (and podcasts) has rapidly evolved. Long gone are the days when single tracks did the trick; these days people adore and assign a lot of cultural meaning to playlists. Spotify is hopping on that pulse and offering editorial podcast playlists starting today.

The company announced the debut on its website and noted that it will go live in the United States as well as Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.

Three flagship playlists (for now) — It's possible that the company will expand podcast playlists to other genres but for now, Spotify is launching three flagship playlists:

  1. The Best Podcasts of The Week. This is an opportunity for amateur and professional podcasters to shine on the official Spotify rostrum if the quality of their substance meets official criteria. Playlist spotlight like this has the potential to ramp up user time on the platform as well as intra-competition.
  2. Crime Scene. Self-explanatory, as you've probably guessed. This category could be a great hit among true crime fans and just about anyone who likes the occasional dose of drama, thrill, and suspense. As of January, Spotify reported that true crime listening was especially high among women following in-platform titles like Crime Junkie, My Favorite Murder, Small Town Murder, and others. The company even invited a social psychologist to provide her hypothesis on why women dig true crime so much. And the numbers speak for themselves. Compared to 2018, Spotify has seen a 16 percent increase of women following true crime podcasts in 2019.
  3. Brain Snacks. Information-centric podcasts with tidbits and factoids peppered here and there tend to do well with the info-junkie crowd. Spotify is attempting to zero in on the demographic with a podcast playlist titled Brain Snacks. It's designed for the info-seeker on the go as the podcasts promise to be "20 minutes or less."

Is this a good strategy? — COVID-19 has forced millions of people to stay home, so it makes temporal sense that Spotify is attempting to provide an aggregated spot for bored listeners. Strategically, too, playlist placement has the potential to increase in-app user traffic as well as provide broader exposure to artists and podcasters.

However, data shows that there is a slump in podcast listening right now. Podtrac research noted that there has been a 10 percent drop in podcast downloads and a 20 percent drop in unique listeners since March, roughly around the same time stocks fell. One possible explanation for this collective tuning-out is that a lot of people listen to podcasts during their commute. With lockdown measures in place, that component is absent.

These figures shouldn't worry Spotify too much, though. If the playlist content is impressive, word-of-mouth marketing could bring listeners in. And since people are stuck home, they might just binge-listen — provided they're hooked.