More Podcasts Go Exclusive: Is That Good?
To regular podcast listeners, it’s a phrase as familiar as the tag lines for Squarespace or ZipRecruiter. Usually as the episode is winding down, the podcast host makes a sincere plea. “Be sure to rate and review on (your listening app of choice).” However, that phrasing seems destined to fade away as more podcasts become exclusive to specific platforms. Given the popularity of podcasts (adaptations, for example), could this be a good or a bad thing? Let’s talk it over.
Last Podcast Network The Latest Example
As of February 14th, 2020, the Last Podcast Network became exclusive to Spotify. The network is home to about a dozen shows. However, it is best known for its namesake show, Last Podcast on the Left. LPotL, as it’s known, releases two episodes a week, one a free-form look at the week’s weird news and the other, a heavily-researched episode on a particular topic. Their interests and thus, their episode topics, are wildly varied. Past topics have included everything from “Ghost Cats of the South” to serial killers to a 6-part series on the history of Mormonism. And through their podcast and live shows, they’ve attracted a devoted fanbase.
That fanbase, though, was mostly whelmed when LPotL announced their Spotify deal in November 2019. Some fans, like me, didn’t really care all that much. I already listen to the show through Spotify, so nothing changed for me.
But I can get Spotify. For the fans who live in countries where it’s not available, Spotify-exclusivity was obviously a bigger issue. And then there are the fans who either prefer other podcast apps or just can’t stand Spotify. I can sympathize with them, too.
I don’t particularly like Spotify’s interface for podcasts; for example, it’s ridiculously tedious to mark episodes as played, especially for a show (like LPotL) with hundreds of episodes. That is not, however, the only issue folks have with Spotify. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Despite the semi-tepid response from listeners, LPN and its podcasts went exclusive on Valentine’s Day, after one final reminder. (True to their eclectic spirit, LPotL’s first Spotify-only episode, #400, is the first part in a series about Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.)
What Does Podcast Exclusivity Mean?
composite image via company press kits
Although it seems obvious, this trend could manifest in a few different ways. It could be, for instance, Spotify creating podcasts itself. That would clearly be an attractive prospect for a company like Spotify. Not only could they control everything from the ground up, but they would also…control everything.
In addition, it could mean first-listen deals. That’s where a podcast’s episodes would be available only on a specific platform first, before becoming available elsewhere. This would be similar to how podcasts typically use the membership website Patreon. In case you’re not familiar, Patreon essentially provides a subscription to your favorite content providers. Once you pay a nominal fee each month–sometimes as low as 1 dollar American–then you have access to exclusive content. For podcast listeners, this often means early access to episodes.
And then there are deals like Last Podcast’s, where if you want to listen to any episodes, one platform basically becomes the only game in town. (I say “basically” because podcasts with Patreons are apparently still free to release paid episodes, as LPotL intends to do.)
Expect More Podcasts to Become Exclusive
image via The Ringer
LPotL is the latest, but it certainly won’t be the last. And it won’t be only Spotify. As we learned last year, Apple is reportedly also looking to buy up podcasts. It wouldn’t be surprising to see other other platforms make the move as well. And you know what? It probably ain’t great.
Because as much as I love the freedom and support that the Spotify deal will give my favorite podcast, my memory is long and the internet is short. And in the wee time we’ve been together, I’ve watched Facebook, for example, gobble up other social networks and apps. And so did Google. As author and monopoly expert Matt Stoller wrote, “While Google and Facebook are framed as tech companies, they are in fact advertising companies and middlemen in the flow of information.”
And now Spotify, as Stoller points out, is doing the same thing. Like Google and Facebook, they’re on a buying spree, steamrolling over other digital audio companies. Once they have control of these companies and podcast networks, they can then collect data on your user habits. Then they’ll use the data they collect to target you, Joe or Jane Consumer, specifically. Because like the old saw says, if it’s free to use, then you’re the product.
And that may not bother you, because it doesn’t apply to you. But it could and soon. Last week, Spotify announced plans to buy The Ringer and its podcast network. As that article also says, Spotify had a 29% increase in paid subscribers in the last quarter of 2019. That’s 124 million people paying for the service, more than twice the last reported number for Apple Music. So what will Spotify buy next?
What do you think about podcasts going exclusive? Tell us in the comments below or let us know on social media.
featured image via Last Podcast on the Left/Last Podcast Network
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at email@example.com.