On Podcasting

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.

Why do they want Apple to sell podcasts? How would that even work? My shows are hosted on SoundCloud, would Apple take the downloads I sell from there like my RSS feed does? What’s the point of Apple doing it anyway? I’ve been doing it for years without any help from Apple, beyond this lovely operating system I’m using. For shit’s sake sell your own damn podcasts. Do you know what the revenue split I have Apple on Simply Everything is? I get 100% and they get 0% because I built it. I learned the PHP and Javascript that I needed to know and I built a subscription service. I did not go cap in hand to Apple asking for more ways to rip off my customers. If Apple sell podcasts then they’ll take 30% of that like they do with absolutely everything else in their store. Read Marco’s article and believe what he says.

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.

I had to post this in The Synner’s Lounge

I had to post this in The Synner’s Lounge. Please have a read. We’re looking for support.

“Hey everybody. I’m here with some bad news.

As you know we’ve moved payment providers for Simply Everything. That meant everybody had to sign up again. Unfortunately less than half of our previous subscribers actually did it. That means that there isn’t anything like enough money to run Simply Syndicated.

So here’s what’s going to happen. Over the next month payments will start to fail and various services will switch off. First our Amazon payment will fail so Simply Everything is just going to stop working. Next the payment for the site web hosting will fail and the site will go off all together. After that my Adobe CC payment will fail and soon I won’t be able to edit shows to put them on SoundCloud.By the end of April at the latest, but probably the end of March, Simply Syndicated will be nothing more than the episodes of shows that currently live on SoundCloud.

Right now the Simply Syndicated bank account sites at -£200. At this point in the month it should be at around £250. Because of the reduced income I haven’t been able to get the account into credit so I’m being hit with over £100 of bank charges per month.

I’m really sorry that I’ve let you all down. I certainly never expected Simply Syndicated to just switch off one day but that’s probably what’s going to happen.

I intend to keep trying to get people to give us £6 per month to keep us going and for Simply Everything. If everybody in this group signed up we’d be set. Heck, if even ten people from this group supported us it would make a difference.
If there’s anything I can do to make Simply Syndicated worth supporting that I’m not doing now please tell me. I’m totally working in the dark having never received any feedback about the new Simply Everything.”

Some people have started to support us and I’m extremely grateful to them. I have some other things to add. If you’d like to support us with a one off donation rather than signing up to Simply Everything you can do so by visiting paypal.me/SimplySyndicated or if you’d like to donate a couple of dollars you can now visit our new Patreon page at www.patreon.com/SimplySyndicated.

We cannot make Simply Syndicated without you, and we’re dangerously close to that actually happening.

Delaying Simply Everything

With four days to go until the launch of the new version the Simply Syndicated website and a new version of Simply Everything it’s time to be honest and look at things realistically.

Quite simply, it isn’t going to be ready in four days. There’s just no way, there’s far too much still to do. So this is me officially announcing that the launch will be delayed by a month.

I have chosen to delay for a month to make sure that the new system works and is good. I could get a version of it ready in the next week but I’m not changing the site to a system that isn’t complete. When the new system comes out I promise the wait will be worth it, and it’ll be even more worth it if actually works and can be used.

I apologise for the delay but it’s completely necessary.

The Road To Everything – 22 Days To Go

I’ve been promising a refresh of Simply Syndicated and related services to go live on September 30th, as I write this it’s the 9th. I had planned to do a daily blog article about what I was working on up until the release but quickly realised that you can spend as much time and energy writing about what you’re doing as you can when actually doing the thing you’re doing. With that in mind, here’s my 22 days to go update.

Ooh it’s going to be good. If I were Google, Apple, Microsoft, or any of the big named tech companies, I’d probably have a plan of action and I’d know what I wanted to end up with. I’m not any of those big name tech companies so I have absolutely no plan and the only thing I know about what I want to end up with is that it should be better than what I currently have. It’s an interesting, and some would say irresponsible way of working. However I enjoy it because it means that the end result is almost as much of a surprise for me as it is for you.

At the moment there’s a rough design for the main part of the website. It doesn’t look that rough, but it is because it’s probably going to change dramatically. The front page of the site won’t change all that much because it doesn’t have to. Of course the front page of Simply Syndicated should be a way to quickly access the latest episodes of shows, and to present the best way to reach other parts of Simply Syndicated. That’s working as it is.

The most significant changes are going to come to the individual show pages and to Simply Everything. The main web page of a podcast can be a tricky thing. I suppose it would be easier if there was just one podcast to worry about. If that’s the case you only need a basic website. Simply Syndicated has loads of shows and they all have their own web page. There are even pages for shows that haven’t been running for years. All those pages have to stay because they’re part of Simply Everything.

