Podcasting has been an important part of my life for more than a decade now; these days, I make roughly half my income from the various shows that I host and produce. That’s why it’s so frustrating when Apple, the de facto leader in podcast discovery, seems to have screwed up what was once its biggest asset in favor of trying to capitalize on a new feature.
Back in April of this year, Apple announced plans to roll out Podcast Subscriptions, which would allow creators to monetize their podcasts with subscriptions that can be purchased directly in the Apple Podcasts app. The company’s Podcasts app is one of the biggest podcast clients in the industry, thanks to Apple’s longstanding position as the most prominent directory of shows and the fact that the app is preinstalled on every iOS device.
Unfortunately, when Apple started rolling out the podcast subscription feature, it came with a (presumably unintended) side effect: new podcast episodes sometimes don’t show up. Back in May, Jason speculated about some of the possible causes, the most likely culprit being Apple changing how it handles podcasts behind the scenes.
But more than two months later, this problem persists. Just this week, I’ve received multiple emails, direct messages, and Twitter replies mentioning that the latest episodes of several of my shows simply aren’t showing up in the Apple Podcasts app. Sometimes it seems to vary by platform or region. Other shows that I’ve put out in the same time period show up as normal. It’s maddeningly inconsistent. And I’m certainly not alone in this, either; when I asked in a Slack community of podcasters if there was anything to do about this other than throw up my hands in frustration, several other hosts could offer nothing but sympathies.
But all of this points to a very serious root issue: a loss of reliability.
The previous incarnation of Apple’s podcasting management tools wasn’t particularly amazing, and at times the system worked in ways that felt capricious and arbitrary.1 But those frustrations have largely hit creators, while the service has generally remained reliable for end users. And given that it’s always been a free service, most creators shrugged and took a “you get what you pay for” mentality.
But the problems with reliability cropped up right around the time that Apple also decided that there was money to be made on podcasts. And much as this might benefit creators, Apple also gets to take its usual 30 percent cut. Awkward.
The bottom line is that it’s a shame that Apple’s addition of a monetization feature has ended up damaging its reputation amongst podcast creators. Consumers, at least, can turn to a different podcast app like Overcast, Castro, or Pocket Casts, all of which seem to have no problem displaying the latest episodes of shows. But some won’t even know that’s an option and, as a result, shows may lose out on listeners and, in some cases, revenue.
As I said above, I do make money from podcasting—just not via Apple’s subscriptions. And it’s started to feel uncomfortably like Apple doesn’t care about podcast creators livelihoods’ unless it’s also getting a cut.
Unfortunately, the options for creators are limited since pulling up stakes on Apple Podcasts—still the place most people find podcasts—is a non-starter. But with competitors like Spotify and Amazon pushing into the market, this doesn’t help Apple’s reputation any. It’s probably not the tipping point that will drive people to abandon Apple’s podcast platform, but it’s another drop in the bucket.
Perhaps, looking back over nearly two decades of Apple stewardship in podcasting, I was naive in thinking that the company’s aims in supporting the free distribution of podcasts were at all altruistic. Maybe they started that way, but at some point, Apple decided it could make podcasting another revenue generator to add into its growing Services portfolio.
I’d like to be proved wrong about this, but I haven’t seen any direct acknowledgment from Apple about this issue over the last two months, much less any indication of what went wrong and how it plans to fix it. And even if Apple does deal with these particular examples2, it doesn’t give me confidence that I won’t run into the problem in the future with these or other shows—or that other creators wouldn’t encounter it as well. That lack of reliability is hardly a recipe for success or trust.