What is Apple Building Next in Podcasting?
February 28, 2020
Disclosure: I've been planning and considering this opinion piece for close to 9 months but wanted to fully collect my thoughts and let a few other players move their podcast industry chess pieces a little further before I fully rounded out my ideas. I have no inside information on anything I write about here, this is just my opinion based on working day-to-day in the podcasting industry.
I'm an unabashed Apple fanboy.
Ever since my Dad bucked the trend in his electrical business and bought an Apple Macintosh back in the early 90s I've been fascinated.
Looking back at the charmingly dated information technology classes in school later that decade, I was encouraged to explore the Macintosh further and as I take stock of my college years, where translucent Macs would adorn the music tech labs ready for me to fire some tunes into Cubase via a Roland keyboard, I can truly say that I've been delighted by Apple's eye for design and usability ever since.
Of course, I didn't know why Apple appealed to me then – their stuff was just cool.
As I grew older and in particular, as I started my adventures in business in 2005 I became enamoured to Steve Jobs and his distinctly unique leadership of Apple along with taking a keen interest in how he trusted his gut, managed to create new categories of product and how, when entering a new industry, he would follow that gut and a seemingly unwavering vision to often transform the industry that he was playing in at the time.
Animation, music, video consumption, computing and mobile technology – all industries that have been radically disrupted at some point by Apple and Steve Jobs.
Love him or loathe him, it's hard to deny the impact that Jobs had on the world in innumerable ways.
There are far more names at Apple that deserve credit, too. From the public-facing tech-world celebs such as current CEO, Tim Cook and designer Jony Ive through to the engineers, designers, marketers, agencies, manufacturers and more that helped to turn Apple into the global force that it is today.
Since its inception, Apple has done things Apple's way – and again, whether you love it or loathe it, that will undoubtedly never change.
But there is one thing that has been a constant throughout Apple's entire lifecycle:
Jobs personified the very essence of the Apple brand through his well-documented attention to every minor detail, from product to marketing – Apple is a brand that is rooted in disruption, simplicity, user experience and completely intuitive products that “just work”.
Looking back through history, it's the most obvious reason that Jobs flat out refused to offer Apple's hardware to third-party operating systems and why the company has always adopted a closed technology ecosystem.
The experience to the user matters and Apple wants to control every facet of that experience.
Sure, the financial remuneration that comes with controlling an ecosystem is pretty attractive too, but it's not as nice for the PR team.
Brand and ecosystem are the two lines of thought that brought me here today and specifically, to Apple Podcasts.
Has Apple really ignored podcasting?
Right now, Apple is being out-branded in podcasting.
But, I'm not sure this is by accident and nor do I believe that this is due to apathy, either.
I've written about this before but we should remember for one moment that Apple provides much of the core infrastructure that allows podcasting to run free – heck, “pod” is Apple through-and-through – and whilst I also believe that Apple's core API poses a bit of risk to the industry, I only believe that it would become a risk if Apple ever starting charging for it.
Which they won't.
I wrote a piece about this in 2019, specifically discussing the fact that Apple's API drives many of the platforms that we know and love and, should they ever begin charging for it, that risk would be realised – of course, that thought exercise was lambasted and next, I was somewhat condescendingly reminded, as if I'd forgotten, that other companies have similar stocks of podcast show data that could be accessed via API to provide a similar service – for a fee, of course.
The irony in their comments, I believe, was lost on them but only served to highlight the point.
The point I'm making here is that Apple has let the podcasting space breathe and grow – whether on purpose or through inaction because, as a company, it has had no major interest in focussing too much commercial energy on it: it just wasn't an industry that could make them any money.
That isn't a criticism – it's an observation based on the sheer amount of new companies now hitting the podcasting space – they aren't doing it to be nice, they're doing it to make money and just like them, Apple is a business.
The landscape has changed dramatically, though – not only over the last fifteen years but over the last four.
