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I'm actually worried that podcasts are going the way of the web. What, for a while, was a weird world of enthusiasts talking about things that interests them seems to be morphing into a world of a few big corporate entities calling the shots.

I have two reasons for these worries.

1) The purchase of Gimlet by Spotify mentioned in the article. 2) The purchase of Stuff Media by iHeart.

The purchase of Gimlet is problematic for a couple of reasons, but the biggest is that a distribution channel now owns a large content company which could lead to content bubbling. I don't want to have different players for different shows, I want the shows to be available on all players. I believe this is already happening, "Crime town" season 2 is only available on Spotify.

The iHeart purchase might be more troubling. Have you ever noticed that no mater where you are in the US, the radio stations are extremely similar? This has a few reasons, one of which is, that station is probably owned by iHeart (formerly Clear Channel), they own over 400 radio stations are are in virtually every US market [1]. I'm not saying iHeart is evil, but the chance that shows get more homogenous increase when large corporate players have to satisfy shareholders. I'm not sure I can take any more true crime shows.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_radio_stations_owned_b...




> I'm not saying iHeart is evil

I don't know why not. Back when they were known as Clear Channel, in the wake of 11SEP2001 they censored songs that went against the agenda of starting wars.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clear_Channel_memorandum

(Ah, I see it has been spun as mere a suggestion. Just like I'm sure the managers at each station only passed along the suggestion. There couldn't have possibly been any accompanying social pressure, especially at that time, that would have made it a tacit order).


Oh yea they're evil. I have no compunction about saying that


>I'm actually worried that podcasts are going the way of the web. What, for a while, was a weird world of enthusiasts talking about things that interests them seems to be morphing into a world of a few big corporate entities calling the shots.

I think podcasting is somewhat shielded from this by the fact that you really don't need an insane amount of capital to put out a good product. There definitely are podcasts that have expensive, professional studio set ups, but there are others I've listened to that are just straight up recorded on an iPhone and they can actually sound very decent. This low barrier of entry makes it easy for people to make their own weird podcast without having to water down their product and pitch it to investors. I guess with time that could change if your podcast is considered dead if its not on one of these big corporate channels. As someone who really enjoys the "homemade" feels, I hope this never happens, a podcast feeling overproduced is a big turn off IMO.


> I think podcasting is somewhat shielded from this by the fact that you really don't need an insane amount of capital to put out a good product.

You could say the same thing about the web


And aren't there plenty of interesting personal blogs out there?


And it then comes back to content discovery. It doesn't matter what is out there, it matters how easily you can find the niche rather than the corporate.


Websearch on only non-corp websites. Human curated to prevent gaming the corp filter. I'd pay $5/month for that.


Are there? How do I find them?


Hyperlinks, RSS, and a bit of routine maintenance. When you stumble upon an interesting article, subscribe to the author's feed. If you lose interest, unsubscribe. You will eventually end up with the information source you want.


This is the crux of the issue. Either someone (perhaps the owner) tells you, or you ask someone who knows. The former is distinct from discoverability, so that's out. When you ask though, you want to ask someone who knows lots of things, which is likely to be corporate (major search engines).


When you google a question that interests you and find an answer in a blog, you see if there are more interesting stuff there.


Link aggregators.


Medium


Twitter


Don't worry, when podcasts get popular enough the goverments worldwide will find a way to use "regulations to protect consumers" to slowly make podcasts possible and profitable only if you are a big business. Just like it's happening with websites.


>Just like it's happening with websites

What is happening with websites?


Not the commentor that you are replying to, but they are possibly a referring to the EU's GDPR laws that went into effect recently.


> I don't want to have different players for different shows

This is at the heart of the control problem. If you have one true player, it commands more control than is good for you, me and all consumers. Healthy competition is the only practical way to keep this under check.

I make sure to distribute my consumption over at least 2-3 contenders for any content be it search (google, ddg, bing), video (youtube, vimeo, dailymotion), podcasts (overcast, apple podcasts). I've begun extending this pattern over all sorts of consumption.

Sure its a hassle for me. I'm ok with it. I like to think that one extra click, one purchase, one download helps the competitors in keeping the market healthy.


Insanity. There should be competition but compatibility. It shouldn't be about "one true player" as in one proprietary platform everyone uses (youtube vs spotify vs whatever), but rather every player is compatible with all of the formats.

