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Apple’s actual role in podcasting: be careful what you wish for (marco.org)
261 points by jsm386 on May 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments



Good article. Podcasts still have a 'Web 2.0', pre-Facebook ethos: there's a feed, and there are software clients that check the feed and get a direct link to the mp3 file. Personally, I want to make a site that archives podcast episode listings, and guess what? If I have the time and energy, I can make it. Getting the data--new episodes, episode descriptions, cover images--is not an issue. The more that top publishers want Apple to introduce tracking, revenue sharing, etc. the more all related data would get centralized, and as Marco points out, in the long run podcast publishers might start resenting Apple for becoming a major intermediary, the same way online publishers resent decisions made by Facebook.


This† got written 'cos I was alarmed by some podcasts being published solely as YouTube videos with unchanging visuals! It munges such perversion into audio files and proper podcast feeds.

https://github.com/frou/yt2pod


Nice work and I'm bookmarking that, although I sincerely hope not to use it.


That is truely awful.


Not sure why you think its awful. If you have a Youtube Channel which is not very visual centric, use this and you get a podcast, viola!

If you use this on other people's content, that doesn't really make any sense. Audio is not tech, its highly personal and you can't plagiarize the whole thing and claim it your own when the dude in question doesn't sound you at all. And unlike video which might present various things, podcast mostly centers on the presenter itself.

In other words, it kinda defeats the purpose to use this tool as a plagiarism tool since most podcast is created to create a following, around the presenter's voice.


What I've also realized is its not as bandwidth inefficient as you might think, the video with a still image is gonna compress down to almost nothing.


YT audio means awful, not the cconversion tool.


Is there somewhere else that will host your podcast audio files for you, for free? If not, well, there you go.


archive.org


And that's before Apple starts banning all podcasts like Serial which talk about potentially sensitive and/or offensive topics.


I'm a big fan of podcasting, and I totally rely on iTunes for podcast discovery, indexing, curation, and syndication. Many Apple critics don't seem to appreciate this amazing service. Whatever Apple's motive was at the beginning (probably to promote the sale of iPod and iPhone hardware), podcasting has taken on a life of its own.

Most of my favorite radio shows are now available as podcasts, including ESPN. These podcasts are generally available with 24 hours after the first radio broadcast. Broadcasters generally edit out the commercials that radio listeners hear. Some broadcasters also insert a few new ads, often at the beginning or end of a podcast.

Commercial radio broadcasters everywhere have enjoyed a long run of high profitability, but their business model is under threat now. The tradition of free podcasting doesn't fly with them. Podcasting as we know it may be over soon unless we take steps to preserve it.


Podcasting may end for traditional broadcasters but it won't end in the general case. The costs for recording and uploading a podcast are next to nil and anybody can do it. If traditional broadcasters end up laying off their talent then you'll likely see many of those people recording independently.


For the most part I like how the podcasting environment currently functions, but I do think that Apple's outsized power leads to some frustrating practices. I have found many podcasters who only list an iTunes URL. I rarely if ever use iTunes (as it requires booting my barely-touched Windows VM), and even with it open it is annoying to find the actual RSS address if it is even possible. The interface is so bad that I usually resort to using WireShark or a URL sniffing program to locate the actual feed.


See if going to overcast.fm, searching, and clicking through works better for you.


That and podbay occasionally do the trick, but not always.


I've started a podcast in the last three months that has grown to 25K listens/month. Our listeners come thru owned social media channels, so I don't need anything more from Apple other than a publishing platform and listening app. Amd there are alternatives if Apple fucks that up - such as SoundCloud.

We publish on iTunes through Libsyn as well as SoundCloud. Libsyn and SoundCloud provide analytics. It's not a paid podcast, but Patreon seems like one way to achieve that.

As a content creator I can't control what the platforms do. My best strategy is to diversify.


What's the podcast? Friends and I have considered starting a podcast and are always interested to listen to successful new podcasts, as well as get any tips you might be willing to share on growing an audience.


I get not wanting Apple to manage payments or data analytics.

Wouldn't it be possible for podcasters to add some sort of protocol for paid podcasts that could be integrated into apps? Like "purchase URL" (or some sort of stripe-y token or anything).

I also don't really think that giving podcast producers playback data would be a bad thing. The thing that creeps me out the most about ad cookies on the web is the cross-domain tracking, but if we're talking about behavioural data for a podcast just to that producer, sounds like it could be a net benefit.

