Spotify and the bleak future of podcasting


This podcast comes in weekly episodes. But if you don’t want to wait an entire week between episodes, you can check out the entire season right now on Spotify!

I hear this once every couple of days, due to my heavy podcast-listening habits. I’m lucky enough that I don’t listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast, because that one is simply not available at all outside of Spotify. (And by lucky, I mean I’m not a fan of alt-right pipelines.)

So after a rant on my favourite social media accounts (yes, plural, I have feelings about this, all right?), I decided to give a bit more detail as to why I strongly believe that Spotify started out all right and is now one of the biggest threats to the podcasting world.

Podcasting is free by essence. People use whatever software they prefer to listen to it – Apple Podcasts is the go-to for most iPhone owners, I personally have a huge crush on Pocketcasts, which I’ve been using for a while now. Before that, I listened to Podcast Addict, and I did have an Apple Podcast period (that was when I got an iPhone, which lasted for 6 months before I couldn’t stand it anymore and went back to my beloved Android OS). When I made the switch, effort varied from copy-pasting the name of every podcast to the search bar of the new platform to clicking on an « export » button and then on an « import » button. It was simple, it was easy, and most importantly, there was an RSS feed URL for every one of the podcasts I listenend to and that URL didn’t change. This means that using the URL, anyone can listen to any podcast on any platform they prefer.

When Spotify decided to bet on the podcasting market in 2019, I wanted to move there. I was a big Spotify user, after all, and trusted them to provide me with a good listening experience, as they did with everything else. So I copied my first URL in the search bar. Nothing came up. Spotify is not a podcast reader, it’s a podcast curator; only pre-approved, professionally made podcasts could make it there. Out of the 50+ podcasts I listened to at the time, less than 10 were available on the platform. This was the first time I didn’t have access to a podcast on a podcast listening platform, and I didn’t worry too much about it. After half an hour of searching and testing, I switched back to Pocketcasts.

Then came the Joe Rogan deal, mid-2020. And that was the beginning of the end of one of the last free spaces of the online world. There was no more public URL – now, you needed a Spotify account, and you needed to go through Spotify ads and not ads for the actual creator, and you couldn’t choose the interface you liked more and listen to everything in the place you chose. Spotify decided to break the free market of podcasting and to build its own barriers. They bought a lot of other podcasts, which didn’t make quite as much noise as the Rogan one, but were just as hurtful. There are podcasts out there that are created only for Spotify users. There are podcasts where bonus episodes and early releases are only available through Spotify. We used to listen to podcasts in a world where the creator would choose the ads they decided to run and where the listener would choose the software they preferred using.

Spotify is trying to destroy this model to grab more users and more money – which is what Youtube did for videos, in a way. And I’m scared that the Youtube model will be the Spotify model. Worse, that Spotify will turn into Netflix and that you’ll need subscriptions and accounts on several platforms to listen to the podcasts you care about, just like you do with streaming platforms. Because what happens then? You constantly juggle platforms, or you start downloading everything illegally so you can get everything in the same place, without having to pay several subscriptions every month? Neither of these appeal to me.

Spotify can be a podcast listening software. Spotify can, and I already have reservation, choose to be a curator and to only provide some podcasts – if you want more, you can use another platform. But when listening to some podcasts implies getting an account on one specific platform, I’m afraid that this could be the end of the appeal of podcasting.

And personally, I’ll stick to Pocketcasts. If it means missing out on great shows, so be it.

Note from January 2022: Actually, I haven’t stuck to Pocketcasts, I’ve moved to the open-source Podcast Addict. But you get my point.

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