Apple’s podcast subscriptions are a mixed blessing

At its “Spring Loaded” event on Tuesday, Apple did what Apple does. Exciting new equipment was presented, competing products have been imitated, computers have been improved (just with fewer ports). Between the hardware fanfare, however, there was confirmation that the company would soon be offering paid subscriptions for podcasts – a potentially significant change for the constantly growing industry.

Starting next month, podcasters can set their own price, and Apple will take 30% of the first year of each subscription, dropping to 15% thereafter. Apple is touting the service as a way to allow creators to offer vanilla paywall, early access, or one-off premium content (all of which would be hosted on Apple’s platform only – although that seems non-exclusive).

Monetizing a podcast isn’t new, of course, but it’s a bit of a wild west right now. For smaller or independent creators, Patreon is a popular way for fans to access premium content. Acast takes it one step further, with the ability to bake Patreon in your show page. Then there are alternatives like Libsyn’s hosted subscriptions or Audioboom advertising and sponsorship offers. Or maybe you want to use Podbean monetization tools or Supercast premium plans. There are options, but most require sending your listeners offsite or come with compromises.

At first glance, Apple’s approach has a few advantages. The most obvious is simply his dominance of the brand. You can get your podcasts from any number of apps and locations, but everyone is familiar with Apple podcasts. If you’re using Apple services, there’s also a good chance it already has your payment information, so subscribing to something else is completely straightforward. You also won’t need to leave whatever podcast page you’re on, just to access all the bonus or premium content, which is another big draw for creators and consumers. But all is not perfect. There are also real concerns.


On the one hand, there is the Apple Cup. At 30% for the first year of a subscription (and then 15%), that’s a reasonable share of your income. It’s also a bit surprising, considering that after years of charging app developers, 30% of the company recently lowered his cut to 15 for those who make less than a million dollars a year (which is probably most of them). Patreon, in comparison, the fees between 5 and twelve percent (plus processing fees) depending on the plan you have.

Apple’s strict rules on app revenue share have recently been controversial with a spitting very public between Epic Games for its insistence on taking a share of in-game transactions. Fortunately, at least as far as we can tell, you’ll be free to offer the same premium content elsewhere without restrictions when it comes to podcasts.

Nonetheless, Apple’s decision this week will undoubtedly have profound implications for the industry as a whole. Mostly positive, but not all designers are convinced. Sarah Myles is a professional podcast producer, but also manages the Rise and shine initiative that offers free workshops for small independent creators. “I think putting money in the pockets of DIY shows is great, but it will only be worth it with a big audience,” she told Engadget. “The DIY podcasting space is incredibly creative and diverse, so working to identify, showcase and fund skilled emerging creators is only good thing for the industry.”

However, not all creators are so sure. Freelance podcaster Carrie Morrison worries the fees won’t work for those with smaller audiences. shows. It makes me feel disposable, I guess, ”they said.

This is the riddle. Smaller shows, by definition, don’t have the audience to attract advertisers, but they also don’t have enough listeners for a subscription model to make full sense. Large companies, like Wondery, already have the budget and the business interest, but are also the most likely to benefit from subscriptions.

It’s tempting to think of YouTube as an analogous model. But the video site’s near-exclusive stance on video shows and its vertical integration with advertising and premium subscriptions make it easier for grassroots creators to navigate their way and earn as they go on the same platform. With a subscription, you ask people to trust you first, and possibly ask them to change their listening habits (for example, from Pocket Casts to Apple) if they want to support you.

Advanced guide to podcasting equipment.

James Trew / Engadget

This is why Patreon has been so popular with podcasters to date. Alex Graham, Founder of an End-to-End Production Company Audio side think subscriptions might even drive more creators back to Patreon. “Maybe something like that (subscriptions) will make a service like Patreon a little more popular in the sense that instead of going with Apple, Spotify, Google or whatever at the time, you can decide to ‘Take a single approach and use it on all your platforms instead,’ he told Engadget.

And Graham is right on one point, that’s for sure. It already looks like other major platforms are lining up for offer something similar – potentially unify and divide (further) the payments landscape at the same time.

The real winners here might actually be those in the middle or those trying something different. Graham Hodge is the director of the production company Cup & Nuzzle, which regularly does shows for clients like the BBC and Spotify. (Disclosure: I produced an episode of one of their customer-based shows.) For him, subscriptions represent an opportunity to monetize shows that take a lot of work, but maybe can attract audiences through other channels.

“I think the advertising model, you know, works for a certain type of podcast that is very easy to produce, very successful,” he told Engadget. Hodge referred to an example of working on a scripted comedy show with a known host. “It’s work. There is time and money coming in. And it is very difficult to get money back, your routes are: get a commission from BBC Radio 4 or Audible. “Obviously no options for most of us. In that case, with a potential audience already lined up, he thinks the subscription model might be a better fit.” I hope people will like, you know what, i love this show, i’m going to pay a chiquier a month, to make sure the show can go on. ”

What is apple can to do here is to standardize the payment of the shows you like. Unlike streaming TV, where we can buy into a world of content for a fixed price, the challenge is to make sure listeners aren’t burdened with subscription fatigue. Not just by signing up for a couple of your favorite shows, but also the other monthly media payments you already have – whether it’s Netflix, Substack, Google’s Stadia, or PlayStation Plus (and so on). Right now we’re paying more than ever for entertainment, and it’s baffling.

Perhaps Apple’s biggest giveaway to podcasters will be the aforementioned standardization of direct payment for shows in a way existing platforms have not been able to handle. If there’s one thing the Cupertino company can do, it’s suddenly make something already exist more desirable or Ordinary.

As more and more companies offer competing services, the podcaster can look forward to better deals. They also need more flexibility. Apple’s service offers some, but with one obvious omission: one-time payments. Tips are a common, non-binding way for creators to receive payment for their work. With one-time payments, you can be rewarded for just one episode, or just because that’s all someone can afford to pay. It also means you can even pay more if you’re feeling particularly generous and want to make someone’s day.

Obviously, this isn’t a system that Apple offers on any of its other platforms (another plus for Patreon here), but a system that could help bridge some of the gaps between those who can order a payment. in progress and those who cannot (yet).

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