I feel like this post is mixing concepts (making paid content in podcast form more viable) with implementation details (Apple doing it). Though it's in response to the NYT article that does the same thing.

Feel like there's a lack of imagination, and there likely are ways to do things in a decentralised way


HTTP basic auth is a widely supported and widely used way of doing paid podcast feeds. Most typically the podcasts apps just require you to enter the login details in the feed URL, some fancier apps have proper UIs for entering the username / password. There is very little need to have a fancier protocol than that.


Good point, but I feel like that's not the entire picture.

One thing to think about with this is to look at what Steam did with indie games. Valve basically made full-time indie game makers survive by essentially creating an easily discoverable platform. Nowadays there are a couple extra platforms (Humble Store, G2G), so it's not a monopoly, but people have been pretty clear that Steam is the major source of revenue by far.

Do we not want that for podcasting? Being able to pay directly for high-quality content, but also having the discoverable ecosystem.

If Apple decides to tackle this (they're really close to having this with iTunes, you can buy old TAL eps or the like), then it's going to be super closed and basically the app store.

If the golden age of indie games has proven anything, it's that supporting better discovery would be a net win to the quality of content going out there. Saying "oh, well we already have this through passworded feeds" is leaving the door open for a less open solution.

Instead of saying "no because this implementation is stupid", I would much rather hear Marco offer an alternative that could be open. Though I don't know his position on paid content, really. Rallying around a more open alternative is the best way to counter a closed solution.

Right now Apple is the best placed to build good discovery (iTunes already is that for free content), so somebody needs to step up to the plate if they want to avoid Apple's content rules becoming the norm.


Rather than looking at Steam, look at the App Store.

I don't think anyone wants podcasting to end up like the App Store. This is the general premise of Marco's article.


I get that Marco's talking about the App Store.

Consider Marco has Overcast, he's in a _very_ good position to offer an alternative solution to the problem he's talking about though.

I wouldn't mind podcasting ending up like Steam/indie games in general. Everything's a lot better than it used to be in that domain.

I don't know what advertising rates come out at cost per listener but my gut feeling is that if ATP charged a dollar instead of doing ad reads they'd pull in more. And more importantly shows that have too small of an audience to be viable through ads could become viable.

Of course, like Jason said, you can already do this. But who wants to configure their billing info across 10 different websites?


But that would take podcasting from an open platform controlled, technically, by no one. To a closed platform controlled by one company. That one company being Apple. Has Marco said - "be careful what you wish for".

I think Marco is fairly happy with how things are at the moment and doesn't want it to change. That's why he doesn't suggest anything.


Right, I'm saying that that company could be not Apple, and that the system could be built in a way so that other companies could also participate.

It doesn't necessarily have to be on a technical level. Imagine the following:

- Company starts a "distribution network" (much like current ones) for paid podcasts. You sign up, get a personallised feed to all podcasts you are currently paying for. Passworded feed maybe.

- Overcast also searches this distribution network and points that this is a paid podcast, directs to website. Alternatively, people just go to this website because it has good content or whatever

- Other distribution networks do the same thing, offering different payment strategies/genres/whatever.

Basically no technical differences from before. Same feeds, nobody controls the distribution more than currently.

It could end up with one big player, but by moving forward and giving a viable path for people who want to make discoverable paid content ("Oh I'll just throw it up onto Podscription", name's a freebee for anyone who wants to do this).

If someone else does it and gains traction to reach a critical mass, suddenly Apple can not build a closed system for this.

But if nobody does it, and Apple suddenly says 'Oh, here's our iTunes Premier Podcasts. Tap into our existing audience (but only works in iOS Podcast player)' then it's game over.

Doing nothing is giving Apple this pathway if they ever want to do it. Helping to move an alternative forward for something in which there seems to be demand will block Apple from closing everything off.


AFAIK, doing a web redirect to a purchase page for virtual goods is considered an evasion of Apple's 30% cut on in-app purchases. If Overcast tried to do that it would be pulled.


The comparison should be to the iTunes Store, Spotify of Pandora, though, not the iOS App Store. I surprised/not-surprised that podcast owners prefer control to listenership.


Or it could end up like the music store. I've never heard anyone complain about it being hard to get music published. The same could be said about books or movies.


Given that apple only deals with musicians who are represented by a label and distributor, not independent artists, I think the itunes music store would be a kind of worst case scenario for a hypothetical podcast store.


> I've never heard anyone complain about it being hard to get music published.

