How Apple’s new audio subscriptions are upending podcasting

Sixteen years later, throughout its April 20, 2021, “Spring Loaded” occasion, Apple has as soon as once more signaled a long-term company dedication to podcasting. However this time, as a substitute of introducing listeners to the medium, Apple is creating the technical infrastructure for paid subscriptions by its Apple Podcasts service.

Creators will now have the choice to require a cost for audiences to entry their content material on Apple’s platform, with Apple taking a 30% cut of the revenue.

Paid subscriptions aren’t new. However as students who examine the podcasting industry, we consider the mixing of paid subscriptions into podcasting’s strongest platforms might reshape the medium in important methods.

Tens of millions launched to podcasting

In 2005, Apple introduced podcasting into the mainstream by making the medium seen and immediately accessible. Reworking iTunes into a classy podcatcher—software program that permits customers to find and obtain audio information—made it simple for customers to entry podcast reveals. It did this by permitting customers to simply discover and add podcast RSS feeds, which give individuals the chance to mechanically entry new episodes as they’re launched.

As soon as it started putting in the now-iconic purple Apple Podcasts app by default on iPhones in late 2014, many listeners found podcasting for the primary time, leading to major audience growth. At the moment there’s a proliferation of podcast apps to find and take heed to podcasts; most of them can be utilized without charge to the patron.

To today, Apple has by far the largest podcast directory, which serves each as a gateway to tens of 1000’s of new podcasts and as an archive of the medium’s historical past by storing the RSS feeds of reveals not releasing new episodes.

The grassroots podcasting growth

Apple’s preliminary foray into podcasting was guided by its broader technique to extend the worth of its iPod gadgets, which had been first released in 2001. The aim was to entice shoppers by providing a whole universe of free audio content material.

However Jobs’s imaginative and prescient of podcasting as basically time-shifted radio was finally shortsighted.

What he didn’t anticipate was the explosion of user-generated content that universally expanded the provision of audio content material. In truth, podcasting’s vibrancy has loads to do with the sheer variety of its voices and ultra-niche content, thanks largely to the comparatively low obstacles to entry for creators.

Producing a podcast may be so simple as recording audio in your laptop or cell phone, importing the content material to a podcast internet hosting service, after which ensuring that your present is listed with the main directories resembling Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

Whereas there may be usually a small payment charged by internet hosting firms for storing audio information and managing your feed, a service resembling Anchor—purchased by Spotify for $140 million in 2019—uploads and lists podcasts without spending a dime, and has been the engine of huge podcast progress for Spotify. Customers launched 1 million new podcasts via Anchor in 2020 alone. As a result of RSS is an open internet commonplace, listeners can entry podcast content material without spending a dime on any app or system they select, from sensible audio system to their automobile dashboards.

Spotify will get unique

Again in 2005, since Apple’s core enterprise was promoting {hardware}—on the time, iPods, Mac computer systems, and, later, iPhones—the corporate took a comparatively hands-off method to the rising medium.

Moderately than act as a content material impresario, Apple’s iTunes as a substitute operated mainly as a handy on-line storefront without spending a dime content material that handed by audio information. Not like its music retailer counterpart, nevertheless, Apple didn’t enable any monetary transactions to happen round podcast content material.

Paid subscriptions and different types of monetization had been due to this fact left to in-show promoting, merchandising, and crowdfunding. Jealously guarding its standing as an trade privateness chief, Apple didn’t even enable podcast creators to entry listening knowledge, resembling viewers demographics or how lengthy customers listened to an episode until 2017. And this was primarily in response to stylish viewers dashboards being launched by rivals resembling Spotify and Google.

As rival Spotify moved into the house and started to safe unique contracts with prime podcasters resembling Joe Budden and Joe Rogan, Apple’s preeminence as the highest vacation spot for podcast listeners was threatened. For Spotify, making unique podcast offers with high-profile expertise was a way to attract ears into their ecosystem and hold them there.

Spotify’s technique has begun to repay, as U.S. listenership on their podcast app is expected to surpass Apple’s in 2021. It has already surpassed Apple within the U.Ok.

Apple enters the content material enterprise

Vulnerable to being sidelined, Apple’s standing as podcasting’s benevolent absentee landlord has modified.

For the primary time, paid subscriptions will exist on its platform. Apple will enable creators to position their podcasts behind a paywall through the Apple Podcasts app. Podcasters have, for essentially the most half, welcomed the move. Now they’ll simply monetize their content material on the podcast platform with essentially the most listeners, although with a hefty surcharge utilized.

Moderately than an all-or-nothing method, Apple has determined to permit podcasters to resolve whether their content is exclusive to Apple, or whether or not it is going to seem outdoors of the Apple Podcast app. Nonetheless, as many podcasters have discovered, this method has been turned “off” by default.

What does this all imply for podcasting?

The massive takeaway right here is that Apple, by taking a reduce of the creators’ premium content material on Apple Podcasts, is now firmly within the content material enterprise. Like Spotify, we are able to count on extra unique reveals for Apple Podcasts.

For the primary time, Apple can even be storing audio information on its servers, making it a first-party podcast host, and sure stealing some enterprise from the remaining unbiased third-party podcast-hosting suppliers that additionally provide premium podcast companies, resembling Libsyn and Blubrry.

A medium that exploded as a result of lack of institutional gatekeepers is now seeing huge tech firms act like conventional media networks, signing fashionable hosts and reveals to unique contracts. After all, different publishers resembling Slate and Stitcher have supplied subscriptions to their reveals through their very own web sites and cellular apps. However the a lot bigger viewers share of Apple Podcasts and Spotify has a lot higher potential to maneuver the podcast ecosystem within the course of premium paid content material.

This presents a possible long-term risk to the free, open structure of podcasting, although tasks resembling The Podcast Index are aiming to protect the medium as platform-agnostic.

One factor is for sure: Apple and Spotify have given us a glimpse of a podcasting future the place the walled gardens of platform-exclusive, premium content material turn out to be the norm.


John Sullivan is a professor of media and communication at Muhlenberg School; Kim Fox is a professor of observe in journalism and mass communication at American College in Cairo; and Richard Berry is a senior lecturer in radio on the College of Sunderland. This text is republished from The Conversation below a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.