In the last version of the website Simply Everything was integrated into the show pages. There’s a list of episodes you can listen to, each with their own “listen on Simply Everything” button. I really don’t like that way of doing things, especially those Simply Everything buttons. A new way of organising data is required, and that’s what I’m working on at the moment.

Sadly things aren’t that simple. The new ways of presenting this data need to fit in with what I can do with the new subscription system. Currently I’m using the Cart66 WordPress plugin to run our store system and Simply Everything. The new version of the site will use S2 Member, which comes with all sorts of different functions. Of what I know so far I can tell you the following. First of all PayPal is going. We’ve used it for years as it’s a great way for people to pay for things, and it’s handy for running subscription services. For a long time they were pretty much the only gig in town. Yes there have been other online payment systems but none of them are aimed at smaller digital retailers. If I want to pay £250 per month my bank has a brilliant online payment system I can use. I don’t want to pay £250 per month so we use PayPal. From the 30th of September we’ll be using Stripe. You’ll probably run into it right away when you sign up for the new Simply Everything. The thing that you’ll notice first is that you don’t have to have any form of special account to use it. With PayPal subscriptions you have to have a PayPal account. That’s a major barrier for some people. It’s also not possible to pay for your subscription with anything other than your PayPal account. Really that’s not the ideal way to do business. Traditionally services add PayPal payments later, they don’t make it the only way to pay for something right away. With our new system you’ll be able to sign up for Simply Everything using your credit or debit card. You don’t have to have an account with Stripe, you just need a method of payment. Heck, I could even accept Bit Coin as payment (I’m not going to though). Just this simple change in merchant services means paying for things will be quick, easy, and painless for you, and it means that Simply Everything is going to make more money because of all the things I just said. A shoddy payment system really puts people off. Not only because they can’t figure it out, but because it’s difficult to trust. Is it really going to work? Will it take my money and leave me with nothing? Until now, the answer to those questions has been a solid maybe. Soon it will be yes and no. I have to point out that Simply Syndicated still will not be storing your payment information. Credit card data is some of the most important information you can request from your customers and I simply don’t want to have it. I’ve got enough to worry about in life without taking on the task of protecting your credit card number. Stripe will take care of all of that. Your data will be safe.

The next thing I can tell you is that the entire subscription system will be different. You’ll have an account page that you can log into and make changes to your subscription. That system will happily work with Last Pass, 1 Password, or any other password protection system, unlike the current version of Simply Everything. I use those services too and I’m also annoyed by the fact that they seem to struggle with our current sign in process. It is being fixed.

The price of Simply Everything will be increasing from £4.99 per month to £5.99 per month. I know I put something out yesterday about what will be happening to current subscribers but I didn’t include that little bit. Ideally I would like to offer all current subscribers a coupon that will continue their subscription at the lower £4.99 price, however I’m not sure that that’s technically possible so there’s no way I can promise it. All I can say is that it’s something I’d like to happen and if there’s a way to implement it then I’m going to. There’s a lot hinging on what I can get S2 Member to do. It’s an extremely clever system but that just means it’s harder to work out what I can do with it.

Speaking of price, the two week free trial is returning. I must be honest and say that I never wanted to get rid of it in the first place. It was removed because the Cart 66 and PayPal never once handled it well. The idea was that you’d pay an initial payment of £0 and in two weeks time you’d be charged £4.99. The real world experience was that you’d pay £0 and in two weeks your account would shut down. There will be no more of that.

With just 22 days to go panic has set in. I’m reminded of decorating our living room a couple of years ago. Sure you can just start pulling off the wallpaper, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to pull off some of the plaster with it, and moving those wall plugs is going to be much harder than you thought because there’s not actually enough wire in the walls. I have actually been through the process of looking into nuking the entire Simply Syndicated site and starting again from scratch. We’ve been running off the same WordPress install for six years. It’s not that I’m pushing it to do anything that it isn’t intended to do, it’s just that over time crap builds up. There are database tables that don’t do anything. Loads of folders on the server that have nothing in them. Piles of images that are no longer part of any active website. You get the idea. Basically instead of decorating the living room I was willing to demolish the house and rebuild it with the living room I wanted all along. It’s a dumb idea that would have resulted in Simply Everything being completely broken for everyone trying to use it. I’m just going to have to clean things up as best I can.

I know there’s nothing too exciting about this particular update. I haven’t even started talking about new content, and all the content that hasn’t managed to make it on to Simply Everything yet. That information will be coming in a later update.

