I get this question all the time and the quick answer is when it comes to subscribers - you can't. However, there are other ways to measure success. First, let's talk about the current state of affairs.
You can see engaged listeners (people that listen to a sizeable chunk of your episode) in Apple. You can see followers in Spotify. In Google podcasts you can actually see subscribers. However, if you look at Spotify and Google's numbers they don't seem to jive with the number of downloads. This is why I say for the most part you can't. To this, I ask, "Why do you want to know?"
I WANT TO TRACK GROWTH
If the answer is, "I want to track my growth" then I have a solution. You can use your download numbers. If you want to know who your superfans are, then use a time frame such as 7 days. In hosts like Libsyn (use the promo code sopfree to get a free month at Libsyn.com) and Buzzsprout you can look at how many downloads an episode receives after 7 days (as well as 30, 90, and all-time). This makes it easy to see what episodes performed the best.
NOT EVERYONE LISTENS! (BUT MOST DO)
I know some people shout, "But you can download a file and never listen to it." In June of 2021 Apple had a glitch where it's auto-download option quit working, and according to podnews, this represented about 11% of downloads. This means roughly 90% of people that download a file listen to it. Apple podcasts has a feature that if you haven't listened to any of the last 5 downloads it stops downloading them.
LET'S GO BACK TO YOUR WHY
Keep in mind there are more ways to measure success and that is why we are coming back to your why. In episode 99 I talked about the different ways people benefit from podcasting. I episode 79 I talked about the importance of knowing your why.
Some examples are:
I look at my stats once a week. I look at the last episode and compare it to the previous episode. My goal is not to drive numbers up for advertisers. My goal for this podcast (my why) is to get you to hire me as your podcasting sherpa. Your trusted guide to get you over the mountain you feel is starting a podcast. If you're more of a self-paced person, you might join the School of Podcasting.
In May of this year, my numbers took an ever so slight dip. However, my consulting numbers went up. When you know your why, you know when (or more importantly when NOT TO) to start to look at your content.
MEASURING SUPER FANS
For now, I would look at how many downloads you get the first seven days after being published if you want to use download numbers.
If you need help growing your audience, reach out to me at podcastconsultant.com and schedule a strategy session. I can listen to an episode, check out your website, and let you know if I find any hidden fruit.