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, but if not... that is absolutely not what I have ever heard. The iTMS is brutal to independent artists and getting on it is a huge barrier to entry. It's perhaps an improvement from the 1990s system of record-label distribution (which perhaps keeps the complaints to a low volume; Apple can always point to that particular horror if the plebes get out of line), but it's in no way an open platform.

Most independent music I listen to tends to be hosted on Soundcloud, largely as a result of Apple's policies on the iTMS.


An independent artists can use a service like cdbaby as their "label"


> there likely are ways to do things in a decentralised way

Judging by recent trends in media consumption (DRM, iTunes, Kindle, Audible, Netflix, Google Play, Facebook, etc), nobody is going to do that, the overall strategy being to lock-in users and screw them of any sense of control, portability and ownership and to milk publishers for all their worth.

Decentralized you say? That's wild imagination.


I don't know if many of those are good examples.

when I buy music off of iTunes or Google Play Music, I can download the MP3s for local copies.

I don't know how Netflix is any different than cable TV. It's not like HBO shipped you tapes after eps of the Sopranos.

This is a pretty good example of how much bad PR is generated from DRM. I heard it took 3 years after Apple removed all DRM from purchased content for people to mostly stop saying iTunes stuff was DRM'd.


Apple's iTunes is single handily responsible for popularizing DRM and MP3s isn't the only thing they sell. But if you think music is free of DRM, maybe you haven't noticed, but plan B is in effect: https://blog.vellumatlanta.com/2016/05/04/apple-stole-my-mus...


That article is horribly misnamed. The author lost their files to either a bug, or bad design. Not DRM.


That's no bug, being how enrollment in Apple Music worked when I tried it.

And the purpose is to relieve the user of owned files replacing them with a streaming service, which is DRM enabled, losing access even to music for which the user owned the copyright upon cancellation. This is the essence of DRM, the user losing all control of his purchased content.

There is however something in the way you expressed yourself. Is this a strawman attempt?


I signed up with Apple Music and didn't lose a single thing.

And your accusations of bad faith are both infuriating and against the site rules.


The article you linked to has been debunked already. Claiming that's how DRM works is not very useful.


slightly off topic: just went from ios 8.4 to 9.3. apples podcast app has become so bad ui-wise. it's now the same crap that is the music app. almost unusable - especially while driving. somebody at apple needs to bleed for that shit. forstall and jobs did a better job at this.


It's also a storage monster. Click "play" without downloading on a big Podcast like Dan Carlin's Hardcore History (as long as 5 hours!) and you'll quickly notice that the podcasts app will permanently gobble up that storage as un-deleteable "Documents and Settings". Once that gets too big backup/restore is your only option.


wtf. really? my goodness.


Yep. Same thing happens with the music app too, just reformatted yesterday and got back 6GB or so


holy. and then you have cook, that sucker, selling 16gb phones wanting buyers to sign up for apple music.

this is some serious shitshow. i'm sorry but i don't have excuses anymore.


Yeah, it's ridiculous. I filed a bug for it like 4 years ago and it was a dupe then.


Check out Overcast; much better podcast app than the default Apple one.


I completely agree about Apple's app being messed up and would love to use Overcast, but the last time I looked into it:

a) It required giving them my email or creating an account or some crap. That's an absolute deal breaker. I know they had some weird thing where it could generate an anonymous id or something, but it's not sufficient for me. I must be able to use the app with no further communication to the producer of the app.

b) I like using iTunes for Podcast discovery, and having a separate app makes that harder.

Also, looking at the website for Overcast now, it has social features like sharing podcasts on Twitter. WTF? I just want to listen to some shows I like. I don't want to give or share anything with anyone!


Every single Apple app has a share icon which also lets you post to Twitter, Facebook, etc. Why is it such a problem for you if Overcast offers this feature? You don't need to use it. Not attacking, just confused about why the presence of the feature is so offensive to you.


You can use Overcast without an email address, if you want an account you can but they don't make you - there's a really obvious button when you first open the app up


> 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.

Is Marco referring to In-App purchases in apps and how it changed them? Or the book store, which I would find more compelling?


> We’ve seen how that goes. Trust me, podcasters, you don’t want that.

is a tossed off line referring to the travails of Marco and other developers who publicly complain about the app store. In particular:

Apple's 30% cut is probably the least significant but definitely not an insignificant concern.

More important would be the way Apple handles its role as a curator of content. The App Store doesn't sell every app which is submitted. Apps can be rejected for quality or for content. Should a podcast be rejected because it is a low fi unedited recording of two guys hanging out and talking into shitty microphones? Or because it contains adult content?

