Weekly round-up: Whatever it takes

Whatup podheads? ‘Twas another exciting week in podcastland. From the first employee union in podcasting to a fight between 2 of the biggest companies in podcasting. Here’s issue #29.

Selling your soul?

The Guardian ran a piece titled “Have podcasts sold out?“. It’s a rather important question at a rather exciting time in podcastland. Since the dawn of the new year, we’ve seen big money investments and big-ticket acquisitions. This has justifiably caused some angst among podcasters.

The soft unveiling Luminary Media recently, which elicited some surprisingly strong responses from podcasters hasn’t helped the discourse either. Well, plenty of smart folks have speculated and pontificated on what this means for podcasts as a whole. I’m going to hold off on passing judgment and making predictions. Although the quality of the Guardian article leaves a lot be desired, it does raise a question worth pondering over. What do think?

The Gimlet employees union

In what will be a first for the podcasting industry, employees of Gimlet Media announced that they are unionizing, last week. The staffers have formed a union with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), which also represents other digital media firms such as Vice, Vox, and Huffington Post among others. This is perfect timing in a way given the company’s recent acquisition by music streaming giant, Spotify.

Here’s an excerpt from the announcement by Gimlet Union:

As Spotify’s reported $230 million acquisition of Gimlet makes clear, however, Gimlet is no longer the small, scrappy operation memorably documented on the first season of StartUp. Our union is an expression of passion for what we do, and a proactive effort to work with management to shape the future of the company. It’s important for us to solidify the things that make Gimlet a great place to work, and to address whatever issues may arise.

Given the turbulent times in media, employees from the New Yorker, Vox Media, Gizmodo, and BuzzFeed among others have formed unions in recent times.

A spokesperson for Gimlet said the company has “received a formal notice from the WGAE union and plan to review” but had “nothing further to report at this time.”


The outcome of this attempt will be nothing short of a landmark moment for the podcast industry.

Battle of the titans

This story is particularly exciting because it pits two of the biggest music streaming companies as well as the biggest podcast platforms. Spotify last week filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with the European Commission (EC). The main grouse seems to be over the so-called “Apple tax”. Apple takes a 30% cut for the first year and 15% cut subsequently for all in-app purchases.

On Android, on the other hand, Spotify uses a workaround for this by invoking a webview in the app, thereby allowing it to bypass Google payments and avoid paying a cut. In a blogpost, CEO, Daniel EK wrote:

Spotify has filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission (EC), the regulatory body responsible for keeping competition fair and nondiscriminatory. In recent years, Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience—essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issues directly with Apple, we’re now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition.

To illustrate what I mean, let me share a few examples. Apple requires that Spotify and other digital services pay a 30% tax on purchases made through Apple’s payment system, including upgrading from our Free to our Premium service. If we pay this tax, it would force us to artificially inflate the price of our Premium membership well above the price of Apple Music. And to keep our price competitive for our customers, that isn’t something we can do.
As an alternative, if we choose not to use Apple’s payment system, forgoing the charge, Apple then applies a series of technical and experience-limiting restrictions on Spotify.

Spotify also launched a site complete with facts and timelines about how the company got to this stage.

Apple came up with a rather strong response against Spotify’s allegations:

After using the App Store for years to dramatically grow their business, Spotify seeks to keep all the benefits of the App Store ecosystem — including the substantial revenue that they draw from the App Store’s customers — without making any contributions to that marketplace. At the same time, they distribute the music you love while making ever-smaller contributions to the artists, musicians and songwriters who create it — even going so far as to take these creators to court.

Although this case isn’t specifically about podcasts, it involves the two biggest gatekeepers for podcasts.

If you are interested in learning more about this whole saga, check out:

Here’s why Apple is saying Spotify is suing songwriters – Dani Deahl/The VergeApple responds to Spotify with words, but no real answers – Owen Williams/Charged

Betting on podcasts

Lucinda Southern of Digiday wrote a piece on the success of the Guardian’s podcasting operation. The publisher which launched its daily news show “Today In Focus”, said that the average daily listens have grown five-fold since the launch. It is seeing 30% month-on-month growth in audiences. Specific numbers weren’t broken out.

Podcasts are not just a story on memberships; they have been successful on ad slots — they are a mix of revenue streams

Christian Bennett, executive editor of visual journalism, the Guardian.

As with all routes to subscriptions, there are obvious limitations with attributing the sale to the final format before conversion. For the Guardian, “Today in Focus,” and podcasts in general, offer multiple revenue streams.


Publishers betting on podcasts to drive subscriptions has been somewhat of a trend. The Financial Times, which runs a stable of popular podcasts sees them as ‘fertile hunting ground’ for subscribers. Here’s what Alastair Mackie, head of audio for commercial at the Financial Times had told Digiday, last year:

The majority of listeners to our current podcasts are not subscribers, but they are taking the time to spend 20 to 30 minutes a day on FT content. One of the challenges subscriptions businesses have is to engage people to the point where they convert. So to have a fertile hunting ground [for conversions] of highly engaged people, many of whom listen to 70-80 percent of the podcasts, is good. You’ll see a lot more of us trying to refine that. There is a big opportunity in using it to drive subscriptions.

The Economist is another publisher which is following a similar strategy. It recently launched its daily news podcast “The Intelligence”.

The goal with “The Intelligence” is to broaden The Economist’s reach among podcast listeners who will then go on to subscribe.



Melissa Locker wrote an interesting piece on Wondery’s podcast-to-television ambitions. – Fastcompany

Now Wondery is setting out to prove that Dirty John was no fluke. It has a slate of six other podcasts, including Dr. Death and the recently released Over My Dead Body, that are headed to television.

Spotify Watch: Spotify is expanding its partnership with Samsung. Spotify will now be pre-installed on all new Samsung phones including the Galaxy S10, S10+, S10e, S10 5G, Galaxy Fold, and select Galaxy A Series phones. Owners of select devices will also get a 6-month subscription of Spotify premium.

Podcasters Grow Both Scale And Client Lists. Some Think Metrics Should Come Next. – Inside Radio

Podcast listening surges in 12-24 and two other significant takeaways from The Infinite Dial. – Steven Goldstein

Can Anchor be the YouTube of podcasts? – Zachary Mack/The Verge

Twitter launched “Character Count“, a podcast focussed on its ad business.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a new podcast called “Contagious Conversations“. The show features conversations with people who are making the world healthier and safer.

Wondery parts ways with with Mike Boudet of ‘Sword and Scale’. – Cheatsheet

Tegna To Launch Podcast-Centric Digital StudioTegna To Launch Podcast-Centric Digital Studio. – Mediapost

Rami Malek, Who Kinda Speaks Like a Serial Killer, Gets a Podcast. – Jezebel

Posted by Bhuvanesh

A podcast junkie on a mission to make podcasts great.

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