Apple Premium Podcasts Could Save Podcasting—Or Destroy It

Can you say 'lock in'?

Key Takeaways

  • Apple’s new premium podcast service offers one-click paid subscriptions.
  • Apple takes its usual 30% cut.
  • Podcasters may lose their direct relationship with their audience.
A podcast on an iPhone which is sitting on top of a menu near a cup of coffee at a cafe.

Juja Han / Unsplash

In May, Apple will shake up podcasting, offering a new premium, paid service so that listeners can pay podcasters directly—minus Apple’s 30% cut.

The new Apple Podcasts Subscriptions plan will work in Apple’s own Podcasts app and comes with an interesting suite of tools.

Podcast creators will be able to see how many people are listening using analytics, and listeners can subscribe to paid podcasts with one click—just like buying an app. But is this enough to wrest creators away from more open—and cheaper—alternatives like Patreon?

"Dedicated listeners are looking for ways to give back, get involved, and be heard," podcast host Whitney Lauritsen told Lifewire via email. "Those that look forward to every episode find a lot of value, especially in a show like mine that releases three episodes a week on a regular schedule."

The Cut

Paid podcast subscriptions are great news. Right now, if a listener wants to support their favorite shows, they have to make an effort to do so. Podcasts can be paid for via Patreon or using a podcasters’ own home-built subscription system, usually involving something like Memberful.

That works great for tech-savvy, super-supportive listeners, but it excludes all casual purchases. 

Mobile screenshots of the new Apple Podcasts Subscription app.

Apple

Apple’s advantage is ease of use. Pretty much everyone with an Apple ID already has a valid credit card hooked up to their account. And we’re all used to tapping the little "buy" or "subscribe" buttons in apps and the App Store.

Patreon takes between 5% and 12% of creator earnings, and Memberful charges 4.9% or 10%, depending on your plan. 

Compared to that, Apple’s 30% cut (dropping to 15% after one year, in line with its other subscription plans) seems high, but for the podcaster, 70% of something is a lot more than 90-100% of nothing.

Customer Relations

The biggest downside of the App Store is that sellers don’t get to know anything about buyers. If you use Patreon, you can message your listeners directly. If you manage your own subscription plans, you get an email address for every subscriber.

For indie creators, this contact is vital. Apple’s podcast analytics gives you all kinds of info about subscriber numbers, but it appears that listener details are as locked away as ever. 

"Consumers haven't yet shown an interest in paying for podcasts," Adam Corey, founder of the Podable podcast sales platform, told Lifewire via email.

A screenshot of setting up a podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Apple

"Instead, they've been more open to platforms that directly support their favorite content creator, such as Patreon. This direct-support model allows content creators new ways to engage and reward their audiences, such as invitations to live events, newsletters, and private forums."

Another downside for both listeners and podcasters is that this all takes place inside Apple’s Podcasts app. That’s a significant advantage for Apple, but bad news if you want to listen using any other podcast player or on Android devices.

As mentioned, podcasters can roll their own subscriptions easily. The hard part is picking up paid subscribers.

"I’ve used Patreon since 2015 and haven’t had much luck," says Lauritsen. "It took a while for it to catch on, and my audience never seemed that interested in contributing. It’s hard to convey the value."

Directory Enquiries

Despite what Eddie Cue implies in Apple’s press release, Apple did not invent podcasts. But it does maintain an open directory of podcasts, which is free to use for any other podcast app developer.

With a move to locked-in, subscription-based podcasts, some worry that Apple may shut down or hobble this essential resource. But there is already at least one alternative, founded by the actual inventor of podcasting, ex MTV VJ Adam Curry.

A screenshot of Apple Podcast analytics.

Apple

"One interesting fact that the public is not aware of (yet) is a new project called Podcast Index backed by Adam Curry (the inventor of podcasting!)," Alberto Betella, co-founder of podcasting service RSS.com, told Lifewire via email.

"This project recently introduced a new standard to allow micropayments for all podcasts."

Podcast Index already has well over 3 million podcasts in its index and is supported by a decent list of podcast apps. If Apple does cut off access to its directory, then Curry’s service is well-placed to step in.

One thing that is certain is that podcasting is hot right now, and it’s changing fast. Paid subscriptions are essential to make indie podcasts sustainable, and Apple is uniquely positioned to make this easy and effective. Podcasters will have to decide if the lock-in is worth it.

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