The proprietary-lockin epidemic is a serious issue. I think part of the problem is open standards don't often focus on the payments problem.


For dominant content distributors and platforms, there is real economic incentive for chasing deep lock-ins. And practically no incentive to comply with or contribute to any sort of standard. That is the unfortunate reality today.

If we have reasonably good competition among these platforms, we may just have some hope there.


I love that podcasts are one of the few pure truly open mediums. Its literally just a audio file on a server somewhere included in an RSS feed.

I think more people should try to create their own podcast. I've been doing my own podcast after being a guest on a couple episodes of another tech podcast and I can't recommend it enough.

I think it should be treated like the low barrier to entry medium it is.

Current favorite podcast is the indie hackers podcast. Sometimes something you hear is more impactful then reading the equivalent.

I prefer podcasts to audio books usually as podcasts are meant for audio whereas audio books are just adapted to the medium.


> I love that podcasts are one of the few pure truly open mediums. Its literally just a audio file on a server somewhere included in an RSS feed.

Google's podcast system doesn't allow you to load in arbitrary RSS feeds. This is cause for concern if others go that way too. There will always be open podcatchers and self hosted feeds, just like there will always be web pages, but they will be harder and harder to find.


My experience with doing a podcast has been very positive. Check out the Dan Hodgins show where I share thoughts on life and business - http://DanHodgins.com. It's available on Itunes, Spotify, Sticher, Google Play and elsewhere. The first two shows are on the topics of greatness (episode 1) and naming your product, service or project (episode 2).


May I know the name of the tech podcast in which you appeared? You may also point us to those episodes if that's fine.


Hey, so I was a guest host on SEDaily and did about 5 episodes I think and then decided to do my own podcast called corecursive. My format is interviews where an expert is explaining some aspect of software engineering to me.

https://softwareengineeringdaily.com/2018/01/30/design-princ...

https://corecursive.com


Love this show, you did a great job!


This is something that has been concerning me as well. My fear is that as money perverts this ecosystem, the big players will increasingly push out the small players. They'll suck up all the ad revenue and flood discovery services with mediocre (but well produced!!) corporate shlock. That will suck the air out of the room and damage all the smaller outfits, making them harder to find and less profitable to run.

I hope I'm wrong.


I agree, we might be leaving the golden age rather than entering it. The article mentions Spotify exclusive shows and we have already seen several other paywalled shows from companies like Audible and Stitcher. Meanwhile a number of podcasters are taking control of their own shows, not joining a podcast network or content company, and moving the show to platforms like Patreon. That is great for the content creators themselves, but it hurts discoverability and just isn't great for the podcast listener. The days of all the best shows being available to everyone for free are over. The days of most podcasts just being people having fun and sharing their passions with the world are over. We are entering the world were podcasting is big business.


> That is great for the content creators themselves, but it hurts discoverability and just isn't great for the podcast listener.

I subscribe to a couple of shows which offer free versions, discoverable through Apple's directory and others, and paid "upgrades". Those paid upgrades come into the same app I use for listening to podcasts generally. I actually think things today are pretty well set up for podcasters who want to be independent but still get paid.


I subscribe to a few as well. The some episodes free and some paid model is the better for discoverability than everything behind a paywall, but it can still be off-putting to new listeners. Although my primary problem with that model is that it isn't sustainable for heavy listeners. Each show can cost anywhere from $2-$10 per month. That adds up quickly. I end up spending more on podcasts a month than I do on Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify combined. I am happy to do that because I spend more time listening to podcasts than using those three services and I want to support the content creators I enjoy, but that isn't financially realistic for an overwhelming majority of consumers.


Yeah, that's fair that the individual podcast pricing may not scale for the consumer the way the Spotify model does.

I write fiction on the side and am able to put my ebooks (and print books, for that matter) into a variety of stores. If a model could be started through which a podcast producer can put their podcast in multiple stores so that it's a paid show but available in Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, etc., that would be a nice model indeed.

It's doubtful that Spotify would attempt such a model.


Well, maybe this should be a wake up call that the models of services like Spotify aren't really sustainable for the content producers on them.


