Cozying up by the crackling fire and enjoying a good book is a favorite wintertime activity for many. Recently, though, some are steering away from traditional hard or softcover books and finding entertainment, education, and enlightenment elsewhere ― from podcasts. According to PodcastHosting.org, as of October 2021, over 2,000,000 podcasts and over 48 million episodes are available to consumers.

While comedy, education, and news are the most popular podcasting genres, there is a vast assortment of topics and styles of shows.

If you’re a newbie to podcasts, let’s start with a basic definition. A podcast is a digital audio file made available on the internet for downloading or streaming to computers or mobile devices. Podcasts can be released in episode installments as a daily, weekly, monthly, or even an entire season-long listening experience. They’re basically a talk radio series but offered on demand.

Like most things, the internet’s huge assortment of available media can be overwhelming. A good place to start when it comes to finding a podcast is to seek out your hobbies and interests. Finding shows based on topics that interest you and conducting a brief Google search can result in thousands of podcasts centered on that theme. Think about celebrities, talk show hosts, comedians, and other notable figures you enjoy. Chances are, some of them host their own podcasts or have appeared as guests on other shows.

Given that podcasts don’t contain any video content, choosing a podcast with a familiar voice narration is a nice starting point for some. Since it’s solely audio, it’s important to find a host with vocal qualities you appreciate, understand, and won’t get bored or annoyed with during an hour-long episode. Doing some research and delving into podcast ratings and reviews can help you decide on a specific show. To some listeners, even if the subject matter is favorable, bad audio quality is a turnoff. Reading reviews can help guide you to a specific show that provides the content you desire.

If you’re still unsure about what to listen to, try out some of the most popular podcasts. Public radio offerings include “This American Life,” a true-crime show; “Serial,” an investigative option; and “Radiolab,” for a deep-dive journalistic option. Or try “Smartless,” with actors Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett for a podcast highlighting human connection.

Podcasts come in a variety of formats, too. Some are conversational, often celebrities with special guests, and some use a storytelling/investigative format (think true crime shows). Others employ roundtables and vary in short-form and long-form formats. While nonfiction narrative podcasts are popular, there are even theatrical scripted fiction podcasts if you want to experience auditory make-believe.

After finding subject matter that will hold your attention, it’s time to look at the different podcast platforms. Most podcasts are available in a multitude of streaming options, but they do vary. For example, iPhone users have a built-in podcast listening app. Other apps include Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Overcast, and Stitcher. It’s important to note that you don’t need an app to listen to most podcasts, which are also available to hear on your smart devices or computers.

Now it’s time to start listening! You’ll have the option to stream the episode or download it. Downloading it means you can listen to it wherever and whenever, regardless if you’re connected to the internet. This can be good for a long flight, a layover in the airport, a road trip, or even tackling your chore list at home.  People enjoy podcasts because they can put them on as background noise while completing other tasks, including work. Unlike reading or watching a video, these auditory gems don’t require all of your attention.

After you’ve found a podcast you enjoy, subscribing might be to your advantage. New show episodes can be automatically downloaded to your device, so you stay up to date on the latest. Sometimes, you can also get access to behind-the-scenes content. Subscribing might also enable you to listen to episodes early or experience them ad-free.

Whether you’re looking for a purely entertaining comedic episode, a thought-provoking true-crime thriller, informative health/fitness topics, a life-changing self-help theme, or a scripted drama, the world of podcasts is endless. Just picture podcasts as a towering library bookshelf with a never-ending rotation of choices. An extra bonus is that there aren’t any late fees or chance of paper cuts!