Apple threatens to disrupt open, free podcasting architecture


(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

John Sullivan, Muhlenberg College; Kim Fox, American University of Cairo, and Richard Berry, University of Sunderland

(THE CONVERSATION) In 2005, hot Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs announced the integration of podcasting into version 4.9 of his iTunes desktop software, calling podcasting “TiVo for radio”.

Sixteen years later, at its “Spring Loaded” event on April 20, 2021, Apple once again signaled a long-term corporate commitment to podcasting. But this time, instead of bringing listeners into the medium, Apple is building the technical infrastructure for paid subscriptions through its Apple Podcasts service.

Creators will now have the option to demand payment to allow the public to access their content on Apple’s platform, with Apple taking a 30% cut in revenue.

Paid subscriptions are nothing new. But as researchers who study the podcasting industry, we believe that integrating paid subscriptions into the most powerful podcasting platforms could significantly reshape the medium.

Millions of podcasting insiders

In 2005, Apple brought podcasting into the mainstream by making the medium visible and immediately available. The transformation of iTunes into a sophisticated podcatcher – software that allows users to locate and download audio files – has made it easier for users to access podcast shows. It did this by making it easy for users to find and add podcast RSS feeds, giving them the ability to automatically access new episodes as soon as they are released.

Once it started installing the now iconic purple Apple Podcasts app by default on iPhones at the end of 2014, many listeners discovered podcasting for the first time, resulting in strong growth in the industry. hearing. Currently, there is a proliferation of podcast apps for discovering and listening to podcasts; most of them can be used at no cost to the consumer.

Apple has by far the largest podcast directory to date, which serves as both a gateway to tens of thousands of new podcasts and an archive of media history by storing the RSS feeds of shows no longer broadcasting. new episodes.

The grassroots podcasting boom

Apple’s initial foray into podcasting was guided by its broader strategy to increase the value of its iPod devices, which first launched in 2001. The goal was to attract consumers by offering a entire universe of free audio content.

But Jobs’ vision of podcasting as essentially time-lagged radio was ultimately short-sighted.

What he didn’t foresee was the explosion of user-generated content that universally expanded the availability of audio content. In fact, the dynamism of podcasting has a lot to do with the diversity of its voices and ultra-niche content, in large part thanks to the relatively low barriers to entry for creators.

Producing a podcast can be as simple as recording audio to your computer or cell phone, uploading the content to a podcast hosting service, and then making sure your show is listed with major directories like as Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

While there is usually a nominal fee charged by hosting companies for storing audio files and managing your stream, a service like Anchor – purchased by Spotify for US $ 140 million in 2019 – downloads and lists podcasts for free and was the engine of a massive podcast. growth for Spotify. Users launched 1 million new podcasts through Anchor in 2020 alone. Because RSS is an open web standard, listeners can access podcast content for free on any app or device of their choice, including built-in smart speakers in their car’s dashboards.

Spotify becomes exclusive

In 2005, since Apple’s main business was selling hardware – then iPods, Mac computers, and later iPhones – the company took a relatively passive approach to emerging media.

Rather than acting as a content impresario, Apple’s iTunes primarily functioned as a convenient online storefront for free content that passed through audio files. Unlike its music store counterpart, however, Apple has not authorized any financial transactions around podcast content.

Paid subscriptions and other forms of monetization have therefore been left to in-show advertising, merchandising and crowdfunding. Jealously guarding its status as a leader in privacy, Apple hasn’t even allowed podcast creators to access listening data, such as audience demographics or how long users listened to one episode until 2017. And that was mainly in response to sophisticated audience dashboards launched by competitors like Spotify and Google.

As rival Spotify moved into space and began securing exclusive deals with top podcasters like Joe Budden and Joe Rogan, Apple’s preeminence as a top destination for podcast listeners was under threat. For Spotify, making exclusive podcast deals with top talent was a way to attract and keep ears into their ecosystem.

Spotify’s strategy has started to bear fruit, as the US audience for their podcast app is expected to overtake Apple in 2021. It has already overtaken Apple in the UK.

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Apple enters the content industry

At the risk of being sidelined, Apple’s status as the absent and benevolent owner of podcasting has changed.

For the first time, paid subscriptions will exist on its platform. Apple will allow creators to place their podcasts behind a paywall through the Apple Podcasts app. Most podcasters have welcomed the move. Now, they can easily monetize their content on the podcast platform with the most listeners, but with a hefty premium applied.

Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, Apple has decided to allow podcasters to decide whether their content is exclusive to Apple or whether it will appear outside of the Apple Podcast app. However, as many podcasters have discovered, this system has been disabled by default.

What does all this mean for podcasting?

The great thing to remember here is that Apple, taking a share of premium content from creators on Apple podcasts, is now firmly in the content business. Like Spotify, we can expect more exclusive shows for Apple podcasts.

For the first time, Apple will also be storing audio files on its servers, making it a top podcast host, and likely stealing business from other independent third-party podcast hosting providers who also offer premium podcast services. , such as Libsyn and Blubrry.

A medium that has exploded due to the lack of institutional gatekeepers is now seeing big tech companies acting like traditional media networks, signing popular hosts and shows to exclusive contracts. Of course, other publishers like Slate and Stitcher have offered subscriptions to their shows through their own websites and mobile apps. But the much larger audience share of Apple podcasts and Spotify has much greater potential to evolve the podcast ecosystem towards premium paid content.

This presents a potential long-term threat to the free and open architecture of podcasting, although projects like The Podcast Index aim to preserve the medium as a platform independent.

One thing’s for sure: Apple and Spotify have given us a glimpse into a future of podcasting where walled gardens of platform-exclusive premium content are becoming the norm.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here:

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