Dear Podcasters...

A secretary sits at her desk looking thoughtful.

Dear Podcasters,

I’m not one of you, but I like you. And I was reading on Recode that Spotify wants to be like Netflix for podcasting. In their ideal scenario, if you want a certain podcast, you must go through them, and for a fee. They’re soft-balling that message, at the moment, saying only certain podcasts will be exclusive to them, but this seems to be where they’re headed. So I wanna ask: Are you okay with this?

You’re probably a nice person, so let me be the bitch to ask: Why would a podcaster choose to put their content inside a walled-garden where only one corporation’s customers can access it? Eh?

Let’s talk about Amazon for a sec, because they’re an example of a large distributor that’s not a walled-garden. Amazon gets a lot of crap for how they treat their vendors, and the critics often have a point. But when I upload my book to Amazon, it never stops being mine. I can change the price, put it up, or take it down whenever I want. And I’m getting value from the arrangement. Not only do I sell my books on the world’s top retail site, but Amazon handles distribution, device management, print-on-demand, and even some sales tax reporting. I’m never required to be exclusive with them. And the cut they take for all these services is fair, in my opinion.

Sure, I could sell my books only on my website, but as Amazon expands my reach, and they offer actual value to me, I’m happy to distribute my books there. Now let’s circle back to Spotify. Will they offer a similar good deal to podcasters like you? We don’t know yet, but here are questions to consider:

Will you maintain full ownership of your work?

Can you share your work on other sites, and in other ways? If they require exclusivity, what makes this channel so wonderful that you’d give up all your other options?

Are they taking a fair “cut” of the profits, given the benefits they’re offering you? If you’re charging for your work, can you make a decent wage at the rates they offer?

Are they a distribution channel for your work, or are they trying to keep your products inside a walled-garden, making them difficult to extract?

Does most of the money flow to the creator, not the distributor?

If the terms are good for creators, is this likely to continue to be the case, or will the company do a TOS switcheroo as soon as they have the upper hand?

My Concern about Podcasting at Spotify

It’s too early to say how the Spotify-Anchor-Gimlet merger will affect podcasters and fans, but I fear we’ve seen this scenario before. A biggish company decides that they’ll aggregate an immense amount of creative work and monetize it. They’ll offer you tools to make “sharing” easy, and at first the terms of service will be reasonable. But once they’ve eaten a big enough chunk of content, they’ll lock the gates tighter, change the terms of service, and monetize the audience. By that point, customers would feel locked into Spotify, and podcasters would be afraid to leave. It could be Facebook Pages all over again.

In that scenario, podcasters like you will become serfs. You’ll labor hard, while Spotify scrapes off the lion’s share of the money. A podcaster who might have earned decent money via a system like Patreon or individual subscriptions will be relegated to chump-change as they get teeny royalties as part of Spotify’s super-catalog. Of course, a few super-stars will be elevated and celebrated as examples to everyone else.

See? If you work hard and give us all your content, someday you might afford groceries! This guy did it!

And to anyone who shrugs and says “Well, this podcast is a hobby, not a job. Who cares if it makes money?” I’ll suggest that your mindset falls squarely into the trap that aggregators set. Having your hobby monetized while you earn nothing is downright exploitative. Take Wattpad, for example. There, you have young writers putting out tens of thousands of books for free, while Wattpad scrapes up revenue and movie rights. Meanwhile, Wattpad placates their creators with pats on the head and cries of “isn’t this fun!” and “we’re a community!”

Someone’s benefiting there, and it ain’t the writers, many of whom are too inexperienced to appreciate that they’re being used.

In my opinion, trading your IP rights, pricing flexibility, distribution flexibility, and independence for free hosting on someone else’s website is a moron’s deal. Not that the aggregators will admit this! You’ll say “Oh, it’s just for fun!” and they’ll nod, smiling, as they thumb through the benjamins.

Of course, we don’t know yet how Spotify will treat their newly acquired podcasting businesses. If they decide to make it a good deal for podcasters, and not exploitative, that could be a win for everyone. I’ll be thrilled if that happens, but I’m not holding my breath. Prove me wrong, Spotify! I’d love that.

Unfortunately, post-merger Spotify has all the hallmarks of a walled-garden, and that’s worrisome. That’s why I suggest we all embrace our skepticism, respect ourselves and our work, and refuse to be chumps.

I guess that’s my point, podcasters. Don’t be a fucking chump. Because you deserve a lot better, okay? I’d rather throw a couple whole dollars per month at a podcast I love than subscribe to another shitty mega-aggregator that treats creators like cogs. And even if you’re podcasting for free, think about the system you’re enabling via your participation. Let’s not create another Facebook.

Hugs and Kisses,

Cheri

Cheri's Micro Blog @Cheri
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