I’m a Spotify subscriber. I like being able to explore and listen to whatever music I want, whenever I want. Lots of people do. I could have been an Apple Music subscriber, but I liked that I could play Spotify from my Amazon Echo. I listen to podcasts, too, but I listen to those in the Apple podcasts app. I could listen to them on Spotify, though.
It seems like Apple and Spotify are basically the same. Both let you listen to music. Both let you listen to podcasts. So why do our podcasts show up in Apple’s podcast directory, but not on Spotify?
The technical answer is that Spotify doesn’t do podcasts at all. The funny answer is that Spotify is free to do so anytime it wants. The truth is that Spotify is attempting to destroy podcasting and remake it with Spotify in the middle as a rent-seeker.
Podcasts are simply audio files listed in a file called an RSS feed. Your podcast app checks the RSS feed on a regular basis to see if there are new audio files listed that you can listen to.
On its face, Spotify provides the same service. Your favorite podcast puts out a new episode, and you can listen to it in the Spotify app. The difference is that you can only subscribe to podcasts that Spotify has approved. If you want to listen to a Podcast in iTunes or the Apple Podcast app and it isn’t listed in Apple’s podcast directory, all you need to do is put the feed into the app. If you want to listen to a podcast on Spotify that isn’t in their directory, you’re out of luck.
People like listening to “podcasts” on Spotify. This is why we’ve gotten multiple requests from people to put our podcasts on Spotify. Now remember, our feeds are public. Nothing is preventing any company, including Spotify, from helping people listen to our podcasts by publicizing the location of our feed and helping people subscribe to it. But Spotify refuses to do that.
Nobody can listen to our podcasts on Spotify. Why?
First, because Spotify won’t display a podcast in their app unless the podcaster agrees to their terms and conditions. This is important, so we’ll return to it in a little bit.
Second, because Spotify wants to get in between the listener and the podcaster. They want the listener’s relationship to be with Spotify, not the podcaster. That’s why they don’t even let you add an RSS feed in their app. As a matter of fact, Spotify doesn’t even let their app interact in any way with the podcaster’s server. That’s why I say that Spotify doesn’t even do podcasts. They do something similar, but they’ve inserted themselves as a middle man that provides no value but is in a perfect position to extract money from the value of that relationship that used to be between the podcaster and listener.
When a listener no longer checks the podcaster’s feed but relies on Spotify to provide the content, Spotify has complete control over the relationship between the listener and the podcaster. If a large proportion of people do this, then Spotify has real leverage over the podcaster.
Remember what happened when newspapers and blogs created pages on Facebook and asked you to “like” their page? The idea was that if you liked their page, you would see their content. The publishers started getting a bunch of traffic from Facebook. Then Facebook said, “We know these people follow you, liked your page, and want to get notified about your content, but if you want them to see your posts, you’re going to have to pay us for ‘advertising’ your content for you.” That’s what Spotify is attempting to do with podcasting.
One way to describe the difference between Apple and Spotify is as the difference between a platform and an Aggregator:
This is ultimately the most important distinction between platforms and Aggregators: platforms are powerful because they facilitate a relationship between 3rd-party suppliers and end users; Aggregators, on the other hand, intermediate and control it.1
Apple facilitates a relationship between us and our listeners. Spotify is attempting to get between us and our listeners and use that position of power to leverage control over us and our listeners.
Just to be clear, that’s a bad deal, and we’re not going to agree to it.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s say we did. Let’s say there are *so many* new listeners on Spotify that we could reach (at least for a while) that we would consider it. What are those terms and conditions we would have to agree to? The last time I read them, here are some of the special tidbits I found.
“You acknowledge that advertising and/or sponsorship messages… that relates to political or religious organisations… is not permitted.”
Think about that. Religious organizations are grouped with porn and prohibited from sponsoring podcasts on Spotify. Just to be clear, that means our own pastors college couldn’t sponsor our podcasts. In fact, Spotify’s opposition to religious content is so strong that they don’t even have a “Religion & Spirituality” category for podcasts. I guess you have to pick between “Lifestyle & Health” or “Society & Culture.” Would you as a Christian podcaster feel comfortable letting Spotify be the filter between you and your listeners, knowing their attitude toward religious podcasts? We don’t. Would you promise to never allow Christian companies or organizations to advertise on your show? We won’t.
Here’s another special bit.
“You grant Spotify a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, irrevocable, fully paid, worldwide license to [your content].”
Now wait just a second. They become the effective owners of our content. They can do whatever they want with it, without ever paying us. That means they can collect money from other people to listen to it. Oh yeah, they already do that. Remember, I’m a paying subscriber to Spotify? Some small portion of that money goes back to the artists that I listen to. Well, unless those artists are podcasters. Podcasters don’t get anything. And if I use the free (ad-supported) version of Spotify, they play advertisements in between the podcasts, but they don’t give any of that advertising revenue to the podcaster, either. Oh yeah. And they can just plain sell our content to anybody in the world for any purpose and any amount, and we don’t get squat. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure this is a bad deal.
But it gets worse. Not only can they sell our content…
“you also agree to waive… your right to be identified as the author of [your content]”
No money and no credit for the work. Ok. We get it. We’d have to be idiots to agree to this.
I’ll end on a funny note. As insane as the previous terms and conditions are, the craziest one of all is their prohibition of “linking to any of the materials or information available on Spotify’s website”! Well… ok then. I guess they don’t want anybody to be able to read their website… or something.
At any rate, we’re not able to agree to those terms and conditions, so you won’t be seeing our podcasts on Spotify anytime soon.