Can Apple Make You Pay for Podcasts?


Beth Silvers credits paid subscriptions for making podcasting her full-time job. She and Sarah Stewart Holland are hosts Pantsuit politics, a show that tries to turn political punditry into ‘gracious conversations’. The two launched the show in 2015 and began experimenting with subscriptions two years later, first on their own website in the form of monthly contributions, and not long after on Patreon.

Three years later, they now have more than 4,000 monthly subscribers who pay anywhere from $ 5 to $ 100 a month, employ a full-time listener, and are fully focused on the show. Their income now consists of advertising and memberships in equal measure. “It was still a big risk [when we switched to Patreon], ”Says Silvers. “We were not quite at a sustainable point yet. We thought to achieve sustainability, we should invest more time in this. “

Now the women are trying something new: Apple Podcasts Subscriptions. They are among the first creators to sign up to try the service, which allows podcasters to offer paid subscriptions from within the Podcasts app.

The most popular podcasting app backing its weight behind subscriptions can be huge. Apple has the opportunity to popularize paid subscriptions by making it easy to listen and subscribe in one place, and it could influence the industry to deviate somewhat from its reliance on ads at the same time. Additionally, unlike other solutions, Apple will also allow listeners to try these subscriptions for free for a limited time, giving people a chance to see what they are paying for. Apple is also not precious about the content that podcasters offer there. Shows and bonus content do not have to be exclusive to the platform and they can combine free and paid content.

Apple Podcasts’ subscription product lets creators decide how much to charge for content.
Image: Apple

“If Apple does [subscriptions]It’s like flipping a switch, ”said Jacob Weisberg, CEO of podcasting network Pushkin Industries, whose author Malcolm Gladwell co-founded.

Even David Stern, the CEO of Supporting Cast, which runs a competing podcast subscription platform, sees the arrival of Apple as a turning point for the industry. “The biggest challenge we have in getting podcasters to work with Supporting Cast is simply that people aren’t used to the idea of ​​a paid podcast,” he said. in a blog post earlier this week. “Apple’s commitment to premium content will help the industry understand how much revenue they are leaving on the table by not giving their listeners something to pay for.”

The potential benefit to podcasters is enormous. Apple Podcasts is the largest podcast listening platform in the world, and listeners don’t have to leave the app to sign up.

But service comes with tradeoffs. Most importantly, podcasters have to pay a flat fee of $ 19.99 a year to even offer subscriptions, and they then give Apple 30 percent less revenue for each subscriber’s first year and 15 percent for the years after. Patreon, on the other hand lasts until 12 percent of creators’ revenue. Apple Podcasts is also only available on iOS devices, which most of the world does not use.

Those may be tough conditions for podcasters, but it can pay off. The marketing potential of Apple Podcasts is huge, and it should make it much easier for hosts to promote a subscription. Currently, podcasters offering exclusive or bonus content often do so through private RSS feeds, requiring listeners to enter a link in the listening app of their choice – a feature that some apps, such as Spotify, don’t support. Podcasters may need to guide them through this process, and if someone cancels their membership, it’s usually up to the podcaster to make sure that access to their RSS link is revoked. In order to make listeners pay, you usually have to convince them to sign up for another platform, such as Patreon, a much bigger hurdle than tapping a button in the app they are already using.

This is why the Pantsuit politics team have signed up for Apple Podcasts subscriptions, especially considering that a majority of their listeners are on Apple Podcasts.

“We like to give our listeners options, and we feel like there are people who would probably like our bonus content and just don’t want to deal with the hassle of figuring out Patreon,” says Silvers.

But they will have to be creative with how they advertise their benefits. Patreon is more fully built to support creators who want different benefits. In Pantsuit politicsIn that case, subscribers will receive not only bonus content, but also a community on Patreon itself where they can chat about episodes and join a book club where Silvers and Stewart Holland send the books they want to discuss. Silvers and Stewart Holland also receive their listeners’ personal information, such as addresses, to help them decide where to tour. Their listeners’ emails, which they also receive, allow them to send FYIs about ticket sales or other content, such as YouTube Lives.

“We all just like convenience, as we like our stuff just to be in one place,” said Jessica Cordova Kramer, the CEO of Lemonada Media, who plans to use Apple Podcasts subscriptions in addition to existing subscription services. “And yes, there is an extra hoop to jump through if you’re using something outside of the listening ecosystem.”

Apple doesn’t seem interested in building the social aspect of podcasting communities yet, so if podcasters want to advertise their Discord or Patreon, they’ll have to shout out those benefits and ask listeners to contact them for access – another hurdle. Apple also doesn’t give podcasters any emails, names, phone numbers, addresses, or personal information of their listeners, so Apple ultimately mediates in all interactions and retains the data. Apple does say it gives podcasters aggregated, anonymized analytics about their listeners, such as where they are based, but these tools probably won’t quite replace the benefits of having emails or subscriber names.

“Having the disagreement in our community has been so rewarding for us, the hosts and the people who joined it. Without being able to cherish it … it’s almost like a block on Apple subscriptions, ”said Matt Kolowski, a host of a movie show called 70 mm, which has approximately 140 subscribers to Patreon. “I would really like them to realize that a sense of community is such an important part of creating a fun podcast experience.”

In response to The edge About Apple’s push in subscriptions, Kerri Pollard, Patreon’s Chief Revenue Officer, specifically mentioned community features as a selling point. “We know creators see the value in our offering that serves them and their communities first and will continue to use Patreon,” she says.

In fact, the community has become so important that even Facebook justified its push to audio and podcasting this week. The company says 170 million people on Facebook are connected to a page associated with a specific podcast, and more than 35 million people are members of fan groups around podcasts.

Another factor for podcasters to consider: More platforms means more administrative work. RSS promised one feed for all apps, but the subscription ecosystem doesn’t look like much. Kolowski and his co-hosts upload bonus and early access to Patreon; their usual shows to their hosting provider, Anchor; and if they join Apple Podcasts, they should be posting uploads there separately as well. If Spotify gets into the subscription game, they may have to manually upload content there as well – although on Anchor, a Spotify company, they can pay off that way.

“Ultimately, I don’t want to have four places I want to upload a podcast to because selfishly, I don’t want that kind of legwork,” says Kolowski, adding that most of his show’s listeners are on Pocket Casts, not Apple. Podcasts.

But for larger networks, Apple Podcasts subscriptions can be the right choice at the right time. Pushkin Industries is launched its first subscription program, PushNik, through Apple Podcasts, with plans to eventually make the bonus and exclusive content available to other apps. Pushkin CEO Weisberg helped Slate launched Slate Plus, a subscription program that includes ad-free podcasts, years ago, and says there were no easy fixes for publishers at the time.

“It was so inconvenient to get the private RSS feed into any player,” he says. “It’s just a lot of steps, and it was really hard for me, and what I was always banging about at Slate was that we have to reduce the clicks to get the bonus content for subscribers.”

Apple’s subscriptions solve that. Of course, in the years that follow Slate launched Slate Plus, Patreon has emerged, just like other companies such as Supporting Cast, which Slate launched to help other podcasters set up memberships. They don’t fix the problem with one click, but at least they provide the infrastructure and technical support to keep a subscription business running.

For these networks, an initial cut of 30 percent that eventually goes to 15 percent is worth it. Extra money is extra money. But for the smaller podcasters who have focused on the community and created a fan base of engaged listeners, Apple may not be offering enough – especially if a show is reaching a global audience more Android-based than iOS-based. But it seems almost certain that now that Apple supports and cares about subscriptions, more people than ever will pay for shows.