In the meantime if you have any questions, suggestions, or anything else, just give me a shout on Twitter and we can chat.

Moving to the new Simply Everything

On the 30th of September you will hopefully see the launch of a new version of the Simply Syndicated website and Simply Everything along with it. I understand that some of you might have a few questions about what’s going to happen to your current Simply Everything subscription, hopefully I’ll be able to put a few things to rest here.

The new Simply Everything system is just that, new. That means I won’t be able to transfer your existing subscription from the old system to the new one. You’ll need to open a new account using the new system. What about your existing subscription? That won’t carry over. I know that’s really not fair to some of you so here’s what I’m going to do.

If you’re a monthly subscriber, don’t move to the new system until you’ve come to the end of your current month. Then you can just cancel your old subscription and start a new one. There should be a two week free trial for new sign ups, so you’ll actually end up with a couple of free weeks.

As I write this, it’s my plan that everybody else will receive a coupon for the new system that will see them through to the end date of their current long term subscription. To be clear, that’s everyone with anything other than a monthly subscription.

The existing system and the new system are incompatible in every way you can imagine. The two systems won’t integrate, and I’ll want to get rid of the old system as quickly as possible. Don’t worry, I won’t do it until everyone who wants to has moved over to the new system. When I eventually come to switch of the old, I’ll make sure that all subscriptions have been cancelled. However, you should really make sure that your subscription has been cancelled just to double check me.

Then there’s the iOS app. As I write this I completely expect the new system of Simply Everything to break the app. Hopefully this won’t be for very long, but given that I don’t personally make the app, there’s just no way I can promise how long it’s going to take to update. Once I’m done with this system change, I’ll be making my priority the production of matching iOS and Android apps. My intention is to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money for app production. To try to make things as painless as possible, I’ll be putting in extra work when designing the mobile browsing experience. That’s the bit I can control so I hope to make it as good as I possibly can. I’m well aware that lots of you like to listen to audio content on your phones, don’t worry, I’m not ignoring you, it’s just really difficult to deal with.

There will be a content reorganisation. It should be easier to find what you’re looking for, and there’s still a lot of content to be added. I still have lots of episodes of lots of shows to post, and I’m going to make sure that it’s all there. I don’t know what’s happening with regards to Simply Everything exclusive content right now. I can say that Shaken Not Stirred will be continuing, but I’m not sure if there’s going to be other new shows to go along with it.

Buying individual episodes of shows is going away. We sell very very few individual episodes. Not none, but very few. So few that it’s really not worth maintaining a store system. Honestly we’re talking about a couple of files every year. It can be months between purchases. That’s in contrast to Simply Everything subscribers who make up the majority of the income of Simply Syndicated. Offering downloads generally includes running a separate back end system which includes a shopping cart and all the other things you associate with an online store. That’s a lot of work to maintain for something that brings such little reward.

I hope that answers some of your questions. If there’s anything else you’d like to know just give me a shout on Twitter.

Goodbye aCast

Hi Renay and Adam

You know what? This just isn’t good enough. We’ve stuck with you for months now and it’s now obvious that the whole experience has been a total waste of time. Let me tell you why.

  1. You sold me a line of complete bullshit to get me on to your system. Oh that optimistic speech Adam gave me about how Apple and the iTunes store don’t do anything to help podcast networks and instead just promote content from the BBC and Guardian. He even had a statistic about what percentage of the iTunes podcast section is made up of big media shows. I must tell you that to make this point I have downloaded the aCast app to take a look at the shows you’re promoting at the moment. Sadly, the app won’t run. The Discover page just says that something went wrong and that I should try again. Probably my fault using one of those obscure iPhones.

  2. The aCast app is terrible. See above. It just doesn’t work, I’ve attached a screenshot of the aCast app experience that I’m having while writing this email. I’m assuming that it’s just trying to fetch data from a JSON file or something like that. If you’d like, I can put you in touch with the guy who wrote our iOS app, it works every time!

  3. Adam, remember when you told me that you’d have it included in your aCast press releases that Simply Syndicated would be joining your system? I didn’t think so, seeing as that has never once come close to happening. If I’m wrong about that please feel free to show me an example. This promise has the odour of more bullshit. That said, I also remember when Adam was so excited about traveling to Leeds to meet me. I guess that just wasn’t all that appealing once you got my content onto your system.

  4. You’ve changed your terms and conditions. I’ve been through the contract I signed and not once does it say anything about a minimum pay out of £100. Not once! That’s just something that you’ve made up since I signed the contract.