Before that, Anchor was still the awkward cousin; Serial was only a few weeks old yet taking the podcasting scene by storm; branded content wasn't anywhere near as common as it is now; the industry certainly wasn't producing anywhere near the $1 billion in revenue that it is predicted to generate in 2020 or 2021 (depending on who you read).
In short: podcasting was our industry and we felt like it was big business – we were making a living from it and we were seeing growth every single year – but it wasn't an “industry”, yet.
That was yet to come.
And so, Apple can probably be forgiven for sitting back and watching – hopefully taking stock of where the puck would be and not where it was back then.
There was no need to do anything for a brand like Apple, a brand that averaged $1 billion in sales per day during the 2019 holiday season.
It would have been like Oprah deciding to enhance her revenue streams by getting a paper-round (wait, it's “paper-route” in the U.S., right?).
Ok, that's a little flippant, but it highlights the point and, to quote ol' Bob, the times they are a-changin'.
They changed when Spotify entered the game.
And that's when Apple began to be out-branded.
With it's presumable KPI of “time spent in-app” and its land grab for a share of the audio market, Spotify dove into the space with a one-two punch of acquisitions, snapping up Gimlet Media and Anchor followed by Parcast and The Ringer, later.
Initially, many began to wonder why, but the signs were clear.
After all, Spotify must pay artists for music so a move to acquire a team that can create stellar original audio content was hardly a surprise. Plus, podcast creators want and need the eyes and ears that Spotify's distribution platform can bring to their content.
Nor was the acquisition of Anchor's tech stack a surprise – it is a tech stack that can broadly be broken down into two constituent parts: podcast creation & hosting and ad-tech.
With the roll-out of Spotify's ad-insertion technology, it's easy assume that the company's acquisition of Anchor was not actually thanks to VC pressure but that perhaps, it was strategically considered to accelerate their position as a major network player and to cement the notion that Spotify can handle major ad transactions in the podcasting space.
After all, why build something when you can buy it?
As for Anchor's creation and podcast hosting tech – we'll see where that ends up, I have no doubt, but for now, it's business as usual for Anchor, the platform.
Moving past their ad-tech, Spotify has put a focus not only on trying to encourage podcast listeners to listen more but also on educating non-podcast listeners that podcasting exists and that they should give it a whirl – both core components of the Podcast Discoverability Triangle that I wrote about.
They're all in on podcasting because it fits their strategic vision of being the number one source of on-demand audio in the world. Fancy.
Spotify is a fairly young brand and a brand fresh out of the startup boom, with its bold messaging and outstanding advertising campaigns – campaigns that, to be fair, Apple does match punch-for-punch in quality and delivery across other parts of its business – but, Spotify seems to understand its podcasting audience better than Apple does.
After all, Spotify is the punchy little “startup that could” and that, frankly, has. Spotify seems to listen to the user data more and more as time progresses, matching its brand approach and positioning very very closely with the types of podcasts that the Spotify listener chooses.
And so we arrive back at my point: in the podcasting space, this is absolutely where Apple is being out-branded right now: not only when it comes to understanding listeners but in acting to help podcasters understand themselves more – the Spotify podcaster dashboard, for example, is simply nicer and the Spotify year-end wrap-up for podcast creators and podcast listeners was a stroke of social marketing genius.
But again, I think that Apple is ok with this.
Let's look backwards again for a moment to add context.
Apple, whilst inventing much, tends to do so in areas that have potential but that, at times, struggle to find product-market fit.
The iPhone revolutionised the second-screen experience and created the “app” industry, it didn't invent phone calls, text messaging or mobile internet; the iPad didn't invent the category of tablet computing, it just made us really want a tablet (and that was after the Newton!); the iPod wasn't the first mp3 player but the marketing was stunning; AirPods weren't the first wireless headphones but heck, they're cool and the Pros are just unreal.
We can go further, though.
