The Next Step In The Podcast Wars: Two Companies Looking To Be The Netflix Of Podcasts Start Fighting

from the this-is-not-good-for-anyone dept

A few months back, we wrote about the concern that Spotify buying Gimlet Media and supposedly betting big on podcasts could signify the end of the open era of podcasts. The fear was that Spotify would ramp up the effort to put many podcasts behind its paywall, and silo off certain podcasts. To be fair, Spotify would hardly be the first to do so. Stitcher has been doing something like that for years. But, of course, there are other players in the field as well. Over the last few months there's been a lot of buzz around a company called Luminary which has raised somewhere around $100 million to, in its own words, become the Netflix of podcasting.

The idea behind Luminary is that it would offer up an app that could access all the usual podcasts via RSS feeds, but that it would also push people towards a monthly subscription fee that would include some "premium" ad free podcasts that it would develop itself. Over the past few months, it's been clear that Luminary has been putting that $100 million warchest to work, announcing premium podcasts from the likes of Trevor Noah, Malcolm Gladwell, Russell Brand, Adam Davidson, Manoush Zomorodi, Hannibal Burress, Conan O'Brien's team and a lot more.

And this week the company finally launches, and apparently Spotify is blocking Luminary from offering all of its podcasts, even the ones that are freely available for everyone else from Gimlet:

When it rolls out to the public on iOS, Android, and the web, Luminary’s podcast app will be missing some of the industry’s biggest shows, including The New York Times’ The Daily and Gimlet Media shows like Reply All and Homecoming. Shows by Anchor’s network of smaller creators won’t be on the app, nor will series from Parcast, both of which are owned by Spotify.

By withholding their shows, the Times and Spotify are setting Luminary up to fail — or at least struggle to get off on the right foot with users. It certainly seems like the first shot fired in the inevitable premium podcast war and could destabilize one of the first buzzy, well-funded entrants before it can make a dent in the industry. The decisions that happen now will reshape the way podcasts are distributed in the future.

As John Bergmayer rightly points out, there's no one to like in this situation. Part of the wonder of podcasts is that it was a totally open system, built on an open protocol in RSS. But the effort to put a paywall around it and push for exclusivity in order to bundle exclusives means that we're killing off the open part of podcasting and pushing proprietary silos. And that's a real shame.

Perhaps it was inevitable that this day would come, but at a time when the world would be a better place if we were moving towards open protocols, it's disappointing that we're continuously moving away from them.

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Filed Under: exclusives, locked up, open internet, paywalls, podcast, podcasts
Companies: gimlet media, luminary, spotify


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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 12:15am

    As an avid listener to podcasts, this doesn't particularly concern me as a concept. If sites want to use "premium" podcasts that aren't available free elsewhere, go for it. A number of podcasts I listen to offer "premium" content to Patreon subscribers and such things, and I don't begrudge anybody trying to claw back their overheads.

    There are 3 caveats - do NOT lock up content that is currently free, do NOT remove ads and other material already on the free podcasts and do NOT prevent anybody from creating their own free content. That is where I have an issue. If others just want to build up a glorified radio archive, so be it. As long as you're adding to the podcast ecosystem and not blocking the people who built it, go for it.


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