Independent podcasting

Podcasting is the new radio, where the convenience of “listen to it on your own time” and “find exactly what you want to hear” beat out “listen to it live”. From my experience, the demand for podcasts far outweighs the supply, and it’s an ample time to get into podcast publishing. The beautiful thing about podcasting today is that if you do want to do it, it’s easy. Create a WordPress or Squarespace, get the template you want, and record with whatever microphone you probably have, like on your phone or laptop. The reason it’s this easy is that while the largest aggregator of podcasts, Apple, does approve being listed in their Podcast app, Podcasts are just RSS feeds, an open standard. But as the big producers of podcasters want to make more money, they have demands of the platform. Here’s the New York Times:

Interviews with over two dozen podcasters and people inside Apple reveal a variety of complaints. The podcasters say that they are relegated to wooing a single Apple employee for the best promotion. That sharing on social media is cumbersome. And that for podcasters to make money, they need more information about their listeners, and Apple is in a unique position to provide it. The problems, they say, could even open up an opportunity for a competitor.

I’m not convinced these were the reasons given to Apple in that meeting, because frankly I think they’re weak, but let’s take this point-by-point:

  1. That podcasts “are relegated to wooing a single Apple employee for the best promotion” is wrong because that’s what you need to do to get publicity in Apple’s podcast store, but I’d argue that you’d be better off publicizing your podcast using other channels, namely the web. Rather, I think improving the positioning options available to publishers will probably benefit big players to the detriment of indie publishers, and so I think it’s a net loss for the platform.
  2. “That sharing on social media is cumbersome.” Yes, it is, arguably because sharing on social media is just another platform to lock yourself into. But even if you deem sharing on social media is a good thing to do, which I very much doubt, podcasts are still an open enough standard that you can create a link which has timestamp information on it and takes a user straight to the content you want them to see, no middle man, and go get your podcast if they like what they hear.
  3. That “they need more information about their listeners”. Users are smart. They know they’re being spied on. They see that they search for a spork on Amazon 3 years ago, have been flagged as being a user that’s interested in alternative-dining options, and that you’ve continued to programmatically serve them ads across websites. They don’t like it. To bring programatic, unskippable ads to podcasts would be more damaging than lucrative, and so I would implore publishers to find alternative business models, namely sponsorship.

Marco Arment made a similar case:

Big podcasters also apparently want Apple to insert itself as a financial intermediary to allow payment for podcasts within Apple’s app. We’ve seen how that goes. Trust me, podcasters, you don’t want that.

It would not only add rules, restrictions, delays, and big commissions, but it would increase Apple’s dominant role in podcasts, push out diversity, give Apple far more control than before, and potentially destroy one of the web’s last open media ecosystems.

Remember I was talking about how you can just fire up an WordPress instance and get to podcast publishing? If it was more of a “platform”, we’d see the same problem’s that the App Store is struggling with: that the top 1% of the podcasts earn 99% of the profit. The reason for this is that big publishers would be better equipped to negotiate with Apple or whoever the platform owner is. It may be harder to earn a buck in today’s podcast ecosystem, but I am convinced that it’s better than centralizing control.

Federico Viticci gives his two cents for MacStories:

The great thing about the free and decentralized web is that the aforementioned web platforms are optional and they’re alternatives to an existing open field where independent makers can do whatever they want. I can own my content, offer my RSS feed to anyone, and resist the temptation of slowing down my website with 10 different JavaScript plugins to monitor what my users do. No one is forcing me to agree to the terms of a platform.

I understand why the web tends towards centralization today: owning and running a server is a naturally centralized relationship, especially considering that the knowledge has yet to disseminate to everyone. That won’t last forever, I am convinced that one day the barrier for entry for running your own server will be so low and the dissemination of technical knowledge will be so great that these arguments will become obsolete.

In the mean time I plan on complaining as loud as I can in order to defend indie producers.

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