A glance at 101 things that Android phones had before the iPhone will leave you surprised by at least one or two items, I have no doubt.
It's a fascinating read and it's very easy to look at Apple as simply taking what already works and implementing it to “catch-up”.
But when you really look at it, that isn't what Apple does.
No, what Apple does is let others test the market; Apple lets other companies do much of their research for them, Apple lets companies educate the market on their buck and then Apple looks & listens before launching something that takes what already exists and turns it into something easier to use, often more fun to use and that Apple brands to the hilt with their “name everything” approach before creating a launch buzz and treating each tiny detail as a game-changing experience.
And, based on that article the average time between Android receiving a feature and Apple rolling the same out seems to be between 12 and 18 months (that's eye maths, if you want to do the average from those dates, go for it – just holler at me and I'll update this).
Follow this through to the logical conclusion and let's ask the question: has Apple done something similar in podcasting?
I think we're about to find out.
2020 has plenty in store for the podcasting space and the Apple team, I believe, will not be left out.
After all, we know that Apple is heavily recruiting within its podcasting teams, with recent postings seeking out:
- Apple Podcasts, Head of Partner Relations – You will oversee all new and existing relationships with podcast creators.
- Podcasts Server Engineer – As part of our team, you’ll work with software engineering teams throughout Apple to make Podcasts a truly cross-platform experience.
- Software Engineer, Apple Podcasts – The Podcasts client team is seeking a uniquely talented software engineer with a mix of skills in Swift, Objective-C, automation, testing, integration engineering, and bug triage.
- Product Designer, Podcasts – The ideal designer will have a passion for taking on complex problems and designing elegant, simple solutions that surprise and delight users.
- Business Planning, Apple Podcasts – The people here at Apple don’t just create products — they create the kind of wonder that’s revolutionized entire industries. The primary focus of this role is Apple Podcasts.
- iOS Engineer – Podcasts, Apple Media Products – Podcasts Client Engineering is a small, focused team that builds the Podcasts experience used by millions of people across all of our platforms including iOS, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and HomePod. As a critical member of our small team, you may find yourself working on innovative new UI/UX, networking code that can deliver continuous podcast playback under the most adverse of conditions, or designing, instrumenting, and analyzing user behaviour metrics. Bonus points if you have experience in privacy, accessibility, analytics, search, or recommendations
- Product Manager, Apple Podcasts, Personalization – You will be responsible for building out our personalization strategy, trying innovative tactics and evangelizing the critical importance of the cycle of testing, learning, and iterating to unlocking core product engagement. You will evaluate the competitive landscape, and look for opportunities to innovate!
courtesy of Podjobs.net and jobs.apple.com
Let's distil those positions down to two assumptions:
Apple is making new, more user-centric podcast software and looking to work with even more creators to, in turn, drive the user base up.
I've been pondering for a while about what the best next step for Apple Podcasts would be and, despite having absolutely no inside knowledge on this, I've been looking at it through the lens of Apple approaching things as they typically do and also the potential growth of the on-demand audio industry over the next decade.
More than that, though, I've been considering Apple's recent shift away from being just a hardware and software company and looking at the shift to MRR (monthly recurring revenue) models.
For the longest time, the mainstay of Apple's business has been hardware.
Sure, they make decent software too in certain niches though usually this has been packaged with the hardware into one marketable package.
Looking at the developments over the last few years in Apple Music, Apple TV and Apple Arcade it's very clear that tying people into an ecosystem continues to be Apple's play but that the modern, general market is now way more receptive to the kinds of subscriptions that we're seeing through those types of services.
Coincidentally – or perhaps not – we're seeing the adoption or the recognition of podcasting as a consumption option for more and more people every year according to the wonderful research carried out by Tom Webster and his Edison Research team.
In 2019's Podcast Consumer report, it was reported that 70% of Americans aged 12+ are now familiar with podcasting and that number will likely only rise during 2020 and beyond.
The market has been educated.
