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Spotify’s Podcast Aggregation Play (stratechery.com)
107 points by tchalla on Feb 7, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 80 comments

By the way, for those who don't know the company mentioned (Gimlet), it's an interesting case for HN, because the founder recorded a podcast about its creation right from the start, avoiding the biases that come with hindsight:


It's such a shame; I've been following Alex's work for years now. It was his podcasts (specifically Planet Money) which got me into podcasts in the first place. Now it looks like he sold up to let his company die at Spotify.

I hope that we'll hear the full story eventually and, of course, that this will prove to be a move for the better.

Why is it a shame? I've been a listener of Gimlet since the start as well and Alex has always come off as genuine and hard working. If I lived closer, I would have loved to work for him. Its rare you find leaders with that type of transparency and candor. Most CEOs speak utter bullshit and so over-confident its laughable. While I don't know him personally and what he's like off-air, I can't help but feel genuinely happy. People should be rewarded for their successes, otherwise no one would innovate and take risks.

He took VC money to found the company. I assume he had to sell to someone at some point.

Maybe a future season of 'Startup' will cover it

I bet dollars to dimes that they will cover it in a podcast and that podcast will be exclusive to Spotify.

I would predict they keep doing 'Startup' as-is with its focus on other companies, and launch 'Acquisition' (or whatever) as an exclusive with excerpts of it in 'Startup'.

Some of their podcasts are already exclusive to Spotify. Crimetown season 2, for example.

They kinda have to if they want it to appear that things will be business as usual with a new owner. Since Startup was the first Gimlet podcast and set the tone for the company and lineup, ignoring a story that would fit it so well would totally ruin that tone.

Sigh. I'm already conflicted about Audible, now podcasts will be locked down too?

It's curious this article doesn't even mention iTunes; as far as I know, that's the undisputed champion of podcast discovery and distribution, isn't it? Can podcasts afford to leave it to become Spotify exclusives?

If spotify gets a few exclusives from e.g. gimlet, that might drive listeners there, which might make such exclusives cheaper to get.

I really hope this fails though. One of the great things about podcasts is the open RSS based ecosystem. I think current listeners might be reluctant to move away from that. What scares me is that new listeners could come to spotify and not realize it is weird for podcasts.

The only real issue RSS has is that ads have to be baked in. Sadly I don't know if we could have an open system with personalized ads.

> The only real issue RSS has is that ads have to be baked in. Sadly I don't know if we could have an open system with personalized ads.

Who wants personalized ads? When you watch the Superbowl, or flip through a People magazine, or look around the terminal while waiting for the train - does the lack of personalized ads seem like a problem?

I can't think of anything that personalized ads have ever made better.

>Who wants personalized ads?


Well, and the people trying to make a living producing content.

The average content producer (like every one who isn't already popular) doesn't get to flick a switch between "general ads" and "personalized ads".

They get to choose between no ads (because they are too small to attract private ads) and the ability to make money. Look at Adsense or Youtube.

Non-personalized direct response ads seem to do pretty well.

Can you be more specific? Which platform, how well, and for who?

Leo Laporte talks about how well ads do on his network occasionally on his This Week in Tech show. I don't remember the exact numbers, but his revenues are millions of dollars annually.

Sure, but what works for large channels doesn't work for everyone and that was a component of my original comment.

For example, 90%+ of Youtube creators couldn't negotiate an ad deal like Leo Laporte because they are too small. Generalized ad services like Adsense/Youtube create income for the 90%, and personalization boosts that income allowing more people to produce more content.

Realistically, it doesn't work like that. Sure, a few early adopters will see a temporary boost, but once it generalizes, the prices will drop to where the non-personalized ads stand today, whereas those will fall to the floor. Advertisers will still pay more, but the new margin will go to the platforms that do the personalization, not to the masses of undifferentiated podcasters, who have no market power.

Has that been the case for your content, and would you say it's at all worth it for someone looking to start out?

The Talk Show and Accidental Tech Podcast are both independent and they charge around $6000 per spot for three ad reads.

I really hope this fails though. One of the great things about podcasts is the open RSS based ecosystem.

