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Apple’s New Podcast Subscription Will Change How You Listen to Podcasts Forever

On Tuesday, Apple announced a redesign of its popular Podcasts app during its Spring Event, offering a premium service package to content creators and overhauling user-facing search features for a more navigable experience. Most significantly, it adds new compensation options for creators that directly compete against third-party creator support platforms like Patreon while also raising the question of creator oversight and potential control of what has been a longtime free-speech space.

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Podcasts, launched in 2006, currently hosts more than two million podcasts and over 48 million episodes. Despite its runaway popularity, it has always been a free app for both users and creators. Creators may sell ads within their podcasts, but Apple, to date, does not receive a percentage of this revenue, and it currently hosts these podcasts on its own dime. With the announcement of its Apple Podcasters Program, which includes the Subscriptions feature, Apple will begin harvesting some revenue from its longtime investment.

“Today, Apple Podcasts is the best place for listeners to discover and enjoy millions of great shows, and we are proud to lead the next chapter of podcasting with Apple Podcasts Subscriptions,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “We’re excited to introduce this powerful new platform to creators around the world, and we can’t wait to hear what they make with it.”

The Podcasters Program is an annual subscription plan for creators that in turn allows them the offer premium subscriptions to listeners. For $19.99, creators may now extend subscribers a seamless means of support in an Apple ecosystem with which they’re already familiar, as well as an all-inclusive experience in which users can unlock ad-free or pre-release episodes without leaving the app. Additional announced features for Podcasters Program creators include greater metadata about their podcasts’ performances, new “Engaged Listeners” to “Listeners by City” functions, and new visualization tools, including the new Episode Performance chart.

In preparation for the announcement, many large podcasting networks and creators, from Tenderfoot TV to The Athletic to Malcolm Gladwell, issued quotes to Apple in support of this new service. “[NPR supports Apple’s] plan to enable a new revenue source for content creators on their platform,” said John F. Lansing, president and CEO of NPR, in the Apple release. “Apple Podcasts Subscriptions will provide another opportunity for listeners to support their favorite podcasters at NPR and our Member stations in our mission to create a more informed public.”

Of course, this is significant for services like Patreon, which have acted as third-party financial support platforms for independent creators while taking a percentage of subscriber fees. With Apple’s new subscription feature, it essentially cuts out these third-party platforms, creating an existential crisis for them. For larger podcasting networks, many of which have developed their own subscription models, it will be interesting to see which migrate to Apple and which retain their own infrastructure.

However, the question remains as to how, with Apple handling its creators’ finances, the company may extend greater oversight over what its creators can and cannot say. Patreon has famously clashed with users when their content, sometimes not even hosted by the platform, has crossed its boundaries. As they say, he who holds the gold makes the rules, and through its Subscriptions program, Apple is entering into the business of being a conduit to its creators’ funding. This becomes a powerful bargaining chip.

On the same day as Apple’s announcement, Facebook announced a slew of new features, which includes a podcasting feature complete with a creator compensation model.

One might believe this is a long-overdue change within the Podcasts platform, which has seen little intervention or innovation in its 15-year history. Creators meanwhile have seen peers like Joe Rogan grow into million-dollar brands. With Apple’s new Subscriptions program, the next generation will have a more seamless way to increase their own revenue.

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