Nilay Patel and Walt Mossberg on Spotify’s Ambitions to Dominate Podcasting

From a brief thread on Twitter, here’s Nilay Patel (linking the Verge story on Spotify’s two new podcasting ad tech acquisitions):

One the one hand, Spotify trying to monopolize the entire podcast industry through acquisition is one of those things regulators should look at very closely.

On the other hand, Apple and Google have done... nothing? At all? To compete?

To put it another way: podcasts are existential for Spotify and you can tell by how aggressive it is. Podcasts are just another part of the platform bundle for Apple and Google, and you can tell by how lazy they are.

Walt Mossberg:

Or, you could conclude that @Spotify is destroying one of the last vestiges of the open web, amplifying dangerous misinformation, and shredding privacy. All while paying the creators of its main product, music, almost nothing.


I don’t disagree but how can you go complain they are acting anticompetitively when the other guys won’t… compete?

I’m not sure what the answer is here. I.e., if you agree that Spotify, if successful, is going to ruin podcasting (and that they’re already well on their way) — what should be done? Apple’s not doing nothing in the podcast space, but it seems to me that their Apple Podcasters Program that launched last year hasn’t really had much of an uptake. I could be wrong about that. But even if Apple’s Podcasters Program is successful, it’s not open. It’s a system where podcasts are hosted by Apple, listener subscriptions are paid through Apple, and those podcasts can only be listened to in the Apple Podcasts app. (The idea isn’t that subscriber-based podcasts need be exclusive to Apple; it’s that regular podcasts can serve an Apple-exclusive ad-free version in addition to their open-to-anyone version that has ads. Or sell a subscriber-only podcast via Apple and through other platforms.)

Paid subscriber-only podcasts are a fine idea, and I can vouch that they can be successful. But they’re a blip compared to the industry overall, which is monetized through ads. Spotify is trying to justify its enormous (but, of late, rapidly declining) market cap. Facebook and Google didn’t get where they are by selling small subscriptions to billions of users, they got where they are by offering billions of users free-to-consume content monetized by ads, and keeping the lion’s share of that ad revenue.

Best I can come up with for “What should be done?” is that podcasters should resist proprietary platforms, Spotify’s especially. That’s easier to agree with in principle before Spotify comes to you waving a very big check to go exclusive on the platform or to acquire your previously independent network of shows. If there’s reason for optimism, it’s that podcasts are so much easier to produce than TV shows, and so much easier to host than video. There’s no need for a YouTube-of-audio. Podcasts aren’t a format that just happens to have thrived on the open independent internet — they’ve thrived because of the open independent internet.

Thursday, 17 February 2022