Does The Spotify Gimlet Purchase Signal The End Of The Open World Of Podcasting?

from the hopefully-not dept

If you follow this kind of news at all, you probably have heard that Spotify has recently purchased two podcasting companies: Gimlet Media and Anchor. Gimlet makes a ton of high quality, highly produced podcasts (it's like the HBO of podcasting), while Anchor is a combination of a podcasting advertising network and a set of tools to let anyone create their own podcasts easily (it's like the SqaureSpace of podcasts). On the one hand, it's good to see podcasts getting some attention and interest, and Spotify is clearly one of the largest services for listening to audio files -- though much more so on the music side.

My concern, however, is about the potential walling off of the podcast world. The whole concept of podcasts from the early days was the idea that anyone could create them and anyone could access them. That's been changing a bit of late. There have been a growing number of exclusive and walled off podcasts, including on Spotify (but also on Stitcher with its Stitcher Premium and Slate with its Slate Plus program -- and likely others as well).

And obviously, it's nice to see experimentation around business models regarding podcasts, but as some are already pointing out, this could be another nail in the coffin for the idea of an open web.

In an interview about the Gimlet deal, Gimlet's co-founders insisted that they didn't think it was going to lead to this sort of fragmentation for existing podcasts, but future podcasts might be a different story.

Alex Blumberg: Yeah, I mean, well, Spotify said themselves this morning on the earning call that they have no intention of taking the shows that are out there that Gimlet produces and putting them behind a paywall. So those will continue to be freely distributed.

Matt Lieber: Or make an exclusivity to Spotify, the existing shows.

Alex Blumberg: Yeah. Yes. The existing shows will not be made exclusive to Spotify. They will continue ... you’ll continue to get them where you get them now. And yeah, going forward, I think it’s going to be a mix. This is a new world, and we’re trying to figure out how it works. And so it’ll be a mix of exclusive things that we make exclusively for Spotify, like we’re doing right now with Mogul or things that are windowed or things that are a mix of the two. I think there’s gonna be a lot of experimentation.

Frankly, the idea of windowed podcasts doesn't bother me that much -- releasing versions a bit earlier to subscribers seems like a reasonable business model for some kinds of content. But creating full exclusives, building a fragmented world of podcasting with walled gardens sounds like a disaster for the medium. There are already people complaining about all the walled gardens in video entertainment content. We don't need to add to that with podcasts, when the podcast world has already shown that an open, standards-based system built on RSS works just fine.

Filed Under: exclusives, open internet, paywalls, podcasts, rss, walled gardens
Companies: anchor, gimlet, spotify

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 3:19am

    I'm both wary and unbothered by this move. On the one hand, podcasting has always been a difficult thing to properly monetise, which is why so many of the longest running and most successful podcasts have tended to be those with existing radio platforms (NPR, BBC, etc.) or those who just use podcasting as a secondary marketing tool. True independents have always struggled, though it's nice to see things like Patreon allow for us not hearing the same ads for mattresses on every podcast.If this makes it possible for higher quality content to be produced without having to depend on an old school radio infrastructure or celebrity endorsement then it may be positive.

    On the other hand, I'm firmly in agreement that the trend toward relegating content to specific silos is something that should be concerning, although fears about how it might affect the "open web" are a little late in the game in this era of DRM, region blocking, etc. Say what you want about Spotify, but as their business model has tended to allow for free streaming and a truly international presence it's less concerning than it would be from other companies.

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