Sorry – re-enter Apple. Perhaps that's apter.
The reason I mention podcasting's growth is that with growth comes the flood of money. Recently there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the newly minted The Podcast Academy and its Golden Mic Awards that were announced at Podcast Movement Evolutions in Los Angeles recently.
I don't want to discuss that in-depth here – I was in the room for it and in the corridors afterwards – one of the contentious points raised is that “big business podcasting” could bring with it the notion of gatekeepers – controllers of the industry who may not be quite as altruistic as some in podcasting would like.
If we look up the word “gatekeeper” we're presented with the following definition:
a person or thing that controls access to something
And, whilst RSS feeds are open, accessible and usable by anyone with access to the Internet, podcasting apps that take those feeds and wrap an experience around them so that non-techies can enjoy the contents of the feed are the gatekeepers whether they like it or not.
And the biggest podcast app for the last decade has been maintained and developed by?
Apple. The de facto gatekeepers of the podcasting industry and the gatekeepers that, whilst at times being a little slow to give podcasters what they want, have let podcasting simply “be”, without exercising any of the power that the sheer mass of Apple Podcasts users automatically grants them.
So, What's next for Apple Podcasts?
I have a range of thoughts on this so I decided to break it all down into segments, along with specifics around why I think Apple could or should do something and why I think Apple couldn't or shouldn't do something.
Listener Ecosystem, Payment Processing & Creator Monetization
First, let's discuss the ecosystems: Apple is splitting out is app offerings when Spotify is consolidating its app offering.
Read: all audio experience is inside one Spotify app and very shortly after Spotify rolled in podcasting to its main music app, Apple retired iTunes and did the exact opposite, splitting out Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and then introducing the Apple TV software.
This is interesting to me for several reasons.
As I mentioned earlier, Spotify likely has KPIs that map to time spent in-app, per user and the introduction of cross-promotional playlists that mix music and podcasts speaks to that.
But, there's no way to increase my lifetime value to them as a customer.
”What the Ek, where's my cut of the ad revenue?!”
Outside of the mass roll-out of ads and using podcast creators to drive revenue in a way that generally pisses smaller creators off, Spotify only has one bite at the cherry right now when it comes to monetizing me as a customer: my Spotify Premium subscription is quite literally the only thing that I pay them for.
Sure, they will likely add micro-transactions to the platform at some point, but this is where Apple has the edge if the team acts quickly on it.
Not only could they allow me, as a podcast creator, to offer chargeable inbuilt bonus content via their snazzy “bonus” content-type tag introduced in 2017, but if they wanted to they could even charge some listeners a subscription fee each month for “premium” podcasts which, regardless of your thoughts on them, are a valid business model as the industry grows up.
That means that Apple, the business, has a way of generating multiple recurring revenue streams from me each month via Apple Podcasts, Apple TV, Apple Arcade, Apple Music, etc.
Oh and guess what, Apple already has the model for how to do revenue shares: the App Store, Apple Books, Apple Music, Apple TV – mapping out similar deals for creators that give listeners a way to support their favourite shows directly in-app would go a long, long way to turning the brand tide in Apple's favour.
Does their cut equate to more than Patreon, et al?
But does anyone else doing that in podcasting have the sheer number of app users? Nope.
For Apple, this is a fairly easy product to build out, too, in the grand scheme of things.
Having said that, if I was the one working within Apple I would also make a strong business case that juxtaposed first-mover advantage in creator support against the extremely low ROI from the required feature set.
After all, listener support is still fairly nascent in the industry and although this is one possible future of the indie creator space, it isn't “ad dollar” level and won't be for a very, very long time, if ever at all.
So, is 30% of that revenue enough to build a business case upon, or does Apple develop that feature purely to reposition the brand in podcasting?
Apple Podcasts Android App
More specifically it is a link to the Apple Music app on the Google Play store. That's right, an Apple app on Android – because it fits a business model.
