Browsing through your analytics, you may notice two different concepts: subscribers and listens. The difference between the two can be subtle, and hopefully this article can show you how they are different.
A subscriber is a unique device that is subscribed to your feed. The notion of a subscriber simply means that someone is checking your feed for updates. It's a great way to measure your audience, because most subscribers will automatically download your episodes.
Pinecast measures subscribers by counting the number of unique downloads of your RSS feed each day. Every device that subscribes to your feed will be represented as a "subscriber" in your analytics. This number may vary day to day depending on how many devices check your feed; a device that is turned off may not check your feed and not be counted.
A listen is a single, unique download of an episode's audio file. You can consider your listen analytics to represent the number of times your audio has been played. Pinecast counts a listen every time one of your episodes are played through any channel: directly via the audio URL, linked through your RSS feed, or played through the embeddable player.
You may notice a big spike in listens after an episode is released, only to see it trail off. This is common: your audience listens to your episode when it is released and don't download that episode again. The pattern will repeat for every episode you release.
Listens are a direct count. Each counted listen represents a single download of your audio. On the other hand, subscribers are a way of approximating a continuous value. While listens happen when a user clicks a play button or when a device automatically downloads the latest episode, subscribers are counted when devices passively check your feed.
Put another way, listens can be directly counted. Subscribers, on the other hand, are approximated. Every day, the subscriber count starts at zero and counts up as requests for your feed arrive. A dip in subscribers does not mean that people unsubscribed, only that their devices did not check your feed that day.
Which metric should I care about?
You should care about both of them!
If you see low listen numbers, it's a sign that you're not advertising your show enough (or, if you moved to Pinecast recently, that you did not set up a proper feed redirect).
If you see low subscriber numbers, it's a sign that your subscribed audience is low. Perhaps you're not asking listeners to subscribe and instead driving them towards an embeddable player or an audio URL. Listeners that are not subscribed will not automatically receive new episodes.