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Give Yourself The Gift Of Apple Podcast Subscriptions

· By Bryan Barletta · Editor: Evo Terra

Apple Podcasts Subscriptions are here to stay. And it’s pretty clear they’re just getting started. But for the first movers leaning into the offering, reaping the benefits of a tighter integration with the service that still commands the lion’s share of podcasting attention, the results might just seem like a holiday miracle.

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Last week, I had a Facebook memory from seven years ago that simply said “SERIAL”. The comments ranged from “what’s that” to “omg right?” and everything in between. In the same week, I was reminded by Alban Brooke, the Head of Marketing for Buzzsprout, that only two months before Serial broke onto the scene, Apple’s podcast app was added as a default app to the iPhone, a pivotal moment in podcast history.

This bit of nostalgia has a point, and it’s that if you can be along for the ride when Apple does something new, there are a lot of upsides only available to you for a certain period of time. And right now, with their Apple Podcasts subscription offering being just about six months old, I am confident that this is one of those times. 

So before you clock out for holiday break, I urge you to set up a subscription offering in Apple Podcasts, because I don’t think for a second that the next six months will provide you the same advantages that are currently available to you today.

Apples to Podcasts

Last year, the Apple App Store grossed $1.8bn. Not for the entire year. Just the time between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.

That’s an absolutely wild amount of money for a 7 day period, but it makes complete sense when you think about how often Apple devices are received as gifts for the holidays. Or how many people receive App Store gift cards. Or those of us looking for new apps to plan out our New Year’s resolutions. Or even just from people being bored while visiting family.

Now, the App Store is a completely different beast than Apple Podcasts, especially considering it hasn’t even been a year since Apple allowed creators to start charging for podcasts. It also didn’t help that they decided to use the word Subscribe for the paid option and the word Follow for the free option. But just like when the App Store first launched, paid Subscriptions via Apple Podcasts is currently the only way Apple generates revenue from podcasting.

And that’s a big deal! 

I absolutely can provide you a laundry list of complaints about the Apple Podcasts app and how they chose to handle subscriptions. But when you think about the fact that after 15 years Apple is still actively in the podcast space, innovating, and finally finding a way to generate direct revenue from podcasting, putting aside those complaints becomes easy.

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Playing The Competition Game

According to Podnews, there are 1,076 channels in Apple Podcasts, covering 12,433 shows. 249 of those channels (23%), which cover 1,330 shows (10.7%), are paid.

There are 2.4 million shows in the Apple Podcast index, which means that less than 0.05% are paid.

Getting a show promoted inside the Apple Podcasts app is a big deal. It makes a massive impact for podcasts, gaining new followers and potentially even paid subscribers. So when vying for Apple’s attention, the point I’m trying to make here is that it’s better to be one of the 249 shows with a paid-for subscription option rather than one of 2,399,751 that don’t make Apple Podcasts any money. 

With that number firmly in mind, let’s walk through how the Apple Podcasts app highlights subscription podcasts, at least at the time this article was written.

In the Browse tab, users of the app are immediately greeted with two sections. For the first section, three out of the nine shows offer a paid subscription option. The second section is actually called Subscriber Favorites, showing off 20 select subscription options without having to tap “See All”. 

That bears repeating. 23 of the first 29 podcasts offered in Browse offer paid subscriptions.

After that, there are two more entire sections dedicated to specific subscription channels (Luminary and BBC Podcasts Premium) and two additional opportunities to just browse shows with subscriptions (New to Podcasts and Podcast Quick Links both highlight the Explore Subscriptions section).

That’s 4 out of 12 sections about shows or channels that exclusively promote content with subscriptions. And the other sections still show off shows with subscriptions.

And want to hear something absolutely wild? The En Español category, at the bottom of Browse under Podcast Quick Links, has six sections and 57 total podcasts, and not a single one in that section offers a subscription.

All of this is to highlight exactly why I think you need to have a paid subscription on Apple Podcasts right now, because every new channel and show that sets up a subscription reduces your show’s chance to attract promotional attention from Apple.

And if you’re going to pitch Apple on featuring your show, fully buying into features that generate both you and Apple revenue is a compelling proposition.

