The podcast industry is at a crossroads in 2020. Since 2004, we’ve enjoyed an open ecosystem with podcasting driven by RSS feeds. Once Apple released the iTunes podcast directory in iTunes 4.9, but it’s still been based on the open RSS standard. When listeners subscribe to a show, it is directly pulled from the RSS feed and, therefore, a direct download from the podcast’s server. As Spotify has made its mark on the industry with exclusive shows, it’s worth discussing the differences between free shows, the open podcast market, and paid podcasts.
After hearing about it on a recent episode of the Dithering podcast, it’s a key idea to understand. It’s also important to note that Spotify doesn’t support open podcasts based on RSS without them being submitted to Spotify.
Free podcasts are pretty self-explanatory. They are free to listen to, and they likely include advertising. Free podcasts are the types of podcasts we’ve all been accustomed to since we started listening to podcasts. Free podcasts can be open or closed. An exclusive Spotify podcast can be free, but not be an open podcast since it can’t be subscribed to in podcasts that allow manual subscriptions.
Open podcasts are based on RSS technology, and they can be subscribed to in any number of podcast apps like Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Castro, Pocket Casts, Breaker, etc. One of the benefits of an open podcast is that people are not locked into a specific app for a particular podcast.
An example of a closed podcast is the new The Michelle Obama Podcast that is a Spotify exclusive. While Spotify users can “subscribe” to the show, there is no way for users of another podcast application to subscribe to the show. By definition, this show is a closed podcast. When Joe Rogan’s show becomes a Spotify exclusive later this year, it will also become a closed podcast. These are shows that do not have a public RSS feed and can only be subscribed to in a single application.
Why does free, open, and closed matter?
The very concept of free, open, and closed podcasts is a crucial distinction because Spotify doesn’t support subscribing to a podcast from an RSS feed. If you subscribe to the premium version of the Connected podcast but want to use Spotify for podcasts, you can’t do it. Relay FMs premium podcasts give you a unique URL that any other podcast client can use. The only primary “podcast’ application that can’t use Relay FMs premium URLs or any app that uses a similar system is Spotify. In my mind, it’s hard to consider Spotify a podcasting application when it can accomplish a task that is a basic aspect of being a podcast app.
It appears Spotify is trying to become the YouTube of audio content vs trying to edge Apple out of the podcast market. They want to be the centralized place for all of your audio content in order to become the centralized advertising medium for audio content. By controlling what shows can be consumed on the platform, Spotify is in complete control of every aspect. Apple’s ambitions are to create a great place for podcasts, and even Apple’s new Apple News Today Podcast can be listened to in other podcasts apps (except Spotify). Even if there is a podcast that Apple won’t allow to be submitted to the Apple Podcasts directory, the app supports adding the RSS feed manually.
If Spotify wants to support the open podcast market, all they need to do is allow people to subscribe to a show from the RSS feed, but they don’t, and it’s likely due to their future ambitions with programmatic advertising. We’ve enjoyed a long history of an open podcast market, and I want to keep it that way, so I hope Spotify will reconsider and allow subscribing from RSS for podcasts that are not in the Spotify directory like Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Breaker, Castro, and Pocket Casts.