As podcasters, we know discoverability is a huge problem and that podcasting was massively aided by the inclusion of the Apple Podcasts app as a default app in iOS.
However, Android still poses a problem for podcasters and listeners alike.
Sure, some outstanding apps work on Android but outside of Spotify, there's no real heavy-hitting podcast brand that has a recognisable app within the Google Play store.
The usual reasons positing that Apple wouldn't do this don't necessarily apply anymore, either, as Apple isn't averse to working with other ecosystems as much as it used to be. It can't be with the shift to a subscription model for many of its services.
Apple releasing a podcast app on Android is unpalatable for some, but for Apple to maintain and more importantly, grow market share in the podcasting space the company needs a podcasting presence on Android.
Again, this is not a gigantic piece of development for Apple and the job listings mentioned earlier in this piece point to something happening in this space, along with…
A Redesigned Apple Podcasts App for All Devices
Podcast listeners are becoming a little pickier these days aren't they when it comes to their apps of choice.
And the bottom line is, it all comes down to the experience – for the privacy savvy, Overcast is the platform of choice, for example.
Sadly and somewhat surprisingly for a company that is known for its experiential design, Apple's podcast app on iOS isn't the finest example of a podcasting app that puts the listener first nor is the finest example of highly considered UX work.
But, it's fair to say that an Apple Podcasts iOS app redesign is coming fairly soon, especially given the job roles that Apple has been recruiting for in the podcasting team and I have no doubt that it will be well received if they get it “right”.
I made sure to put “right” in quotations because “right” is extremely subjective and the second Twitter doesn't like something, everyone with an Internet connection somehow has ten years experience in UI design.
However, I would urge Apple to work proactively with the hosting companies like us here at Captivate and the plethora of others before releasing and even building UX flows and UI prototypes for the new Apple Podcasts app – that way, we can work together on what listeners can benefit from not just now, but in the future, too.
Why is this important?
Well, not only because hosting companies like us and our peers are the ones driving RSS innovations forward, but because, from the perspective of a listener, Spotify is crushing it with their app in my opinion.
Regardless of whether you like your music and podcasts in one place or whether you like them split out into their own apps (I don't care as long as each is given the right care & attention), it's hard to argue that Spotify's most recent updates aren't a huge step for podcasting within its user experience and right now, Apple Podcasts is being hugely out-branded in this area.
As an example, Spotify seems to have looked at the data on its users and integrated sharing options that match their users' demographics and behaviour, for example, the ability to share to an episode to an Instagram story.
Don't bet that Spotify has finished in this area, either.
I expect much more shareability of audio from Spotify in the podcasting space over the coming year as it tries to grab new podcast listeners and pull them into the Spotify ecosystem first.
There's a real chance that, unless Apple not only “keeps up” here but goes all in and tries to leapfrog Spotify in innovation with the Apple Podcasts app, people new to consuming podcasts may never even touch an Apple app to listen to one.
Wouldn't that be curious?
A New Apple Podcasts Connect
If Spotify is integrating with sharing tools like Instagram Stories, for example, isn't it only a matter of time before we start to see data on how many listeners shared our episodes across the various social apps?
As one piece of a bigger picture, that kind of data is useful to a podcaster and Spotify's podcaster dashboard already gives a fair amount of information to creators right now, with more to come I anticipate.
To be fair, the data in Apple Podcasts Connect is fine, too – kind of, showing listening drop-offs for listens in the Apple apps and so on – but we know that Apple has more data that could be presented to us in a quality dashboard.
Integrating share data from the Apple Podcasts app ecosystem, plus the number of subscribers in that ecosystem would be a great start to things and would make many a podcaster happy.
The point here is again, for Apple to get ahead of this.
Apple right now shouldn't be looking at catching up – they're already being lambasted for being “behind” so, for my money, they should be slowing down a tad and talking to as many podcasters as possible, maybe even holding off on any Podcasts Connect updates until they're confident that they can design a product that innovates in the space.
