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Leading podcasters meet with Apple to discuss future of the medium
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MacNN Staff
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May 9, 2016, 07:44 AM
A group of industry leading podcasters has recently met with Apple at its Cupertino headquarters to discuss the future of the medium, reports the The New York Times. According to a some of those who attended the closed door sessions, over two dozen leading podcasters were invited to meet with Apple employees to discuss the state of podcasting on the iTunes Store, and various issues that are vexing some of the top podcasters. With the podcasting audience growing from an audience of 46 million in 2015 to an estimated 57 million this year, many of the grievances stem from a podcasting backend on iTunes that has remained largely unchanged since 2005.

With the backend largely unchanged since 2005, tools that could help podcasters better understand their audience, for one thing, are missing. The level of granularity that app developers get in terms of audience analytics, for example, is almost completely absent from Apple's podcasting platform. At best, podcasters can get raw information about the number of downloads that their podcasts achieve. Apple, however, has much more information about who is downloading podcast episodes that could help podcasters better monetize their shows.

"We have more people than ever focused on podcasting, including engineers, editors and programmers," Apple senior vice president said to The New York Times in a statement. "Podcasts hold a special place with us at Apple," Cue added. However, as ads are often embedded within the podcast, much like they are on a live radio show, Apple does not stand to gain anything from helping address the concerns of podcasters. In contrast, whenever there is a monetary transaction between a developer and a customer, or via an in-app advertisement, Apple takes a 30 percent cut. Apple does not allow podcasters to charge for downloads, nor does it allow them to charge subscription fees, as some would like.

With podcasters feeling as though they are outgrowing the old infrastructure for podcasting on iTunes, it leaves Apple and the podcasting industry at a cross-road. There isn't a whole lot of financial incentive for Apple to advance the podcasting platform beyond where it currently exists, while it already has its hands full with addressing App Store developer complaints about App Store discovery and curation. It will be interesting to watch the space as it continues to grow in popularity and what, if anything, Apple does to address the issues.

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( Last edited by NewsPoster; May 9, 2016 at 07:48 AM. )
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May 9, 2016, 10:20 AM
Let's hope Apple's leadership has the good sense to be unlike Amazon. Amazon hoards anonymous but useful data about those who buy books and ebooks, making life difficult for publishers and authors. Utlimately, that obsession with control probably hurts Amazon's own profits. Apple needs to realize that podcasters help its sales even when they're not a line item on Apple's income statement. In my case, the ability to play podcasts ranks second only to being a phone in why I own an iPhone. Quibbling about ads is silling. Podcasters sell iPhones and deserve all the assistance Apple can offer them. When podcasts succeed, Apple succeeds.
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May 9, 2016, 10:52 AM
>Utlimately, that obsession with control probably hurts Amazon's own profits.<

Pretty sure they have that figured out. What is profitable or not, I mean. Same as Apple. It's called business.
Charles Martin
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May 9, 2016, 11:32 AM
Inkling: Amazon's data is absolutely not anonymous. They may anonymize that data when discussing trends with authors and publishers, but its not anonymous to them.

robttwo: if profits is the measure of "business" knowledge, then Apple is several orders of magnitude smarter than Amazon. Amazon seems to have finally figured it out after 21 years (maybe), but the number of quarters it has reported a profit during that time can likely be counted on your two hands.
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Steve Wilkinson
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May 9, 2016, 11:14 PM
First, here's a good article to read before going any further:
Appleā€™s actual role in podcasting: be careful what you wish for

The NYT article was clearly written by someone who doesn't understand podcasting. And, from what was said, it sounds more like these 'leading podcasters' were probably some of the big traditional media folks who've recently jumped into the podcasting game (like NPR, etc.). They don't seem to get podcasting either, and have been unhappy with the metrics in comparison to what they are used to (for example, one of the NPR groups said that podcast metrics are like the 'wild wild west'). (Which, BTW, is total baloney. The podcast metrics are superior to traditional media metrics in many ways. They have actual number rather than shot-gun broadcasting and guesses based on small sample surveys.)

So, I think we need to take this with a grain of salt. As Todd Cochrane, CEO of RawVoice recently noted on one of the podcasts he was on, there are folks in the industry who'd like to see podcasting turned into on-demand streaming ONLY, so that they can have more control over the metrics and delivery (think YouTube). That would be really horrible if it happened to podcasting!

And, actually Apple doesn't have all that much info (not that I'm against Apple making available what they have). They probably have some data on what iTunes accounts play individual episodes. They know who subscribes to what (via iTunes store... but not outside of that). They could write their Podcast app to phone-home data about what was played and for how long (if users didn't complain). But, that data isn't as good as people think. For example, my Apple ID is used by the whole family, so would be somewhat useless for data on gender, income, age, etc.

Podcasters *already* have very good data if they signup for statistics from a good podcast host like LibSyn or Blubrry. Like I said earlier, it's more and better data than any traditional broadcaster or media outlet has ever had (if the complaint really is that they need it to monetize their podcast).

Most podcasts are pretty niche too, so they know their audience quite well. Advertisers need to be educated on podcasting, so they understand the extreme value represented compared to the traditional, interruptive, shot-gun approach and payment in CPM. For example, if you're a company that sells rods and reels, a few hundred listeners to a fly-fishing podcast would be gold compared to thousands, of listeners to some mainstream media program.

re: "At best, podcasters can get raw information about the number of downloads that their podcasts achieve. Apple, however, has much more information about who is downloading podcast episodes that could help podcasters better monetize their shows."

Here's the problem with this. Apple is just a podcast DIRECTORY. They don't host the files. And, in fact, once someone subscribes, they are feed directly by wherever the RSS feed is hosted. Apple knows far less about what's going on than that host does. For Apple to get that kind of info, they'd have to host the files and control the experience end-to-end. No, we DO NOT want to go there!

Monetization is a whole different animal. For Apple to have paid subscriptions, likewise, they'd have to control it end-to-end. Otherwise, who's going to pay to subscribe via iTunes when they could just go listen to the podcast directly? There are better ways to distribute podcasts if you want them be private and paid, but that's mostly an unsuccessful model anyway. A much better model is podcast-host announced ads, sponsorships, and/or value-for-value models where the community supports the podcast. There are places that make that pretty easy, like Patreon.

To put this another way, there isn't really a problem that needs solved here. This, IMO, is a grab-attempt by big-media to get control of this renegade platform that's starting to compete with them. And, they are hoping Apple will help. Another reason this is important, is that Google is now getting into the game with Google Play. And, we can probably guess who Google would side with.

There *IS* a lot for Apple to fix in regard to podcasting. For example, they could make the Podcast app more stable. They could fix search for the podcast area, or heck, the whole App Store! They could put a few more people on the job and communicate a bit better with podcasters (which it seems they are doing lately). But, what whoever this groups they met with recently - if the reporting is accurate - is NOT what most of the podcast community wants.
Steve Wilkinson
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