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Why are true crime podcasts so popular?

The thrill, mystery, gore, drama, and horror of true crime stories have fascinated our collective consciousness in popular media from the days of Jack the Ripper to the present. Podcasting’s intimate nature makes it an especially effective vehicle for true crime storytelling. Investigative journalists have flocked to the medium to tell their stories, and audiences are listening in droves.

Take a look at the top podcasts on the iTunes chart, and you’ll consistently see true crime programs earning an oversized share of the top twenty positions. At the time of publishing this article, Crime Junkie, Red Collar, and Death of a Starlet are in the top five. Giving credibility to the medium, Serial won the prestigious Peabody Award in April 2015 and earned a Guinness World Record for most-listened-to podcast.

Women are tuning in to true crime podcasts

Kelli Boling, a Ph.D. candidate in mass communications, found that almost 75% of true crime podcast listeners are women, publishing her results in the Journal of Radio & Audio Media. A 2019 study by Edison Research found that 54% of monthly podcast listeners are male, demonstrating that the gender gap within this genre is even wider than you might expect. 

Boling’s findings inspire theories about why women gravitate towards true crime in general, whether in podcasts or in other media formats. Some listeners find a sense of empowerment by facing their fears; others find compassion or empathy for the victims. Some audience members say they treat the stories as a lesson to avoid similar situations for themselves in the future. Many enjoy playing armchair detectives and can’t resist the challenge of putting the puzzle pieces together. Some people want to get inside the perpetrator’s mind and understand the motives that drive them to such dastardly actions.

Podcasts are easily accessible

In the past, fans consumed true crime narratives either in written or visual formats, such as true crime novels or TV shows. Both of these mediums require a time commitment, and you need to apply direct attention to what is in front of you. With a podcast, you can put on your headphones and hit play while you’re doing other tasks – and you can take it with you wherever you go! They’re easy to acquire with a simple download from Spotify or iTunes. No need for a trip to Barnes and Noble or a cable subscription for ID Discovery. Podcasts make the barrier to consuming true crime stories so much lower, making it so much easier to participate as a listener.

Podcasts are episodic

As a digital, episodic media, podcasts lend themselves perfectly to a storytelling format that builds suspense and hooks an audience. The episodic nature of investigative true crime podcasts allows journalists to pace out the information they want to release per episode to build out the narrative that best supports the storyline. Contrast that with the “Netflix” model where the entire season or docuseries is available in a lump-delivery – which is excellent for binge-consumers. But that model doesn’t pull in and carry an audience the same way building suspense between episodes can. 

Podcasts are intimate

Having the host’s voice play inside your headphones, directly in your head, is an intimate experience. It’s just you and the host. Your mind gets to organically create all of the imagery to fill in the gaps. The experience bonds you at the moment in a way you can’t get out of a book or a film. Nothing could be more captivating or compelling for a fan of the genre, combined with the inherent thrill, horror, and suspense involved in a true crime narrative. If you’re listening to a gifted storyteller, you’re sure to be on the edge of your seat!

If you’re new to the genre, here are a few excellent true crime podcasts to cut your teeth on:

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