By now you may have seen the news that Apple apparently invited seven “top podcasters” to their offices to hear their thoughts about the iTunes podcast directory. The story goes that the entire meeting happened under a non-disclosure agreement, but two of the people there decided to break it. We’re told that amongst the things they asked for were better stats, the ability to sell podcasts, and other bad ideas.
Marco Arment wrote a brilliant article (marco.org/2016/05/07/apple-role-in-podcasting) explaining why these things are bad ideas. The more I think about it the angrier I get with it all. Here are my thoughts.
Who the hell are these so called top podcasters and what on earth do they know about what I want? I guarantee they all live within driving distance of Cupertino. The world of podcasting is enormous, and we range from high end business productions, to the kid in her bedroom. The idea that top podcasters, whoever they are, can speak for all of us is a complete insult. I already struggle with the blinkered view of podcasting as it is. You could be forgiven for thinking that all podcasts are produced in the U.S. It might come as a shock to hear that there are podcasters all over the world, in lots of countries. This is why I’m coming up to twelve years in podcasting and I’ve made basically now effort to be part of the wider podcast community. If I choose to not be part of it, then I can’t be upset when it doesn’t acknowledge me. It was an insult when Google launched podcasting in Google Play and didn’t allow any shows from outside the U.S. to be added to the directory, and it’s an insult when Apple boils and entire industry down to a mystery seven people. I also guarantee that those seven people already knew each other.
Why do we need better stats from Apple? Seriously. Why? Speaking as somebody who has run a podcast network for over a decade I’d like to officially say that I really don’t know what I’d do with better download stats. Plus any stats you get from Apple will only include results for users of iTunes and it’s related apps and services. Lots of people don’t use those things so their behaviour wouldn’t be included in these mystical better stats. How many people use a non-Apple app for podcast listening? They’re just as important as the iTunes people. The only thing I can think of is that these people would like to know things like when we stop listening to a show, or which parts we skip.
Marco already said it, but I’m going to say it too. Be careful what you wish for. Podcasters sell a product that they know isn’t any good. The thing with podcast ads is that nobody listens to them. We all skip over them. We even have podcast apps that let you customise how far it will skip forward in the hope you can cut out an entire ad with a single touch of a button. We all know this. The fact that we know this and podcasters continue to sell ads makes them dishonest. A couple of years ago Tivo brought out a DVR that had a five minute skip button. They billed it as being able to skip entire ad breaks, and TV channels lost their shit. Of course they did. They knew that if people were skipping over their ads, they wouldn’t be able to sell those ads for as much money. Podcasts also come with that skip button, but podcasters pretend it isn’t there. Do you really want Apple to provide you with a nice graph that proves conclusively that none of your listeners listen to the ads? Why would you ask for that proof? You’re going to destroy yourselves with your unimaginative radio style business models. When the early podcasters claimed to be attempting to overthrow radio, and then attempted to do it by precisely copying radio as closely as they could, I lost respect for their intelligence. Now they live in a glass house and have asked Apple to invent a stone throwing machine. Idiots.
The way podcasts work is bad. The ways podcasts are monetised are bad. Giving Apple any more power than it already has is bad. I wish these “top podcasters” could have come up with something better than a shit version of radio.
Apple, if you want to improve your podcast section, how about you clean out all the dead shows and stop emphasising podcasts from big media companies.