Spotify Should Ditch Podcasts Before It’s Too Late

But they're just too valuable

Key Takeaways

  • Spotify’s future depends on podcasting.
  • Spotify is both a platform and a publisher—whichever suits it at that moment.
  • Podcasts are much cheaper than licensing music for streaming.
Spotify logo on a laptop screen looming over an mp3 player in the dark

Reet Talreja / Unsplash

When Spotify paid Joe Rogan $100 million to turn his podcast into an audio streaming show, it started the countdown on a ticking bomb. And that bomb is now in the middle of a slo-mo detonation.

Rogan may or may not technically be a Spotify employee, but in spirit, he is. The Swedish music-streaming company pays him to produce an audio show. And that's the problem. If Spotify, Tidal, or Apple Music streams explicit music from a misogynistic rapper, no one blames the delivery platform. They're just the pipes through which the dirt is delivered. But Rogan is not only paid by Spotify to do exactly what he's doing—he's also their figurehead podcaster. And he's putting the whole operation at risk. 

"The reason it's doing this is no different from why Netflix makes original content—it's cheaper than paying perpetual licensing fees to major studios," culture blogger and podcaster Brian Penny told Lifewire via email. 

Why Podcasts?

Why is Spotify, a music-streaming app, even in the podcast space? It’s about licensing fees. We keep hearing how little musicians get paid by Spotify, but those recurring fees are still too much. By diluting its subscribers’ listening with original content, Spotify lessens the hours they spend streaming music. 

"It’s cheaper than paying perpetual licensing fees to major studios."

Another advantage of home-grown audio shows is that they can be exclusive. Most music is available on most streaming platforms, with the odd blip for an exclusive release. But if Spotify can make its podcast offer strong enough, then it has something other platforms don’t. Again, just like Netflix and the other video-streaming services. 

'Free' Speech

And that’s why Spotify is defending Rogan. By supporting him, Spotify is implicitly promoting disinformation. 

Earlier this week, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek gave a 15-minute speech to employees, trying to frame the issue as one of free speech. That argument might hold up for something like Apple’s podcast directory, which is more or less an open listing of all available podcasts, accessible by any and every podcast app. But in the case of Rogan, Spotify isn’t any kind of neutral platform. It’s the manager and promoter. As such, should it be held responsible for his opinions?

"Yes, because they hired and pay him," Joshua T. Bergen, media strategist, producer, show host, and podcaster, told Lifewire via email. "By doing so, that means they believe in him."

According to Ek, prior to the exclusive deal, The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) was already the most searched-for podcast on Spotify, despite not yet being available there. He said that JRE is licensed, rather than published, content, and therefore Spotify does "not have creative control" over the show. And yet, Spotify has removed several JRE episodes because they violated its rules. So it seems there is some level of control, after all.

A Big Mess

This mess isn’t going to get any smaller. While the issue of Rogan’s misinformation might blow over, Spotify will continue to be blamed for any controversial podcasts it publishes.

Podcasting is still a small part of Spotify’s overall business, but it’s growing, and because the company can place ads in podcasts, it’s a potentially huge revenue stream. Especially as Spotify cannot raise its monthly streaming prices. It seems possible that podcasts will, at some point, become Spotify’s major earner, and that’s why it has to hold on to Rogan no matter what. He’s a big draw for the platform, and once users are signed up to listen to one podcast in the Spotify app, why not just listen to all your podcasts in Spotify? 

man sitting at his computer, typing, and speaking into a microphone

ConvertKit / Unsplash

Podcasters should beware. Big names like Rogan may continue to get the big bucks, but Spotify is also growing its own podcasts.

"They held a creator accelerator program and paid a bunch of 20-year-old aspiring podcasters through that program to create regular live audio programming, like True Crime Tuesdays. In doing so, they paid something like $5k/month to the creators to lock them into exclusive contracts," says Penny. 

"Spotify is basically harvesting minimum wage work off people looking to be the best Joe Rogen," he continued. "It'll put a lot of pressure on creators to give up rights to their creative IP while building an audience that Spotify hopes to keep in-house."

Just like with musicians, it looks like Spotify is out to rip off podcasters, too.

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