I can't speak to Spotify, but Netflix certainly seems sustainable with their billions in yearly profit. Either way, the average consumer doesn't care about sustainability. They just see that Netflix provides 100s of hours of fully produced TV and movies every month. Then they see for the same price they can get a few hours a month of people talking in front of microphones. There is a huge disconnect in perceived cost there. Many podcasts currently make up that difference simply from the goodwill of their audience who wants to "support" them. I'm not sure that is scalable.


Wow, I've never even heard of a podcast for which you have to pay. The podcasts I listen to are either subsidised by political and literary journals, publishing houses, and research centres, supported by mass donations, produced by the BBC, and/or include a small number of adverts.


It’s just a start. The podcast world will continue to be very fragmented.

There are some small consolidation here and there. There are a few podcasts becoming paid / subscription based business. But most podcasts will be niche , small , and free. More fun people will start their own podcasts :)


I think it's like the indie music scene. Sure, some bands make a living at it, or try to. But most musicians are playing for the sheer joy of playing, going to a little club and making a racket for a dozen of their closest friends.

In the long run, there will be plenty of niche podcasts with dozens, maybe hundreds of listeners - not enough to make a living, but an audience is its own reward.


Somehow podcasts are like Instagram.

Most instagramers are not influencers who can monetize well. Most instagramers don’t have a large follower base, which totally makes sense.

few podcasters can make a living from producing podcasts. Most podcasters make podcasts for fun. Some use podcasts to cross promote other things (eg books, music , e-commerce...). More and more companies produce podcasts, but they just treat podcasts as an addition to their social accounts to build audience and create awareness: https://lnns.co/b0jVr85WkQn


I'm not sure that's inherently bad. In some ways I think it's useful to divorce the medium from the revenue model, and I think the medium (audio content you can listen do anywhere and any time) might be well-suited to some content that just can't be paid for if the only revenue option is ads (or donors, I guess). Maybe it's too niche, or covers subject matter that isn't advertiser-friendly, or has high production costs (for fiction content in particular I think there's a ceiling to the level of ambition that's possible now because voice talent is expensive), etc. I'm interested to see what kinds of content might be unlocked through experimentation with new revenue models.


As the millennial internet company market inevitably cools (Dollar Shave Club, Blue Apron, etc), where are all these podcasters gonna get ads from?


Many podcast platforms are already basically setting up ad networks. Content creators supply time stamps and the CDNs stitch in ads at the point of download into those.time stamps. At the moment, conversion rates are highest when the host reads the ads, so there's still a lot of work for the creator but minimal effort for the advertiser.

It's likely that eventually the bar will lower and people will stop minding less integrated ads. But the advertiser pays per download (right now, see next paragraph) and doesn't pay the host to do the reading, so from the buying end it's simple and generally they work with the Podcast hosting platform who then farms it out to creators.

NPR released their Remote Audio Data spec recently and many players are working to integrate it. Essentially the ID3 tags have several time stamps marked and a call back URL. The podcast player then delivers events to that URI indicating the listener listened through that time stamp with some other metadata.

The automation and ad network-ization is already in motion.

So to answer: the same place web pages get ads.


> many players are working to integrate it

Do you have any information on who? I've mostly heard about players announcing they won't support it, and Apple and Spotify have their own analytics systems they'd probably prefer people use.


So I do seem to have jumped the gun. It definitely appears that most the indie podcatchers are in wait and see mode. Almost all the "we won't support it" has a "yet" or "at this time" clause.

The big thing is Apple. Apple is definitely the big boy in the pond and NPR is in talks to get it working.

The thing is, if other podcatchers continue to refuse to provide data somehow, the advertisers are going to start refusing to pay for downloads and only for impressions verifiable on Apple, Spotify, and Google's apps. The end result is the closing off into walled gardens.

We already have Stitcher and Spotify buying up podcasts and keeping them exclusive to their platforms.

It can go either way but like...it's bad if it doesn't go this way. Either you're buying podcasts per episode or trapped on Google/Apple/Spotify's horrific podcast apps.

The apps are horrific. Google compresses audio to the point you get obvious quality loss and artifacting, even to my non-audiophile ears on $20 earbuds.

Apple Podcasts is a PITA once you've subscribed to more than 10 podcasts. It's really badly set up if you subscribe to a serial audio drama and have several seasons to catch up on.

Spotify thinks podcasts are just playlists in order from newest to oldest and wow is that a barebones and impossible UX for anything but a talkshow type podcast.


