Tech behemoths battle to wall off podcasting

Aside from the news up in Minnesota other things are happening in the world and what happened today that has implications for free speech. Apple announced Apple Podcast Subscriptions. The purpose is to compete with Spotify and some of the latest upstarts in the podcast space. This has free speech implications because Apple controls the index that most podcast apps and podcast hosting companies use to aggregate and disseminate podcasts on non-Apple platforms. If Apple shuts off the spigot podcasters and the other platforms they operate on will lose listeners and revenue.

Starting in May, listeners in more than 170 countries and regions can sign up for premium subscriptions that include a variety of benefits curated by creators, such as ad-free listening, access to additional content, and early or exclusive access to new series. Listeners will be able to enjoy premium subscriptions from independent voices and premier studios, including Tenderfoot TV, Pushkin Industries, Radiotopia from PRX, and QCODE, to leading media and entertainment brands, including NPR, the Los Angeles Times, The Athletic, Sony Music Entertainment, and many more.

“Fifteen years ago, Apple took podcasts mainstream, offering creators a premier, open platform to inform, entertain, and inspire hundreds of millions of listeners around the world,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “Today, Apple Podcasts is the best place for listeners to discover and enjoy millions of great shows, and we are proud to lead the next chapter of podcasting with Apple Podcasts Subscriptions. We’re excited to introduce this powerful new platform to creators around the world, and we can’t wait to hear what they make with it.”

Apple Press Release

To add insult to injury Apple will charge podcast creators $19.99/year to be able to charge for subscriptions. Apple will also take it’s obligatory 30% cut in the first year and 15% in subsequent years. Will podcasters get shut out if they offer paid subscriptions that are not on Apple? Just like when you want to buy a book using the Kindle app on iOS you’re directed to leave the app in order to make the purchase. Apple’s vig is more than twice Patreon’s to start and 3% higher than Patreon’s highest tier going forward. Apple doesn’t let you do anything on the cheap.

Apple is redesigning its podcasts app to make it easier for people to find shows from their favorite creators and sign up for paid subscriptions that could unlock perks like early access or an ad-free experience. Podcast creators face a similar payment schedule to app developers, with Apple taking a 30% cut in the first year and 15% in subsequent years, with a $19.99 annual fee. The new version of the app launches in May.

Market Watch

Facebook also announced their entry into the Podcast space. For now they are integrating podcast listening and search into their app. You’ll be allowed to find podcasts and listen to them without leaving the Facebook app. You’ll no doubt give them more data about the media you consume by doing so. I don’t know where they’re pulling their podcast index from but I would bet it’s not going to be Apple.

More than 170 million people are already connected to hundreds of thousands of podcast pages on Facebook, and more than 35 million people are members of fan groups around podcasts — but until now, you had to leave the Facebook app to listen to these episodes. Within the next few months, you’ll be able to listen to podcasts directly on the Facebook app — both while using the app or when the app is backgrounded. And because it’s still hard to discover podcasts you like, we will help you easily find new podcasts and episodes based on your interests, comment on them and recommend them to your friends.

Facebook Newsroom

In addition to the above they’re also introducing a sound studio, live audio rooms, and the ability to monetize.

So here we are with podcasting suffering from the same type of industry consolidation that happened with radio, TV, newspapers, and streaming services. The majority of podcast listeners will use devices with operating systems from Google and Apple. Young people overwhelming use Spotify and older people use Facebook. The potential for severe lock-in is tremendous. Podcasting must have really hit the mainstream.

Don’t get trapped in these walled gardens. The great thing about a podcast is that you don’t need any of this stuff. It’s virtually free to get started and you can have a direct relationship to your listeners rather than giving up 15% or more to one of the big tech companies. Being independent is the only way to make sure you can’t be demonitized and/or deplatformed.

If your podcast does not use RSS as a way to disseminate the episode feed it’s no longer a podcast. It’s something else because it is then bound up inside a walled garden. The big tech companies are making a big push now to relegate RSS to the dustbin of technology history. It started when Google mothballed Google Reader and now absolutely none of these services even mention RSS.

To me the future of podcasting, and media creation and dissemination in general, is the Podcasting 2.0 project. Adam Curry and Dave Jones have been working for over 6 months on extending RSS functionality. Maybe it’s no small coincidence that the podcast consolodation is happening now. Big tech needs to cut off this initiative at the knees before it can take hold with listeners and podcasters alike. Podcasting 2.0 has launched features such as chapters, chapter images, transcripts, and streaming payments and are working on live chat. A bunch of new apps and some of the hosting companies have started implementing these functions. If they succeed there will be no reason to ever host or listen to a podcast with any big tech company. The listener will have the freedom to find unique content without giving up any privacy or data and the podcaster will be free of gatekeepers.

But all this depends on people not being lazy.