How Are Apple Podcast Subscriptions Going?

Are the big podcasting platforms making it easy for new subscription businesses to grow?

Apple released a new type of chart last week, showing the relative success of its new Apple Podcast Channels product. This is the thing where you can group together shows, or offer a single show, and then make it something that people can pay real money to subscribe to.

Here’s the pay-for list (with some context on each offer courtesy of Podnews)…

  1. Wondery+ from Wondery (“Get ad-free listening, early access & exclusives”)

  2. Luminary from Luminary (“Unlock network of award-winning Luminary Originals”)

  3. Sword and Scale +PLUS Light from Incongruity (“Get INSTANT ACCESS to all +PLUS Episodes!”)

  4. TenderfootPlus+ from Tenderfoot TV (“Join now for ad-free listening & exclusive content”)

  5. PushNik from Pushkin Industries (“Uninterrupted Pushkin Shows & Exclusive Episodes”)

  6. QCODE+ from QCODE (“Uninterrupted Listening + Exclusive Bonus Episodes”)

  7. Imperative Premium Series from Imperative Entertainment (“Premium Narrative Series. Ad-free & Early Access.”)

  8. Podimo Deutschland from Podimo (“Let yourself be entertained by captivating stories”)

  9. U Up? from Betches Media (“Subscribe for bonus eps, ad-free & early release”)

  10. The Handoff from CNN (“Exclusive, ad-free access to The Handoff podcast.”)

The top end is pretty self-explanatory. Wondery and Luminary are operators that have always had strong subscription offers. But if the idea of using a different app to Apple Podcasts was what stopped someone signing up, then this reduces that friction to get people to part with their cash. Though it would be interesting to know how many swapped their sub from the native platform to the Apple one…

Much of the rest of the top eight are content providers who have communities that are used to being monetised, or brands that are used to doing it.

The ones that are interesting to me are the bottom two. These are not massive podcasts.

The CNN one’s a weekly show with Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo which you can get ad-free. It’s only available in selected countries (it doesn’t work here in the UK) and hovers at around the 200 mark in the Apple Podcasts US chart.

U Up? at number nine is more interesting. It’s not that popular a show (generally sits at 50 in the US Society and Culture Apple Podcast chart). One of the hosts, Jared Fried is a comedian with 50k followers on Twitter/240k on Instagram - not exactly Adele.

They’re definitely making the most of the platform though. There’s two bonus eps a month, all their episodes are ad-free, and go up a day early.

I’d just be surprised if they’re doing that much business. A couple of thousand subscribers at most? For a small-ish show that’s not too bad - 2,000 X £2.49 (what they’re charging) results in about £5k, so about £3.2k/month after the Apple fees perhaps?

But looking at the shows that have made it to the chart, I think collectively it demonstrates that the subscription functionality is just not being used that much at the moment - by content creators or consumers.

It’s a shame as Apple’s infrastructure to deliver it all, in-app, is pretty neat. But there’s loads of problems with it.

Firstly, the merchandising around it is quite poor. There’s nowhere I can put enough imagery and text to sell what I’m doing. There’s no real way of providing any structure or narrative to the shows in my channel - I can’t really curate a storefront. It also doesn’t allow any real customisation across multiple territories. I can’t create something in Spanish for Spain with special pricing and then have a different price structure in the UK. Though I hear some international adjustments are on the way.

Anyone who works in e-commerce knows how important iterating offers, text and imagery is - you just can’t do any of that on the platform.

Apple also doesn’t allow you to integrate any podcast CMS systems with their own proprietary, Apple Podcasts Connect service. The admin of uploading all the show information to a podcast CMS and then repeating the process for their one is a pain point for organisations with a number of staff who all input into ‘the podcast’.

Spotify have created their own oAuth based system that allows subscription providers to allow their subscribers to hear paywalled content in Spotify. Whilst useful, all of these platforms lack scale and aren’t that understandable except for the techno-literate. Spotify’s alternative ‘click in the app to subscribe’ service has to bounce you to a third party as they can’t offer this as in-app purchase without paying an Apple tax.

Fundamentally though, having subscriptions on Apple, a super-clunky form of subscriptions on Spotify (for some providers) and then consumer-unfriendly private podcast feeds for other apps is a massive mess that makes selling subscriptions to users almost pointless.

If Apple and Spotify inter-op’d with the main podcast CMS platforms rather than forcing us to use their systems, and maybe worked together (shock) on a standard, then they (and us) would all enjoy far more success.

In the meantime creators are stuck trying to sellotape over their systems and waste time on shows and online to (try and) make it easy for consumers to understand. Their time is better spent elsewhere. Something many podcasters and audio businesses have already realised.

It’s especially frustrating as the relationships that shows have with listeners is eminently monetisable and consumers would love a one-click way to support shows, whichever app they use.

The Media Podcast

In other news, the Media Podcast is back for a new season, but with a big change. The excellent Olly Mann has moved on from hosting duties and they’ve only gone and asked me to sit in as a cover jock. So, for the next few months at least, you can hear me present it alongside a brilliant range of guests and topics.

The show’s fortnightly and you can get it on any podcast platform (without paying to subscribe), though it doesn’t stop you slinging the producers a few quid, to thank them for their hard work.

On this week’s show we talk about GB News and Andrew Neil, Doctor Who’s new show-runner, Netflix’s Roald Dahl acquisition and even a bit on RAJAR too. Go have a listen.