Understanding what data stories can be crafted, designed and delivered to a podcaster is something that Podcasts Connect could really deliver on – much like Spotify's end of year wrap – and given the market share and the charts, these are things that could be way more immersive, interesting and ultimately: useful.
Will this happen?
Apple Podcasts Connect will get an update at some point within the next 12-18 months, of that I'm fairly confident – the real question though is how far Apple is willing to innovate and how much they're willing to give to creators when they do update it.
A curious step that Apple could explore in this space, too, is helping to refine metrics across the whole industry by being a little more open with their data.
Whilst I don't see the need for Apple to work any more closely with bodies such as The IAB, that'd be like JJ putting Luke front and centre of The Force Awakens, it'd be too much of a big fish swimming around the pond and potentially distracting from other voices – but, certainly beginning to work with hosting platforms on passing data through to them would be a huge leap forward in helping to understand genuine listener behaviour anonymously.
For Podcasts Connect, a re-skin isn't enough – Podcasts Connect has to change the game for a creator and knowing that the people at Apple seem to want to put creators first, there's hope here.
I'd maybe consider changing the name, though – it's not so sexy is it – Spotify has The Spotify Podcaster Dashboard, Google has its Google Podcast Publisher Tools – let's go with The Podcast Creator Console or something that does what it says on the tin.
iAd existed. Apple is not new to ad-tech.
But, Apple also seemingly respects privacy within its brand values, hence the ability to now sign up to Apple integrated logins using a “spoofed”, Apple provided email address to keep your personal data just that.
Podcasting’s privacy discussions have only just begun.
As companies like our Captivate company continue to add our voices & values to the privacy mix and partially inspire events such as PRX’s first privacy symposium, it’s clear that privacy is a hot topic in the industry right now.
There's a lot of fear-mongering about privacy in certain corners of the podcasting space, though – from GDPR and CCPA concerns to more and more RSS prefix-led aggregation services that collect data and seem to spring up at a rate of knots.
But despite that, podcasting has to shake itself and see where it lands as an industry on privacy and, whilst, Apple could easily bring ad-tech to the podcasting space, it’s the wrong move for the company right now.
It would put Apple in the sights of everyone who either wants podcasting to remain “ad-free” or who believes that privacy is a risk right now to listeners.
This will shake out, but Apple does not need to add fuel to the fire for what would amount to no return for them.
Apple Exclusive Podcasts
I've seen this thrown around in conversation a little but right now, I don't see Apple moving into Apple Exclusive Podcasts either in a paid-for manner like Luminary or a land grab manner like Spotify.
And so, a pay-to-listen monthly subscription model just doesn't make any financial sense for Apple at the moment and nor does an exclusive content strategy that relies on ad sales.
The industry just isn't big enough,
When you look at the growth of companies such as Wondery, you understand the sheer scale of investment and work required to create a show that is not only of the very best quality but that performs financially.
And even then, Wondery only touches content that it can sell Otherwise, what's the point?
Apple doesn't need to create audio IP for licensing to TV or movie studios – Apple just needs to continue to do it the other way around: use the podcasting ecosystem to supplement TV subscriptions.
That's where the cash is and it's why big podcast networks create shows that can be optioned.
Putting out podcast content that is completely designed to support their TV shows is an entirely different strategy: breed stickiness in their TV subscriptions and give the viewer/prospective viewer something to enjoy and be supplemented with outside of the TV experience, so that they continue to reside within the mythology created by the TV show and thus, encouraging the viewer into coming back and continuing to pay for the TV service.
Apple isn't the first company to do this, and it won't be the last; as a Star Wars fan, I can attest to just how powerful supplementary content is to a brand.
Apple Podcasts Education
Spotify is doing a great job of targeting their advertising and marketing at the Podcast Discoverability Triangle podcast marketing concept.