Me, too. I hope so for two reasons:

1. I want to use my app of choice for listening to pods. I hated the Spotify app when I had a family plan with them.

2. I stopped my family plan because of their horrible, terrible, infuriating support. I was able to simply demonstrate a bug that they've know about for a year, that could be fixed with 5 lines of Java, and they gave me the runaround for days, completely wasting my time. The problem was this: when you reboot Android 9 and have your music on an SD card, it loses track of the SD card because the service starts while Android is checking the SD card, and the Spotify service can't see the SD card then, so it assumes it's gone and switches you to internal storage. Since I had 1500 songs downloaded to my SD card, it then starts to download those 1500 songs again, to my internal storage, which it fills up and causes problems for my phone.

I vow to never pay Spotify another cent.

Another fan of RSS here and open ecosystems.

I’ve had a similar problem on my old phone (running 4.4 Kit Kat). It doesn’t even need to reboot to lose track of the SD card. It happens randomly (seems more likely when the phone is charging) and it’s infuriating when it does – but it’s seldom enough that I’ve learned to live with it. Fair play for making an attempt to get the bug fixed. In my case, I figured Spotify probably wouldn’t support such an old OS.

I work for a company in the podcast hosting space and dynamic insertion in real time during downloads is something a few companies provide, including us. Actually one of our products[1] is just a "plug in your RSS feed and we'll give you another one with updated URLs which dynamically inserts ads during a download", so you can use a different hosting provider than ours if you want and still get dynamic ad insertion powered by us, since a lot of hosting providers don't have that feature.

[1] https://www.voxnest.com/dynamo/

The only real issue RSS has is that ads have to be baked in. Sadly I don't know if we could have an open system with personalized ads.

They've already figured out how to do this. I download the Waypoint podcast (which is part of the Vice Media family) via old-school RSS feed, and the most recent episode I downloaded had a pre-roll ad which specifically called out the city that I live in.

> Sadly I don't know if we could have an open system with personalized ads.

I'm not a fan of podcasts getting personalized ads. I'm disappointed about Anchor being acquired here because they've introduced a way for smaller podcasters to get ads for their podcasts (that they can read themselves!) without going the personalized route.

I don't love the idea of personalized ads in general, but I'd sure love to listen to a full podcast without an ad for meundies and stamps.com

Some podcasts I've listened to recently have had local ads injected into them at the start/end. I can tell it's happening because it takes a few seconds for a download to progress after I start it.

Based on complaints I've heard (mostly from Marco Arment, on podcasts he guests on), the ad-injection platforms are often responsible for horribly mangling the mp3 format. They tend to not update the mp3 file's stated length, resulting in time-remaining being off if you trust it.

Plus, of course, dynamic ad lengths completely break the ability to share timestamps for podcasts -- no "you should really listen to the bit starting at 17:52"...

Npr and old media solved this a while ago. national news shows follow strict schedules, with fixed length breaks at fixed times. Local stations inject their own content into the stream. And a lot of that is produced live.

Ad networks already have mechanisms for podcasts to choose timestamps, so they can be injected in the middle as well.

It doesn't mention iTunes because people use the iOS Podcast app instead. The author talks about this app

> Meanwhile Apple, which does have the users thanks to the dominance of the iOS Podcast app, [0] has shown little inclination of being that centralized player. I wrote about the company’s opportunities in the space two years ago [1], but despite the shift in strategy to services [2] nothing has changed.

[0] > iTunes is very important to podcasting, but it is only a directory of podcasts that are hosted elsewhere; that means it is not a means to collect user data

[1] https://stratechery.com/2017/podcasts-analytics-and-centrali...

[2] https://stratechery.com/2019/apple-earnings-apple-the-servic...

How can it be the undisputed champion of podcast delivery and only available on about ~5% of computers and ~40% of smartphones? The average smartphone user and desktop user can't even access Apple discovery features!

I think you might be an Apple user who doesn't realize that the majority of all device users don't own Apple devices, so for Apple to be the champion of anything (except profit per user) is a bit of a mathematical impossibility.

I would imagine the parent comment is in regards to how people listen to podcasts. According to Anchor, Apple Podcasts boasts a 52% market share of how people listen to podcasts - https://medium.com/anchor/how-people-listen-to-podcasts-ba0c....