Perhaps most importantly is the App Store's notoriously bad relationship with developers. What qualifies as appropriate "content" and "quality" is not always clear, and Apple doesn't strictly follow its own guidelines. If your app is rejected it is basically impossible to appeal and often unclear how it needs to be changed to be accepted.


They ban things capriciously, they can't be reasoned with, hell they can't even be contacted unless you know somebody, they can't seem to devise a decent search mechanism to save their lives, the list goes on.


How do you make playlist auto play in Overcast? It plays one podcast and stops. I'm asking it here because the author doesn't reply either in email or twitter and don't know where else can I post?


When you are playing, hit PLAYBACK in the bottom left, then WHEN EPISONDE ENDS: PLAY NEXT


I would never trust a single podcast provider. Many of the more interesting podcasts I listen to have been kicked off of one platform or another.


Was there any controversy over Stitcher's downloading, re-processing and streaming all of the podcasts? Has anyone else tried such a thing?


I believe you need to add your podcast to Stitcher and agree to their terms.


it's almost as if he's trying to tell us that not everything on the web needs to have advertisements stuffed into it, and not everything needs data that can be collected. Good article.


While Marco seem right at some points, reading this article leaves the impression that he seems afraid of Apple affecting his business. Which is perfectly normal, don't know why people seem to bash him because of that.


Marco seems upset because Apple, to whom he owes his livelihood, is about to ruin his business. I think he has a much bigger problem than the podcast producers, who might finally get a larger platform and more attention, especially if Apple thinks they can turn podcasts into a competitive weapon in the streaming wars.

Sorry Marco, you chose the wrong centralized OS platform for your vision of a decentralized podcast future.


What decision is Apple making that is going to ruin his business?

If you're going to make a post calling Marco some sort of platform biased fanboy, you should refrain from being a platform biased fanboy.


AFAIK he does not owe his livelihood to anyone. He made his FU money from Tumblr, and a bit more from selling Instapaper, but since then his output (which, yes, has been iOS-focused) has been more like hobby projects that at worst keep him busy but at best may have made him a little extra on the side. The stuff he does now looks to me like someone following their bliss, not someone trying to make a living.


The way he talks on ATP, Overcast really is his primary source of income, and the Tumblr money is probably stashed away. If Overcast stopped making money, that would be a big deal for him.


It's not about Marco's business. He doesn't need whatever little money Overcast may make. His point is that podcasts as a medium are threatened _for everyone_ if Apple asserts more control over distribution and/or what shows up in the iTunes Store podcast directory.

It doesn't matter what OS your phone runs, the proposed changes are huge threats to today's podcast ecosystem and the opportunities it presents for small podcasts to get a foothold.


I think the bigger point here is that Apple's benign neglect has resulted in a vibrant, growing market for high quality podcasts.

Contrast that to the AppStore, which for the most part is a race to the bottom. The only people directly making money are the skinner-box game developers and Apple.

Podcasts are a great anti-Amazon weapon -- they displace Audible and radio. So it won't be ignored for long. I sincerely hope that Apple uses Podcasts as a model for a better AppStore, not another place to setup a toll booth for their 30% vig.


What is Apple about to do? If I understand you correctly it's something that will ruin Marcos's business and benefit some other people, but what is it?


His argument is perfectly sound economically. Right now there is a ton of competition. Apple is perfectly positioned to capture the majority of the market share and severely limit competition among platforms and clients. This would hurt the market long term.

As anti-trust in the EU is also focused on competition, I could imagine that the EU comission might also take an interest in Apple in such a scenario.

I also doubt that Apple actually is going to do anything. Whatever profit they might be able to gain is probably not worth the risk.


Hear hear. Marco is one of the more outspoken developers, at least when it comes to Apple's broken developer relations, but for all his well-founded critique he still remains an iOS-exclusive one-man shop.

Is this a choice based on the quality of the Android developer platform, the Android market realities, or simply a religious devotion to the Apple ecosystem?


I think you're perhaps overthinking it. Is it so hard to imagine that maybe a) developing his app for multiple platforms requires more development effort than he alone is capable of and b) he chooses to allocate the effort he can produce towards the platform that he himself uses and has a preference for?


Well considering that one of his major competitors has claimed 5x higher unit sales on Android vs iOS (and the Andriod price was $1 more at the time) [1], I think you can draw your own conclusions.

[1] See: https://blog.shiftyjelly.com/2013/02/20/why-android-first/




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