How manual downloads work on Player FM (or, “why there’s no ‘Download This’ button”)

A huge benefit of podcasting is offline access, and Player FM launched with a powerful but simple “Auto-Download” feature to ensure offline access for your subscriptions. However, it’s easy to stumble on episodes that aren’t downloaded, either because they’re too old to be auto-downloaded, or they appear in another channel. So users naturally wanted a way to download any episode, and we delivered it last month via the Play Later feature.

To add an episode to Play Later, simply long-hold the play button. Or you can long-hold the episode title to reveal Play Later in the context menu. And on the episode detail screen, you’ll also see a “Play Later” button. Then, visit your Play Later list anytime from the main (channel selection) menu. As you can see below, episodes marked Play Later have a top-right triangle with clock icon.

So why not a simple “Download This” button? Three reasons.

“Download This” buttons have always been flawed, because when do you clean up all that you’ve downloaded? Your web browsers’ Downloads folder is probably piled up with miscellaneous scraps of files you forgot about long ago. This is worse on mobile, where space is limited. Now, Player FM already has a way to auto-delete played episodes, so it’s possible these episodes will be cleaned up. But how often do you finish listening to an episode? No, you’d have to periodically walk through all your downloads, each time making the hard decision to remove them by marking them as played.

With Play Later, the app simply holds on the latest 10 episodes you’ve added to the list. (Or zero, or 50 … you decide in Settings.) Played episodes will be automatically removed from the list, and episodes you didn’t get to will “fall off” the back of the list. They’ll still be present at the bottom of your Play Later list, but the download will be deleted to make room for the new episodes at the top. This way, you’ll always have a maximum storage requirement (e.g. about 500MB if you choose a limit of 10 episodes) and you won’t be on a collision course with your device’s limited storage.

A related reason is that Player FM itself works great for offline browsing. You could be on the train flipping through favorite channels and spot a few interesting shows. Just add them to Play Later and the app will sync everything up when you’re back online. If it was a simple Download This button, it would fail for lack of network connectivity and you’d have to remember them in your head. Ah, but what if the app had a way to directly queue up Downloads? There is — it’s called Play Later!

Finally, there’s our cloud-first approach. Just as subscriptions and favorite channels sync across devices, we plan the same for Play Later. We want it so you can see an episode anywhere, pin it down, and it will then be available for offline consumption on any device. For a cloud app, Play Later just makes more sense.

All that said, if you really do want to grab the raw MP3 and stick it in a folder somewhere, “Export to File System” is still present in the Episode Detail screen.