At my last job we worked in internet tech for radio stations. Most of the station money came from the auto industry. I guess that makes sense since a non-smart radio fits with driving better than touch screens.

EDIT: Forgot to mention, all that to say, it'll probably come from markets that fit how/when/where consumers listen: exercise, entertainment, etc.


Terrestrial radio is also reasonably location targeted. Can’t really do that with podcasts, at least not with any sort of reliability.


Ads can (and already are) stitched into podcasts based on download location. GeoIP isn't perfect, but it's enough to do location aware advertising in the same vein as terrestrial radio..


Oh wow, I hadn't considered that but it's obviously simple to do. Here's a funny thought: your script downloads the file with requests from two IPs associated with different locations and gets a union of the audio for you to listen to (thus cutting out any location-based segments).


To a point, but many podcaster players will run downloads through their own CDN


Can you name any that do this? Why would they? A podcast app should be basically free to run so why introduce the cost of downloading every podcast?


Geolocation at the cdn level is a common use case for the new class of ‘smart cdn’.


I tried some Gimlet podcasts but didn't find any of consistent quality. For me "consistent quality" means I'm willing to binge-listen every episode and in order.


That's a pretty high bar which almost nobody needs to meet to be widely acclaimed and highly profitable.


Such a weird bar anyways. I can binge heroin easier than I can binge a good book. That kind of reasoning celebrates the movement towards skinner boxes and addiction.


Sounds like a person who wants something thematically consistent to listen on long commutes, or plane rides.


I always enjoy Science Vs. Also, Startup, which actually has featured a bunch of YC companies. Reply all has good stuff too most of the time.


I wish Science vs. kept the sort of quality from earlier episodes when they were either not on Gimlet or had just come to Gimlet. They lean pretty heavily on narratives now, and while it may be entertaining, it's getting further and further away from science—or even minimally analytic.


I agree the format has changed a bit, but I still enjoy it. You're right though, going back to basics would be nice.


Reply All criminally releases episodes only every 2 weeks. I need that fix more often.


Reply All is very inconsistent. It feels like they get an idea for a story, follow it through and then if it just turns out to be very boring or a "nothing" story they will just produce and release it anyway.


"Startup" sounds cool. I found it. I don't understand why they don't have a link to the MP3 but instead make me use an app.


MP3 links are in the Startup RSS feed: https://feeds.megaphone.fm/startup

(I strongly recommend starting with Season 1. It's the most honest and vulnerable telling of early startup life that I've ever come across.)


Bagman and slow burn were good if you are into historical political scandals. Covered watergate, Clinton impeachment and Nixon’s vp spirew Agnew.


Just did some research - those two do look like an excellent fit


Personally, I don’t listen to every episode of any podcasts. I don’t even subscribe to any podcasts. I just cherry pick episodes from different podcasts to listen.

Normally, I find all episodes interviewing a person of my interest, then binge listen them all. These episodes may be from some pretty unknown podcasts that I don’t want to listen to other episodes .


Gimlet has an NPR narrative style that doesn’t work for everyone and can be a little too much.


I'm sure you can find some consistently bad quality content out there.


Personally, I subscribe to the podcasts of: Sam Harris, Conan, The Energy Gang, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and a couple other NPR shows. None of my podcasts, IMO, are decreasing in quality, nor would I expect any of these groups to sell-out as they are off-shoots of other things.

The podcasts I listen to are intentionally hand-selected over time to be 1) informative, 2) have a decent content:fluff ratio, and 3) enjoyable. I unsubscribed from Star Talk because about 90% of it was non-scientific chatter or ads, even though it was enjoyable and informative (sometimes). If a podcast doesn't cut to the damn chase like NDT's, that's an instant unsub from me.

In particular, I find independent podcasts like Sam Harris or Dan Carlin to be FANTASTIC, and that content is free for all to download in multiple ways. So, I'm not worried in the slightest.


Gimlet media was started by Alex Blumberg, who worked previously for "This American Life" and "Planet Money" (he may have started that one). These are both NPR shows as well as very popular podcasts

One of it's show is "Reply All" is hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. They used to host a podcast called "TLDR" on NPR (WNYC).

These guys are all super talented and deserve to be paid very well for the content they produce, but to say those shows and podcasters you like won't go to where there money is probably not 100%.