The power and reach of the default install of Apple Podcasts is hard to ignore. (which I don't believe most Android phones have).

ITunes and Apple Music are also available in Windows and in Android. You could argue about whether those versions are good or bad, but if you want to use them, you can. The discovery features works just fine, as long as you install the apps.

If podcasts are substantially more popular with Apple device users than they are in the broader population, it is entirely possible.

You think incorrectly :) I've never owned an Apple device in my life.

It's not a mathematical impossibility because, as far as I know, podcast listeners are still quite a small number. Plus, you forgot iPod owners (I know a few Android users who carry an iPod when exercising).

The real reason is because getting your podcast listed in the iTunes podcast directory takes care of making it available (via search, instead of copying and pasting an RSS feed url) in most podcast apps on most platforms.

iTunes is probably central to the ecosystem in the same way that the NEw York Times drives the national political conversation although only about two in 100 Americans actually read it: it’s an authoritative source and the people who do read/use it tend to be more influential.

I also wouldn’t underestimate the possibility that there is some correlation between enjoying the podcast format and Appple products. This American Life, as the prototypical podcast, is really what happens if you leave Jony Ive in a locked room with only a microphone and a dwindling supply of coffee.

The iTunes podcast directory is the defacto listing many (most?) podcast apps use. For many people if a podcast ends up only on Spotify, they will never even know it exists.

Iphone dominates the high end, and the high end dominates podcasts.

I run a site for us university students and it's roughly a 90%/10% split for ios/android.

Basically you're ignoring conditional probability.

>Sigh. I'm already conflicted about Audible, now podcasts will be locked down too?

the good thing about podcasts is that they seem significantly more diversified. On my podcast app I listen to many podcasts that have only a thousand subscribers or so and don't really rely on a lot of funding.

I have a hard time imagining that any of those is going to be sucked into some exclusive deal with spotify.

There's a lot more space for quality content that isn't commercialised in the podcast space, because lots of podcasting isn't a main source of income for the producer.

Yes. At least one major podcast I listen to regularly makes jokes they don’t know why they talk about subscribing through iTunes anymore.

Spotify's acquisition spree in this space is not surprising and Gimlet is just the beginning. In case people missed it they also recently announced that they are setting aside another 500 million for this year for more acquisitions.

It is my opinion that Audio is going to be a huge opportunity for lots of Startups, I feel it is underserved. I really do feel that the AirPods have been game changing in making audio consumption far easier. In some ways they are the new iPod for Apple, they cost about the same as the iPod used to and I’m almost certain at some point Apple will add storage to them and we will be able to take them with us without our phone. I believe they are expected to sell 75 million units through this year, those are no small numbers and presents a huge opportunity for audio startups.

The other thing about Audio is that there is so much more potential than just music or podcast. Since Audio is obviously one of those things you can consume on the go, while doing other things, like exercising or commuting and you can consume it for so much more than just entertainment but to stay informed or to learn. In some ways audio is far superior to video in our modern fast paced world.

As a little self promotion, this is exactly why I decided to create an app that uses some open machine learning models to read articles to you, I believe folks on the go will benefit immensely by staying informed and learning new things. You can check it out at https://articulu.com

I feel like the golden age of podcasts is coming to a close.

The ads just keep coming and coming...

Sometimes I think top 40 radio has less ads than the Techmeme Ride Home. I haven't crunched any numbers to see.

If you are listening in the car, just turn the dial twice and you are past commercials.

why is that?

Not the OP, but from my point of view, the podcasting arena has been blooming with diversity for the past years, while simultaneously becoming much more popular. It's kind of analogous to the early-yahoo era of "the internet", early YouTube, or early hip-hop. The technological/capital barrier to entry is quite low (for most podcasts, a microphone and an internet connection will do).

This article is basically saying that Spotify wants to do to the podcast scene what AdSense did to "the internet", what Google did to YouTube, and what major record labels did to hip-hop. To me, that might mean, among other things: higher production-value (read: higher cost-of-entry), SEO-y tactics by content producers and publishers, all of which leads to a general homogenization of content.