Specifically, they’re educating podcast listeners on new shows (albeit it with plenty of room to do more on that), they’re educating their music audience on the fact that podcasts even exist and as I mentioned earlier, they’re making it easier for us to share what resonates with us to the platforms that we actually use.
Recently, they released the Gimlet Academy series, too, which is aimed at showing podcasters exactly what it takes to produce a Gimlet level show.
In short: Spotify realises that in, order for the market to grow, education has to be delivered to all concerned parties – from creators to listeners alike.
Apple, has a fair start in this area, too.
They run their Apple podcaster marketing suite which, although high-level, is really well executed and pretty helpful.
But there’s more that Apple can and should do here.
Staying on top of relevant, data-driven information, for example, is a great start.
Case in point: advice in their podcast marketing literature tells a podcast creator to close with a link and a call to action in their show when I'd be willing to bet that the data that Apple holds shows that this is probably the worst place to put a link or call to action because listeners tail off towards the end.
There’s a real opportunity here to tie their podcast marketing education into data from Apple Podcasts Connect (or whatever they name it, see above :p) to inform people more specifically on what the trends are in podcasting consumption.
Even without giving specific show data, they could easily link the advice they give to the useful data that they possess.
Hey, put your links in before here because this is the average percentage through listening that we see in the industry…
I can see Apple continually updating their podcast marketing suite, of course, and I'd like to them make it easier to find the tools that they provide such as link generation, banners, etc but will they go so far as to educate based on usable data?
I'd like to think so, but I don't see it being something they'd do quickly – it'd raise too many support questions and they'd need to justify the findings which, for a company without a big financial stake in the industry, might just be too much resource to throw at it.
But, whilst we're throwing fantastically ideas around, why not go one step further and open a creator fund that helps people who need to share their voice to do it with the support that they need.
Not a fund to find the next big podcasting star or look for a little ROI, but perhaps something a little more altruistic to help those who feel under represented to find the representation that they so very much deserve, using a medium that is easily accessible and oh-so personal.
Wouldn't it also be fun to see regular “How to Start a Podcast” workshops in Apple Stores, too?
Maybe even some podcast recording studios – I mean, if Staples can do it…
Doubtful, I know.
One big reason for that last part, in particular, being so doubtful is that they'd have a software problem…
Apple Podcast Creation Software
Anchor must have hurt.
Once the darling of Apple’s App Store and podcast creation marketing within the Apple ecosystem, Anchor must have become a bit of a pariah at Apple space since the surprise purchase by Spotify.
But would Apple do anything similar?
Well, there are arguments for and arguments against this.
First, Apple runs and maintains Garageband and Logic Pro, two audio editing tools that could easily integrate with a hosting platform like Captivate or any one of the others out there. And, of course, Apple could easily do something with their voice recording tech to make it easy to record across the Internet, I have no doubt.
It’s not a huge job, not compared to designing and building a new iPhone, anyway.
But what’s the point?
Where do we, if we're Apple, make our money?
If I'm in business development at Apple, it's the first question that I ask and if there's barely any money to be made because of 1. We don't need the vast library of creator content that Anchor has on the books nor are we 2. Interested in ad tech in or ad revenue via podcasting right now, then why create the problems that come with serving an audience that will shout very loudly if something isn't quite right?
The only other reason to build or acquire the component pieces of a platform like this would be to position Apple in podcasting and get ahead of where the industry growth comes from over the next decade.
It would be a brand play – a complete positioning tool to bring Apple back to the head of the podcasting technology ecosystem and that is the only reason to even consider this from Apple’s perspective.
Thinking bigger, this is a strong way for Apple to own podcasting by giving something away for free that gets people started easily – it’s why Anchor did so well and why many in the podcasting business hated it, to the point where many continue to hate it.
In my view, anything that gets people started quickly and easily and that gives them a taste of what they can progress to is lead generation for the rest of the businesses that sell things to podcasters.
Will Apple move into this space?
Doubtful in 2020.
