We Lose A Lot When Podcasts Go Closed Instead Of Open

from the bad-digital-citizenship dept

Just last week, Ben Thompson’s excellent Stratechery site had a great post describing the important differences between open and free, specifically with regards to podcasts. The occasion was his decision to launch a paid-for, but still “open” podcast. And he explains how there are important differences (in particular) between “open and for-pay” vs. “closed and free.” Open and for-pay means that it’s not locked down, and can work on a variety of different setups and open platforms. The payment is part of the business model, but the openness gives the end-users more control and freedom. In the software world, you might talk about this as “free as in speech” rather than “free as in beer.” The “free, but closed” model is one where you can get the products for free — but they’re locked in a proprietary system. Facebook is an example of free, but closed, for example.

Thompson was talking in particular about his own podcast (open, but paid) as compared to Spotify’s podcast strategy (free, but closed). Last year, when Spotify purchased a bunch of podcast companies, we worried that it foretold the end of the open world of podcasting. You can get a Spotify account for free, but unlike most podcast apps, you can’t get any podcast you want via Spotify. Spotify has to agree to host it, and as a podcast you have to “apply” (indeed, Techdirt’s own podcast was initially rejected by Spotify, though has since been let in). That’s a “closed, but free” setup. Most podcasts are both open and free — published as open MP3 files, using an open RSS feed that any regular podcast app can grab.

Spotify, so far, hadn’t done much to close off the podcasts that it had purchased, but perhaps that’s changing. Earlier this week it was announced that one of (if not) the most popular podcasts in the world, Joe Rogan’s, would now be moving exclusively to Spotify. News reports have said that Spotify paid over $100 million to get Rogan’s podcast on board, while some have put the number closer to $200 million.

While it’s totally understandable why Rogan would take that deal (who wouldn’t?), it does remain a sad day for the concept of an open internet. When we lock up content into silos, we all lose out. The entire concept of podcasts came from the open nature of the internet — combining MP3s and RSS to make it all work seamlessly and enabling anyone to just start broadcasting. The entire ecosystem came out of that, and putting it into silos and locking it up so that only one platform can control it is unfortunate. I’m sure it will get many people to move to Spotify’s podcasting platform, though, and that means those that do offer open podcasting apps (most others) will suffer, because most people aren’t going to want to use two different podcast apps.

Even if the initial economics make sense, it still should be seen as a sad day for the open internet that enabled podcasting to exist in the first place.

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Companies: spotify

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Comments on “We Lose A Lot When Podcasts Go Closed Instead Of Open”

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37 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

There’s already plenty of podcasts who are only available on a subscriber only option. Eg you pay a few dollars to download em. Since streaming is now
Easy on phones it is likely that more music services
will opt to have podcasts exclusives. Podcasts have millions of users, it’s bound to happen that some will go to a music app if they get paid. Eg podcasts are now a Mass media like newspapers or TV
At least the rogan podcast is still free if you install the Spotify app

kallethen says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, I read it and agree with it.

My comment was meant in jest to the remark that I quoted.

But it does point out how the price to access could easily change. Kinda like how a few years ago Taylor Swift made it so that you had to have a premium sub to access her songs on Spotify. And then we’ll have a closed and for-pay situation.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
mblaser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yep, I used to be a devout listener because I was a fan of MMA and his comedy, and found his circle of comedian buddies to be entertaining. But not long before the 2016 election, he started catering to those alt-right scumbags and claiming it as being fair to hear both sides and "free-thinking", so I was done. Haven’t listened in a few years. Screw you Joe for being an enabler of grifting pieces of garbage like Alex Jones, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, etc. Now with this deal he’s the most successful grifter of them all.

aethercowboy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Was your calling Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro alt-right meant to be taken seriously, or just careless parroting of popular, poorly-researched reactionary hit pieces?

Jordan Peterson: "You don’t play racial, ethnic and gender identity games. The left plays them on behalf of the oppressed, let’s say, and the right tends to play them on behalf of nationalism and ethnic pride. I think they’re equally dangerous."

Ben Shaprio: "It is a garbage movement composed of garbage ideas. It has nothing to do with Constitutional Conservatism."

Peterson regularly criticizes group identity in favor of individualism, while Shapiro is a devout Jew. Neither of these viewpoints are compatible with alt-right ideology, and would instead fall closer to conservatism (though Peterson claims to be a classic British liberal).

