A New York Times article is causing a rift in the world of podcasting. And a majority of the points it makes and the podcast producer wants from those interviewed scream ‘careful what you wish for.’ Apple is undoubtedly the gatekeeper of podcasts, but it’s an accidental gatekeeper.
The company gets zero direct revenue from podcasting. It sells hardware (iPhones, iPods, etc.) off the back of the millions tuning in every day to their favorite shows. Podcasters submit their episode RSS feed to iTunes, with Apple’s direct involvement relegated to hand curation and that’s it.
Its only hard rule is no pornographic podcasts into the directory. It asks content producers to use the ‘explicit’ tag but the rule is loose and hardly enforced.
But, where there’s success comes money chasing money. And in comes the NY Times article quoting major players in the industry decrying the lack of data.
“The lack of podcast data is kind of shocking,” said Gina Delvac, who produces Call Your Girlfriend.
That forgets the fact Apple doesn’t host a damn thing, and podcasts are essentially the blogs of old. Want data? There are hosting companies for that. Libsyn offers all the geographic metrics and download information you could want. Soundcloud Pro does the same.
There are dozens of hosting companies, and then there’s always the fact you can self-host if you want to pay the insane hosting costs of keeping a library of podcast episodes available on-demand. Your call.
Need more data? Look at the number of downloads and geography. If you have a dating podcast, it’s not hard to figure out what advertisers make sense for the show.
Push listeners to a website. Remember those? It’s that spot you posted content on before the industry ceded reigns of publishing over to Facebook. Track everything you want and post transcripts of the show for discovery through search engines.
What is Apple going to offer? More data? To the extent it serves their purpose, not yours. Monetization? Welcome to commission hell and a descent away from the glory days of $20+ CPMs. Apple can barely get iAd working; now prominent podcasters want the company to figure out what are essentially ad reads from talk radio.
Toss in the delays, approvals from a notoriously opaque tech company and the fact it will never hand over the data it collects.
Paid subscriptions. And these producers interviewed have VC funding? A quick Google search gives a variety of options. Paid subscriptions are nothing more than a membership site. There are only hundreds of plugins to accomplish this and have direct downloads.
And it offers total control. Have a free show and then push people to sign up at a website you control. Too difficult? Advertisers will love hearing that and immediately drop the rates they are willing to pay for pre, mid and post-roll.
The platforms already exist. Take a site such as Patreon. It offers tiers that allow you to offer subscriptions and ways to monetize outside of advertising. Top podcasts are pulling in low five-figures a month. Offer fans a way to support what they love and they will support it.
Podcasts Do Not Need a Walled Garden
Yes, Apple’s player is the most widely used. That’s changing with Spotify embracing podcasts. Android is finally figuring out it can have a player too. And then there are the third-party apps. Overcast from Marco Arment is an amazing player and discovery tool.
And that’s the key point here. Apple is merely a discovery tool. Other apps happen to use the open RSS feed to gather from its directory. Podcasts were available before the company put the app on the iPhone and they’ll be available long after.
The files are MP3s. It’s nothing special and to get into iTunes is getting the right type of hosting, the correct RSS feed, and a cover image. It’s on the creator to have a compelling show.
Competition? Most of the shows suffer from the lack of compelling content and consistency. In a world behind the mic, content is king, and consistency is its queen. Compelling shows will rise to the top and often involves a lot of work.
Deep-pocketed VC see the success of podcasts such as Serial and want to shortcut to the top. That means data with more data. A 27-year-old from Wherever, CA, who just bought a Toyota, has a family and earned a Bachelor’s degree.
That’s great information for the people in Ad Ops trying to make sure display has a 100% fill rate. A podcast on entrepreneurship? You have a subscriber and want to tailor the ads to something you support and actually fits the niche.
Not everything needs to be programmatic. Producers should know what their show is about and already have an avatar of the average subscriber. Demanding Apple does it for you only results in negatives for the creator. More control for Apple and a medium stripped of everything that makes it great. Personality and feeling you are connecting with an audience.
Of course, there will be competition. That’s a good thing. You enter the industry knowing it’s viable. Work like mad and have something to say. People will find you and will share what they enjoy.
Let Apple stay the accidental gatekeeper of podcasting, but let’s have the company leave the gate open. It’s been open this long and while not perfect, the alternatives proposed do nothing but take a level playing field and skew it for those with the deepest pockets.