In general, thus far, the primary focus of most producers has been on content and community (think early Yahoo, NPR, Mos Def) -- not on monetization. If this industry grows an order of magnitude beyond the current $300m, it's easy to imagine that the prospect of money will be a powerful incentive to narrow the scope of content.

It's a trade-off, for sure, but from some points of view such a move could definitely be seen as a decline. Ending a golden age, if you will.

It reminds me of when Steam tried introducing ways for game-modders to get paid.

There was a lot of backlash and, especially, no shortage of gamers willing to tell you that game modding should be a labor of love and a voluntary charity. It's a pretty easy claim when one is benefitting without any skin in the game.

I'm getting hints of that all over again in these comments, but you have a pretty reasonable explanation of the trade-offs.

Though since since so few people do it, I like to take the side that more content producers able to make more money at any size creates an explosion of content that everyone benefits from. For example, I'd mark the Golden Age of the internet on the period where Adsense reigned rather than what came before.

On the other hand, if podcasts find a model where they are able to charge subscriptions more easily, it might really benefit the creators. They say that, due to the subscription model of netflix and co, we are living in 'peak tv' these days and I agree. There are so many great shows getting made now.

I do hate exclusives though... I still have not played bloodbourne or demon souls because of that crap

Someone on Twitter, I forgot who, made the argument that Spotify might be running a sort of A/B test of either a Netflix like model or a YouTube type model because the future of podcasts is unclear. I think I can agree with both you and the GP if the Netflix model wins.

The business case that's laid out here makes sense, but I really wish they'd stick to one thing (streaming music) and do it really well (which they currently do).

Plex is pulling the same approach with podcasts and 'web TV', and it's annoying the hell out of users that would rather see increased time and money invested in core features. I don't want to see the same happen to Spotify.

I genuinely don't understand how to use Plex for its primary purpose anymore. The UI is so irritating that I just threw it off my server.

Spotify doesn't seem to suffer from any similar issues. It appears I can reach the music I'd like in the same number of straight-forward clicks as before podcast-related features were introduced.

I really enjoy the improvements to Plex, I've been able to put all of my media consumption into one app (I even have youtube videos automatically downloading and added to my collection) so I can pick up where I left off on any of my devices.

> More than 10 years ago we founded Spotify to give consumers something they couldn’t get

And now they're planning to take away something consumers have. I have little doubt that they'll succeed in turning what is currently an open ecosystem where users have choice into a closed system of fiefdoms like video streaming is increasingly becoming.

Spotify is a bad podcast app. In no particular order:

* There seems to be an inconsistent restriction in the number of episodes you can see. Daily podcasts suffer particularly from this.

* I need three gestures just to get to podcasts on their app, and then more to start digging into genres.

* Available podcasts seem to be curated - the selection is very small.

* There are no ratings

* There is no way to see what's trending, or it is non-obvious

* Downloading is locked behind a paywall, which is a big deal for a medium where individual episodes can be several hundred megabytes

* Subscribing is an afterthought. Three interactions to see what's new in a podcast I'm subscribed to.

In summation: terrible discoverability, slim selection, cumbersome ui, and basic features missing or locked behind a paywall.

I, for one, do not welcome our new overlords.

> Spotify is a bad podcast app.

Over the last 18 months it has become a bad music app too. Two years ago it only took one or two clicks to load your music and your downloaded music remained.. downloaded.

Nowadays you have to fight through several screens of "promotional feeds" to get to your playlists which will then be half empty because the downloaded songs have been removed.

They're clearly being driven as a new music marketing service by their record company overlords.

Agreed, regardless of your own playlist and album library you are pushed regional generic lists.

Also Spotify will start pushing its podcasts more in app since as per the article there are better profits available - so expect it be slower and require more clicks to open the app and just play your music avoiding promotions for exclusive podcast content.

The latest UI update on iOS moved the "Repeat" button to behind another menu, necessitating an additional tap. As someone who frequently toggles repeat, I now have an additional screen to tap through.

Thank you. I just noticed this too. I wonder what the UX reasoning for this was?

I just assumed that they had some metric indicating that not many people used it...

I personally hate ads with such a passion that I subconsciously stopped to listen to US podcasts more and more and mostly found European podcasts which offer to pay/donate instead.