You don’t have to agree with them, or even like them, but at least get your facts straight.

aethercowboy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Do you read your own sources? The Wikipedia article for Shapiro includes the quote I posted above regarding Shapiro’s view’s on the alt-right. It seems odd that either he’s a member of a group that he detests to that degree, or that we can simply put him in that box because it’s convenient for our narrative.

Of course, I think that it might be the fact that there’s no "good" definition of what the "alt-right" is. For the sake of argument, I’m going to pull from Wikipedia again and say that "Groups which have been identified as alt-right also espouse white supremacism, white separatism, severe immigration restrictions, xenophobia, antisemitism, and islamophobia." Those people are the ones I consider alt-right, especially those with an emphasis on group identity.

While I’m not 100% on Shapiro, because his views don’t interest me that much (though I’d find it strange that he’d be antisemitic), I can attest to the fact that none of these categories fit Peterson. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of his lectures and read both his books and have never come across anything even remotely alt-right, or even alt-light.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that Peterson has it all together. For example, his understanding of the Hobbit is way off, as are his understandings of libel law. I’d never consider going carnivore like him (considering the health benefits are more an aspect of cutting crap out of your diet, and you’d probably feel the same way doing an all-potato diet), and I think it’s unfortunate that he acquired an (albeit physical) dependency on antidepressants that eventually gave him neurological damage in the process of getting off of them. But all that being said, he’s as far from alt-right as he is from antifa.

Federico (profile) says:

Antitrust action needed soon

I’m only happy if Spotify managed to find other content sources to reduce the time spent by users on the big music labels’ content (and therefore the royalties paid to them), but that doesn’t require forcing users to go on their DRM-infested web properties.

Matt Stoller has some good points (although there are some misunderstandings here and there):
https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/on-the-spotify-joe-rogan-deal-and

Quiz: find the responses to the recent European Commission antitrust consultation which would do the most to defend an open web.
https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12325-Evaluation-of-the-Commission-Notice-on-market-definition-in-EU-competition-law

tz1 (profile) says:

Will there be spotify torrents?

That boat sailed long ago.

Even now, since I listen offline (literally, driving through the Zero Bar Ranch) I find myself having to view-source: and dig through iframes and javascript players and other junk to find the mp3 file. Or use a site that does it for me for things like SoundCloud.

The Browsers COULD offer to save the stream as a file with turboed download, but they don’t – mostly. The Samsung Browser does for Video sometimes

I have never been able to get anything off of Apple’s site.

There are downloaders (and to audio converters) for YouTube but not BitChute and vimeo doesn’t always work. Bitchutes magnet links never download.

There is youtube-dl which is in Python, but doesn’t convert video only.

And after this, out! out! damned Spotify!

Wait until podcasts go to Amazon Prime.

But there’s worse. No discussion would be complete without metioning the deplatforing and demonitizing. Consider the Covid censorship – unofficial sources aren’t allowed, only the WHO that said there is no human to human transmission, and Dr. Fauci that told everyone to NOT wear masks. But controversial politics. And don’t you dare say the name of a Chiropractor from Illinois – that is an instant erasure. (will TechDirt interview him? instead of a bleep,they can blow a whistle).

That is a worse problem. It will be interesting if Rogan can get into edgy topics.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

tz1 (profile) says:

Will there be spotify torrents?

That boat sailed long ago.

Even now, since I listen offline (literally, driving through the Zero Bar Ranch) I find myself having to view-source: and dig through iframes and javascript players and other junk to find the mp3 file. Or use a site that does it for me for things like SoundCloud.

The Browsers COULD offer to save the stream as a file with turboed download, but they don’t – mostly. The Samsung Browser does for Video sometimes

I have never been able to get anything off of Apple’s site.

There are downloaders (and to audio converters) for YouTube but not BitChute and vimeo doesn’t always work. Bitchutes magnet links never download.

There is youtube-dl which is in Python, but doesn’t convert video only.

And after this, out! out! damned Spotify!

Wait until podcasts go to Amazon Prime.

But there’s worse. No discussion would be complete without metioning the deplatforing and demonitizing. Consider the Covid censorship – unofficial sources aren’t allowed, only the WHO that said there is no human to human transmission, and Dr. Fauci that told everyone to NOT wear masks. But controversial politics. And don’t you dare say the name of a Chiropractor from Illinois – that is an instant erasure. (will TechDirt interview him? instead of a bleep,they can blow a whistle).

