The times they are a-changing, it’s what Bob Dylan used to sing, and Steve Jobs was one of Dylan’s biggest fans. I don’t know what the Apple co-founder would think about the new course of his company in the world of podcasting, but there’s no question it is a big change from the way it has always been since Steve introduced podcasts in iTunes in 2005 until some days ago.
If you are into podcasts but have been living on the Moon here is a good recap of the news. To make a long story short Apple is abandoning its own ways of benevolent gatekeeper of the most comprehensive and open podcast directory, the one that has been used by almost every podcast player, Castamatic included, to move towards a closed, pay-for-subscription model. This is in response to the moves of Spotify and Amazon, who have been moving in the same direction, including podcasts in their offer to subscribers, and locking podcasts in their proprietary apps and behind paywalls.
This is obviously a big change from the open podcasting model, where any show can be subscribed and listened to in any podcast player, on any system or device the user desires.
As developer of Castamatic and podcast producer with 16 years of activity I am very critic of this change for a number of reasons.
Podcasting lets producers and listeners have a close and sincere relationship with no need for intermediaries. The producer has total control of the content, and a sort of tight feedback loop between the quality of the published content and the appreciation of its audience is the secret to many successful shows.
Needless to say this never prevented the developement of a vast ecosystem of companies providing services: podcast players, publishing platforms, production studios, podcast networks, ad networks…
Moving to a closed subscription model means Apple (or Spotify, or Amazon) becomes the owner of the relationship. The podcaster can’t choose to move to a different platform and take his listeners with him. He can’t have the last word on any aspect of the distribution, the revenue sharing, and can even be subject to pressure regarding the contents of his product.
Even more disturbing the listener cannot choose her favorite platform or app where to subscribe and listen to her favorite shows. In the last 15 years the open podcasting eco-system stimulated healthy competition. Even if Apple’s own player had an enormous advantage being free, installed on any of its devices, and occupying prominent positions in any search for podcasting related terms on the App Store, lots of developers could compete by designing and coding fantastic apps with more features being invented and introduced every few months.
A closed ecosystem and paywalls would slow down progress, making exclusive content more prominent than new features in the choice of users’ own favorite podcast app.
The first effects are already here, with shows that disappeared from the Apple Podcast directory in the first days after the announce of the new course, and podcasters finding themselves locked out from their accounts on Apple’s podcast management panel, and unable to restore the availability of their show on both Apple Podcast app and all other independent apps that use the same search engine.
This is the main reason why I decided to introduce Podcast Index as a new search engine inside Castamatic. When you look for a new show, just under the search terms text box you will have the option to chose on which engine to make the search.
Podcast Index is one of many endeavours a collective of podcasters and developers are working on to preserve podcasting as a free platform, independent on any tie with corporate interests. Many more are coming and I will gladly study how to introduce them in Castamatic.
The other feature Castamatic 7.5 introduces is adding and listening to your own content alongside the episodes of your favorite shows. Just copy or move any audio file in the Castamatic/Sideloads folder inside iCloud drive, and they will be showed in a new iCloud playlist. You can even move them in the Favorite and OnTheGo playlists so to mix them with podcast episodes.
Podcasting is the last standing post of the open web, I will fight and work hard to preserve, I’m sure podcast listeners are moved by the same values and will appreciate and support all of this.