And especially German podcasts found a way to send them money without paying fees like patreon or paypal does so that even small amounts like $1 make sense.

>German podcasts found a way to send them money without paying fees like patreon or paypal does?


I'm not sure if it's called like that but this:

> BIC + IBAN is often the cheapest way to transfer money internationally and is now free of charge* in much of Europe under EU/EEA directive 2560/2001. BIC + IBAN international bank transfers are faster, more efficient, and low-cost as they are sent directly through the SWIFT interbank network without using intermediary banks (who deduct charges or fees for their service). IBAN will be progressively introduced in most OECD countries to allow Straight Through Processing of cross border payments.

from https://www.auctionfeecalculator.com/iban-transfers.html

I would think the play is to establish a second entity that handles the aggregation and "distribution". More or less the music model but for podcasts.

Of course that runs the risk of creating (podcast-centric) competitors to Spotify. But such a counter intuitive strategy never hurt Amazon.

This just sounds like inserting more middle men between podcast creators and listeners. No thank you. I want my money going to creators, not SV VC companies.

Wondering why Spotify isn’t pulling a “Netflix”: signing up their own artists and cut out the music industry completely. You used to sign with an established music label because of their distribution dominance. But if Spotify is capturing a growing piece of that distribution...

He explains this in the article. For the most popular musical acts streaming isn’t how they make money. It’s simply a means to advertise their music so they can make money by touring. If that’s the case no popular musical act is going to lock their music down to a single provider because the goal is maximum possible distribution. The bet Spotify is making with podcasts is that podcast creators will trade maximum distribution for ease of publication and a “large enough” base and Spotify will capture the long tail of podcasts.

Personally I’m highly skeptical this is going to move the needle on revenue for them in the long run and more than anything feels more like a desperation play than a smart business strategy.

Going back just one year the main bull case made by Scott Galloway was that Spotify would eventually own video on mobile. Clearly that’s not going to happen now that it’s apparent that space is going to be carved up between YouTube and Facebook. I think Spotify is eventually going to be acquired by a much larger company making a push into services after its market cap has been cut significantly.

I haven't seen this mentioned in the article or comments here, but an article I read (can't find it right now) mentioned that advertisers prefer podcasts on Spotify to Apple, because Spotify can give them data on how many users are actually listening to the ads vs skipping. Spotify also doesn't have a 1.5x speed (and up). The next move, I bet, will be to entice podcast creators to have exclusive deals with Spotify, for which they will get somewhat higher compensation from advertisers.

> Spotify also doesn't have a 1.5x speed (and up)

This is old news. They have up to 3x now in my iOS app.

Oh wow! I use the web app a lot, so it makes sense I've not seen it, since their web app is a dumbed down version.

I really hope Spotify uses this as a reason to re-work their podcasting section. I think Apple's podcast app does a great job with discovery, and find all the podcasts I'm interested in on Spotify to get totally lost in the shuffle. They also don't really seem to have any sort of meaningful feed, which is how I choose a podcast before any long walk.

Streaming services have to create content these days to lock in users. Users won't switch if the stuff the watch (or listen to) is only available with a specific player.

Just like TV/movies Podcasts won't remain 100% channel agnostic.

this link in the article was cooler than the article itself: https://www.riaa.com/u-s-sales-database/ (be sure to change the metric to inflation adjusted revenue)

Recode has an interview with Gimlet's cofounders about the acquisition: https://open.spotify.com/episode/1q7w7rQYjh3yFgey4Gz2OO

Let’s not hasten the locking down of podcasts by using a Spotify link.


Your, and the parent comment, perfectly encapsulate what is going wrong on the macro level with the specific example at hand. Your link is the system as it works today, a medium agnostic hyperlink that allows you to start listening on any device with a browser and a speaker. The parent offers a locked door to a meticulously tracked and monetized walled garden.


This is the world I want to live in:

You can listen to Recode Media wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast.

You can download all of the Reply All from MP3 links on the RSS feed: https://feeds.megaphone.fm/replyall

Worth grabbing in case they go away.

Ahh... the new media conglomerates. Just what we all need.

Yet another reason not to use Spotify. Their IPO was a huge red flag, of course.

Earwolf up next?

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