Charting a course for Apple’s role in podcasts

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Apple has thus far been a noble steward of podcasts, and you could easily make the case that Apple brought podcasts into the mainstream, by making them freely accessible and open for anyone to create without a fee. While podcasts have enriched the Apple ecosystem, podcasting has grown to a point where it’s no longer an incentive to buy an iPhone. So what should Apple’s role be going forward?

Apple is at a crossroads. Its direct competition, Spotify, is buying up podcasting companies which will inevitably end in certain podcasts being available only through Spotify. Will Apple continue its hands-off approach? Maintaining the iTunes podcast index and its podcast apps for iOS, Apple watch and even Apple TV are an investment with no apparent return.

Some have suggested that Apple create a paid subscription option for podcasters. However this flies directly in the face of podcasting’s biggest virtue — it’s openness. Being locked into the Apple Podcast app on Apple devices, and sending such a huge cut (30%/month) to Apple doesn’t feel like a win for consumers or the podcast industry, making individual podcast subscriptions too expensive to be sustainable.

The beauty of podcasts is that there are no gatekeepers who run ads over your content and dictate terms of how you can monetize or interact with your listeners. Anyone can subscribe to your feed in any podcast player, and get your content as it’s created.

Instead I propose Apple take a course more congruent to its current handling of podcasts, by promoting an open system which is accessible to as many creators and listeners as possible, while nurturing the podcast ecosystem by providing creators the ability to offer paid subscriptions in the most open way possible:

  1. Apple should make it as frictionless as possible to subscribe to a private feed in an open way.
  2. Apple should lower their take for podcast subscriptions paid for in-app to 10% .
  3. Apple should allow podcast apps to direct users outside the app to pay for podcast subscriptions.

A win for Apple

These changes would show that that Apple supports a democratized platform, and that Apple really does want what’s best for consumers and podcasters alike. Apple would be pointed to as an example of what good tech stewardship looks like.

A win for Podcasters

This would also make content subscriptions sustainable for indies instead of just juggernaut networks. Creators could offer listeners a subscription themselves instead of taking a tiny cut of a bundled subscription fee for a podcast network. It would reduce paid-subscription friction and allow podcasters to charge a sustainable subscription fee.

Truly open platforms are a rare thing these days. So far Apple has done a great community service by supporting the podcast ecosystem without muddying the waters with its own financial interests. This has been a boon to podcasting. I hope Apple continues to be a pillar of the podcast ecosystem by supporting a truly open platform.

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Written by

Dreamer and schemer, designer turned developer. Lover of music and fine ales.

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