Growing Apple Podcasts

On Monday, while writing this article, I noticed that Apple had posted 11 new podcast-focused jobs on Podjobs, our (free!) podcast jobs board. So if finally releasing a revenue-generating opportunity wasn’t enough to convince you that Apple was putting more attention on podcasting, hopefully listing at least 11 podcast-focused jobs will do the trick.

As Apple continues to work on the issues impacting both listeners and podcasters, the subscription offering will become even more fleshed out and more compelling for publishers. That 1 of 249 competition pool will soon skyrocket. Not to millions anytime soon, but enough that your podcast won’t stand out just for being an early adopter.

My expectation is that Apple will soon start working on improving their in-app search experience for podcasts. And it’s not a stretch to assume that search will also highlight shows with paid-for Subscriptions too. Mark Steadman wrote a piece detailing just how poorly every podcast app indexes the content we provide it in the RSS feeds. And the reason I’m bullish on this being a priority for Apple is not only that Youtube will soon be nipping at their heels, but that Apple generated nearly $5B from ads with Apple App Store search in 2021, with estimates expecting it to quadruple by 2024.

One of the ways Apple will improve the search capabilities of Apple Podcasts will be with search ads. Like it or not, paid and “organic” search results complement each other. Attribution from an ad to a Follow or Subscribe in the same app is a very compelling alternative for Apple to point publishers towards when they submit to be featured. And with two revenue streams—one from their cut of paid subscriptions and the other from paid search ads—it’s clear that Apple has a substantial and incremental revenue opportunities to explore.

So before you clock out for the holidays, absolutely consider configuring the (sigh) ad-free option in Apple Podcasts before you pitch Apple to feature you over the holidays. At worst, you lost a bit of time uploading each episode twice. At best, you get to share some of the launch window and holiday spotlight. Because the next time the spotlight comes around this easily, it’ll have a price tag on it.

And when you get back from holiday, it’s probably time to set up a subscription feed that you own directly.


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Rel’s Recs

Sounds Profitable podcast
This week, Arielle Nissenblatt of Earbuds Podcast Collective recommends This Day in Esoteric Political History, from Jody Avirgan & Radiotopia, which is hosted with PRS and measured by Podtrac.

I’ve recently been obsessed with history podcasts. And one that has consistently been a favorite is This Day in Esoteric Political History. The name describes exactly what you should expect. But you’ll also get smart banter between learned history scholars and friends. I recommend starting with “Why Lincoln Grew a Beard (1860).” It’s the perfect example of esoteric history.

Market Insights - with ThoughtLeaders

A graph from ThoughtLeaders

Noam Yadin, Content and Social Media Manager at ThoughtLeaders joins me this week to share insight into current trends:

In the US, consumers’ favorite day is coming up - Black Friday! With Black Friday just around the corner, brands are doing whatever they can to make sure consumers know where the best sales are - and podcasters are definitely helping. The graphs clearly show that mention of 'Black Friday’ is trending (just like years prior). However, MUCH, much more brands are being mentioned this year compared to 2020 and 2019.

What else is going on… with Podnews

The top 50 podcasts in the US were published by Edison Research. The list, by audience size, puts Joe Rogan as still #1 … You can now buy podcast ads on Spotify, with the launch of podcast ads in the self-service Spotify Ad Studio. Campaigns start from $500 … The Apple Podcasts app, which was once Apple’s worst-rated app at just 1.8, is mysteriously riding high at 4.7 these days. It appears to be confusion between rating podcasts and the Apple Podcasts app … Spotify says it has $3.5 bn in the bank to spend on acquisitions to keep growing: CFO Paul Vogel also attacked RSS while speaking in a conference in Boston … and Samsung has rolled out its free podcasts app to Samsung Galaxy users in Europe. The UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, France and Italy will all see podcasts on their phone as of this week … Subscribe to Podnews, free to get updates every day.


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Bryan BarlettaBryan Barletta (He/Him) is the voice behind Sounds Profitable. He started in the adtech industry so long ago that they used to ask, “Mobile advertising? Like on taxis?” (2008) before shifting into podcasting in 2015. His goal is to make in-depth adtech more accessible for readers and listeners. And, yes, it is sunny and warm in Austin today.

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