That is a worse problem. It will be interesting if Rogan can get into edgy topics.

Federico (profile) says:

Re: Will there be spotify torrents?

There is youtube-dl which is in Python, but doesn’t convert video only.

I’m not sure I grasped the intended meaning of this sentence, but with youtube-dl you can often download just the audio, or just the video, or merge them, or convert them to another container format. Of course it has some dependencies for that (no idea if anything works in Windows; but then, you can never expect any program to work correctly in Windows) and not all websites are configured, but it’s often rather easy to add support for a website to youtube-dl with some basic Python skills.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

This is why I prefer the Patreon Model

Patreon podcasts are "open-and-pay-for", but sometimes, I don’t listen to the subscriber-only podcasts because I just don’t have the time. I completely agree with Mike Masnick vis-à-vis podcasts getting locked up because I’d rather use Apple’s podcasts app rather than any other podcast app, but I don’t think Apple should have exclusivity to podcasts the same way Spotify has theirs.

This is why I hated what Netflix had done to Stand-up Comedy. For all the evil that Louis CK had done, his stand-up special ushered in an age where we could download DRM-free stand-up comedy specials! Then Netflix had to reverse that where they locked them up behind a paywall and could revoke them at will (not to mention control where and how you watch it based on what country you’re in), among other problems. Now it seems that Spotify will do or has done to podcasts what Netflix did to Stand-up comedy specials. This is really a tragic moment for the open internet.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This is why I prefer the Patreon Model

Samuel didn’t claim there was any verification. Presumably, if income drops too low, the podcast will end.

I find it unlikely all these pay podcasts are wide open for anyone to download and relying on the honor system. Are you stating you know that’s how it works, or just taking a guess?

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This is why I prefer the Patreon Model

I find it unlikely all these pay podcasts are wide open for anyone to download and relying on the honor system.

They’re not. It’s an RSS feed and yes, the honor system is in play. However, people do pay because they realize they’re paying artists and not, say, cartels. That’s the whole reason I subscribe, because I want to support the people behind the podcast!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: This is why I prefer the Patreon Model

So how does it work? If it’s open, how does it verify that you’ve paid for it?

They usually work in one of two ways:

A "secret" RSS URL that is given to subscribers and people are asked not to share it, or most podcast apps now will accept password protected feeds. So you do need a password, but once you’ve entered it, your app can download those feeds (and, of course, once you’ve downloaded the files, they’re in mp3 format). Those are open, but paid,

crade (profile) says:

I think open vs closed is really false dichotomy.

Open to me means open for tinkering not just using.

Is mp3 open or locked? Depends what you are trying to do with it. If you want to listen on your ipod maybe you think it’s open. If you you want to remaster maybe you think it’s locked.

If spotify says their protocol is open but provide shoddy docs and doesn’t help anyone implement it and maybe uses some secret tricks so their software works better than others, does that make it open or closed?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The specification was still basically unavailable when I checked last year. Paywalled, like most ISO standards. One can kind of work it out from open-source MP3 code, non-paywalled theses, and similar sources. You’ll no longer be hit with patent suits for using it, but it’s a stretch to say that MP3 is "public domain" overall.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The point is having the file format specification available doesn’t help you if the format doesn’t let you do what you are trying to do. It’s like saying all my exes are "open" because the exe spec is available or that DRM locked PDFs are open because PDF spec is published. All the spec does is tell you the limitations of the format you are using, it doesn’t get rid of them.

The MP3 will likely have a source project in a different format that would provide you with way more access with audio layers, effects, etc. PDFs are built from text, layout info and images, the images themselves may have their own source files for how they were created that will allow you to easily modify the images.. Whether files that you get in these formats are locked or not basically depends on what you want to do.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I did some extensive research, and I have to grudgefully concede that you are correct. While I can sample MP3s without a problem in DAWs (and even separate vocals from the rest of the track with specialized software in non-instrumental tunes), the reason I am conceding is that Amazon’s Audible files use DRM for audio files which are contained in MP3 and AAC containers. Free audio file formats (OGG, FLAC, ALAC, etc.) don’t permit DRM. So that’s where I concede my point. That being said, Wikimedia Commons still transcodes audio files into MP3, so there is definitely some gray area there…

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