  5. Your ad sales team need firing. Seriously, I had no idea that you’d be so incapable of making money from our content. Due to the nature of NDAs I can’t go into detail, but I can tell you that another company who are known for keeping Sounds in the Cloud are so much better at this than you guys it’s not even funny. The monthly payout we receive from them is many hundreds of times larger than the payouts we have yet to receive from you. for the last couple of weeks we switched to using the SoundCloud player on our site instead of the aCast player, and the increase in revenue from doing so was over a hundred times what you managed to make on all our downloads through the entire month. You know what else? They don’t even put ads on our downloads. They only pay for plays that happen using their player, in the United States. Yet with that limitation they manage to out sell you at every opportunity. To be clear, that money wasn’t what they payed for the entire month, it was just the increase we saw by dumping your embedded player.

  6. Getting answers from you people is next to impossible. See the last month for details. Exactly how many times do I have to ask the same question in how many departments just to be told that you’ve decided not to send us an invoice for the last two months. You also didn’t think it was necessary to let me know that you had no intention of paying me until we’ve earned £100. At the rate you can make money from our content, that puts us perhaps being paid some time in 2016.

  7. You’re devoting too much time, energy and money into a rubbish idea. What were you smoking when you decided that the one thing podcasters needed to do was to send people to other content while they’re listening to a podcast? Seriously? You honestly think that I’m going to record an hour long show and get the urge to encourage people to watch a YouTube video half way through? You should give up making an app and just devote your time to being the advertising company that you so obviously want to be.

  8. Your backend system just sucks. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Over the last couple of months I’ve just given up trying to get an episode to post on aCast and just ended up posting it on SoundCloud. Perhaps that explains how you managed to make just £4 in the last month from Simply Syndicated content.

  9. You actually cost us money. I’ll let a little company secret slip here and tell you that we bring in several thousands of pounds per month with our subscription service. The money we lost by putting that premium content on aCast and letting you attempt to sell ads against it resulted in a loss of subscribers and didn’t come close to making up the lost revenue.

  10. You’ve built your company off the back of the hard work of content creators such as myself. I can only assume that you’re treating all the other creators as well as me. I’m also sure that most of the smaller shows are stuck with you because they lack the ability to monetise their content themselves, and also because you’ve come up with a system that takes control of their RSS feeds away from them. I have to warn you that doing that is a massive red flag. It’s an obvious lock-in attempt.

  11. It was quickly obvious that you haven’t got a clue how podcasting works. When one of our shows was featured on the iTunes store you sent me a “congratulations on being featured on iTunes” tweet. Do you not realise that Apple have amazing podcaster relations? Did you think that featuring was a surprise to me that we somehow earned? Or do you think that I have regular email conversations with the person in charge of podcasting for iTunes and that she asked if there was anything we wanted featuring and I offered up our new show? Honestly, I haven’t come across a company so incapable of communication and understanding of its industry as aCast. It’s a shame you didn’t realise that you’d actually promised to feature us. Since our time with aCast, Apple have pretty much featured every one of our shows on the front page of the iTunes podcast store. aCast have never once featured us, although with that app, who can tell?

So to sum up, your work is terrible, your app is terrible, the way you treat people is terrible, and it’s all based on a really bad idea. You’re making money by using the work of others and essentially doing bugger all yourselves. Make sure you remove absolutely every single trace of Simply Syndicated related content from your servers. That’s ALL OF IT. I don’t anything left. You aren’t to make one more penny from my work, you’ve made enough already. It would be nice if you actually payed out some money, even if it is less than £100. It would at least show that you aren’t the bunch of coat tail riders that I’ve got you pegged as. Given that I believe your business plan to involve paying podcasters as little money as you feel you can get away with, I won’t be holding my breath.

aCast is a misleading company that aims to take advantage of podcasters. I will be devoting a portion of my time to ensure that as many people in the podcasting community are aware of my experiences. There’s no way that what you’re doing is right or acceptable. I feel I have a moral obligation to try to stop as many people falling for your lies as I can.

There’s a famous email written by Michael Dell in which he said the Steve Jobs should just close Apple and give all the money back to investors. That was a silly thing for him to suggest for Apple. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for aCast. Not because you aren’t making money, but because it’s the right thing to do, like holding doors open for strangers, helping old ladies across the road, or donating to a charity. It’s just the right thing to do. Stop doing what you’re doing. You’re hurting people and taking advantage of them.

I understand that this is a long email so I’ll be recording a show all about aCast later today, though I’m at a loss as to where I might host it.