At this week, the biggest player in the podcast distribution space announced that creators will be able to sell subscriptions to their shows right on Apple Podcasts as early as next month. As interesting as Apple’s platform looks (and we’ll get to that in a second), there’s a major component it’s lacking: The company will not be providing podcast creators with their subscribers’ details.
That means no names, no emails, no way to reach out to subscribers outside of the podcast content. Creators won’t know who is paying to listen to their show — even though Apple will.
The creator/subscriber relationship is key to a podcast’s success
This is a huge drawback for many independent podcast creators, especially, where listeners aren’t always necessarily paying for extra content, they’re paying for access. They offer their support in order to connect with their favorite podcasters and sometimes even receive personalized bonuses.
Not having access to those who pay money to subscribe means creators are missing out on the ability to interact with their fans outside of the podcast itself. Say a podcaster wants to shout out a new project or promote an upcoming media appearance via an email blast? They can’t. Creators also won’t be able to reach out and find out what subscribers would like from the show or urge former or cancelling subscribers to stay with the show or sign back up.
Another major problem, which is perhaps an even bigger issue down the road, is portability. In fact, that is likely why Apple, which is notorious for their walled garden approach of keeping users within their ecosystem, isn’t willing to provide creators with an email list of their subscribers. If a podcaster signs up for Apple’s podcast subscription service and develops a decent subscriber base, they’re locked into Apple’s system. They have no way of reaching their fanbase, and creators will face losing all those paid subscribers if they were to move to a different subscription platform.
Sure, podcasters can still reach out to their audience via the podcast, but audiences are much less likely to respond based solely on that. A listener can be commuting or cooking when they catch their favorite shows and may not follow through after they’re done with the episode. Also, it’s pretty clear that asking someone to take an action is nowhere near as effective as putting a link directly in front of someone’s face via an email reminder so all they have to do is click.
Looking at Apple’s podcast subscription model, it’s clear it is based on the same system the company has for app developers. Apple doesn’t provide them with a list of their customers’ emails either, but developers have the ability to create apps that require account sign-ups and email collection within them. A developer can also send push notifications via the app to update their users. Podcasters using Apple’s podcast subscription service won’t be able to do any of that.
The good news
With all that said, there are other details about Apple’s new subscription platform that do make it a compelling offering. Podcasters can set up completely premium shows that require paid subscriptions or provide freemium content — bonus episodes just for paid subscribers that go along with your free podcasts.
Apple will allow podcasters to charge as little as 49 cents per month for a subscription. Apple will take 30 percent of that revenue and leave the creator with 70 percent for the first year on the platform. After that, Apple’s cut drops to 15 percent, and creators take 85 percent of the revenue.
The company is even providing podcasters with the option to offer free trials to users. (But, crucially, there is no way to email those trial users in order to convert them into paid subscribers!)
Yes, the revenue share is more than some other subscription platforms like Patreon. Plus, there’s a $19.99 per year fee required for any podcaster offering paid subscriptions via Apple. The company requires that creators upload premium content directly to Apple — not via an RSS feed like podcasts are distributed now. This means Apple will be hosting the content directly for the first time. So, $19.99 for a year of podcast hosting isn’t bad at all. (And podcasters who have free shows can continue to distribute via RSS feeds as they do now, with no fees attached).
Apple’s long reign as the top distributor in podcasting means that so many podcast listeners are on the platform already. Creators will not need to siphon listeners to a third-party platform in order to sign up for paid subscriptions.
Who will benefit?
It’s incredible that Apple took so long to actually take their podcasting platform to the next level. After all, iTunes, the company’s media player, rolled out podcasting options in 2005. Since then Apple has been the default podcasting directory, library, and player — whether it be with iTunes or its newer Podcasts app.
However, in recent years, as podcasting has taken off and entered into the mainstream, competitors to Apple’s monopoly, like Spotify, have started to siphon off chunks of the company’s audio market share. And, as those companies look to paid podcast subscriptions, the move probably became clear for Apple if it wanted to maintain its place atop the food chain.
A look at the top podcast charts on Apple today shows a list dominated by large news outlets and media companies. These podcasts will likely find instant success on Apple’s new subscription platform. In fact, Apple is banking on using these companies’ programs to show off the unreleased subscription platform in its press release announcing the service.
It remains to be seen though if independent creators who don’t have the backing of large conglomerates behind them will benefit from Apple’s platform when it’s compared to the Patreons of the world that are already out there.