Beyond that? It’s a risk predicated on the industry’s continued growth.
Apple Podcasts Aiding Podcast Discovery
When we say there's a podcast discoverability problem, what we mean is that independents or the smaller shows that are of great quality and hit a certain audience or niche are hard to find.
Constantly the bigger shows, the more popular shows and the shows who have an “in” with people in the podcatchers are featured, and I get that – why would you not promote the shows most likely to garner new users to your podcast listening app because of their wider appeal or VC cash licensed celebrity name?
We never say that blogging had a discoverability problem, though, because if you worked hard on your long-tail SEO, you could generate traffic.
The same with YouTube, you can work hard to understand the algorithms and generate consistently higher traffic if you focus hard on it.
Can we do that in podcasting?
Sure, we can.
Well, kind of.
The charts have been gamed in the past and loopholes closed; New & Noteworthy is the most sporadic part of Apple Podcasts and something that course creators continually advise on how to game in the hopes of providing a much needed quick win to the people buying their products.
But there's no affordable way for an independent podcaster to reliably use the directories that already exist to target listener prospects with marketing or advertising, except perhaps Overcast ads.
And it shouldn't be pay to play. At least not completely.
After all, there is always an element of pay to play: Facebook Ads, Google Ads and every other type of targeted advertising work for any industry looking to increase its traffic.
But imagine introducing that kind of thing as a standard in podcasting, a space that decries anything that feels less “open” than we'd like it.
Recommendations need work within the apps and, although the transcription services running behind the scenes of Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts right now continue to develop and should, theoretically, aid in the long-tail episode discovery of podcasts, there's a heck of a long way to go.
Apple is in an interesting position to be able to help with the discovery of new podcasts, though.
It holds the biggest directory of podcasts on the planet and is an already masterful expert at giving users what they don't even know they want in the hardware space.
I believe that for Apple, this is low hanging fruit and something that the team is working on – and rightly so.
But any new recommendation engines have to do more than recommend the same old stuff, no matter how personalised that same old stuff is to me.
If you see that I like listening to interviews and also seem to be researching a trip to London, don't give me The Joe Rogan Experience because it's an interview show and is an easy one to recommend – give me Your London Legacy instead because it crosses over with my interests and is probably more timely – and that's the kicker, what do I want to listen to right now?.
Let's even push a tad further and adopt a little of the Google approach to podcasting, perhaps, by recommending episodes and not shows – 80% of Tim Ferris's shows I don't find interesting, but the ones that I do find interesting, I find interesting.
Recommendations in most apps right now seem lazy.
Whilst it isn't an easy problem to solve, the sheer mass of listener data that Apple can measure gives them the chance to help people to unearth hidden gems and begins to equalise the exposure of shows to the right audience – this could be a very strong brand story for Apple in these tumultuous “big podcasting versus indie podcasting” times.
Apple is Apple.
The company will never change how it operates in any way that pleases everyone.
But, Apple has a unique opportunity in podcasting right now.
As the dominant technology and dominant consumer platform in the industry for so long, and with the world of podcast creators likely to kick back at anything that Apple does regardless, there’s a liberation in the way that Apple can approach the next one, three, five even ten years in the podcasting industry.
There’s an opportunity to engage with the people within the industry, from the creators to the hosting platforms and if the recent, contentious launch of The Podcast Academy taught anyone anything it’s that the industry has to move forward together to really move forward at all.
Apple should start with revisiting how it helps creators and to do that, it should speak to those like us, like our competitors and to everyone who works with creators to deeply understand their needs. And it should talk to creators who walk the beat every day, from the biggest podcasters down to the starter who is still wondering what this podcasting thing is all about.
From there, there's an opportunity for Apple to create a suite of tools and platforms at relatively low cost to them that will help to drive the industry through the next decade.
Apple might be the only brand in the world that can heavily invest in podcasting without needing to see a return immediately.
Get to it, Apple.