> In particular, I find independent podcasts like Sam Harris or Dan Carlin to be FANTASTIC, and that content is free for all to download in multiple ways. So, I'm not worried in the slightest.

This. Dan Carlin is fantastic and I enjoy supporting him because of the quality. No Agenda and Congressional Dish are two more listener supported/value-for-value podcasts which do an outstanding job. No Agenda, in particular, raised the bar extremely high for production value, and they do it all live to tape! No back office. Little-to-no post production. Those guys are proof you don’t need a studio, enployees, or advertisers to make a living out of podcasting.


I love how Carlin paywalls his old shows but then mentions in the podcast that they're easy to find on pirate sites if you can't afford to pay him. The paywall is thus implicitly recognised as a minor nuisance meant to make you consider donating. His is the only podcast I've ever given money to, and while I'd like to believe that this has more to do with supporting his quality content than the minor nuisance of pirating his old shows it was actually the act of looking for an old show and finding it paywalled that made me stop and punch in my credit card number. I had intended to support him for a while before that, but never taken the time.

Edit: removed "ad-free" as a descriptor of Carlin's shows, since I recall him having Audible ads.


Glad to see there are people on HN who are going out there and propagating the formula.


I haven't heard of No Agenda in years.

I stopped listening to them a while back after they had a hard right turn IIRC. Their business model was excellent though.


I'm curious about what you mean by this exactly


It's not really fair to call them "hard right" - overall I find they still exercise a very balanced centrist opinion set. Moreso what happened is that the media became even more focused on a strict left-wing narrative that merits serious deconstruction.


Anecdotally, I have noticed an increase in advertisements in the podcasts I listen to. I think this is more likely a sign of decline than a sign of the opposite.


Could it be instead a sign of increasing profitability of podcasts? (That advertisers are willing to pay for ads on podcasts.)


Maybe, or it could mean they have to do more ads to stay afloat, where before fewer ads were sufficing.


iHeartMedia is a junk stock and will probably delisted from NYSE soon. Stuff Media will be gutted and lost in the ensuing chaos in the coming years as iHeart desperately attempts again to restructure their debt. Both them and Cumulus Media serve as yet another sad tale of what happens when PEGs descend on in for the rape and pillage.


Just out of curiosity, what are PEGs?


Private equity groups. Several have been brokering their debt restructuring over the years. Here's their most recent complete restructuring from about a year ago (http://www.insideradio.com/free/restructuring-will-wipe-bill...) (they're currently in bankruptcy at the moment.)


So what incentive do they have for "rape and pillage" of companies if they ruin them and themselves in the process?


Because the partners collect big fees on the way in and out.

Toys R Us is a great example. The PEG people invested 20%, dumped the debt on the Toys R Us balance sheet, and yielded at least $200M in fees. They are also able to harvest paper losses to offset taxes.


Pardon my ignorance, but who's paying their fees, and why would anyone pay fees to people who ruin companies and pocket fees for doing a poor job?


The acquired company. The people running the company are the people collecting the money.

Why would they do so? They are “turning the company around!”.


I'd guess "private equity $somethings"?


I listened to Crimetown season 2 on Overcast, but you're right, it looks like it's been removed from the feed. I was hoping they'd approach it more like Stitcher has, where they continue to produce open podcasts, but offer additional episodes or only gate a limited number (and definitely expected that any Spotify-only podcasts would be brand new, as opposed to removing access to pre-existing ones).


I agree the purchase of Gimlet and putting shows behind paywalls is concerning.

That said, as long as the vast majority of shows continue to publish their shows as god intended -- as enclosures on an simple RSS feed -- I think podcasts will stay healthy and vibrant. I will not subscribe to Spotify for a whole host of reasons, and it would take far, far more 'available only on Spotify' podcasts to ever make me reconsider that.


I think podcasts, from a consolidation POV, looks more like video than music (for starters, think of the content length and engagement level). You'd swap app/provider to listen to a different podcast, but a music player with a limited subset of music is essentially DOA.


Agreed. And I imagine that if Spotify succeeds, then Apple might eventually follow suit and start picking up exclusives. At that point, there's no going back.


Stitcher is building a garden. I think they are trying to combat the unassailable dominance of Apple.


Long live Napster!




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