Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don’t

Uh, why wouldn’t you want Apple to make some sweet podcasting money?

I tried to ignore this podcasting hubbub, but I failed. Marco Arment writes about Apple’s position with podcasts:

The biggest player app: Apple’s built-in iOS Podcasts app is the biggest podcast player in the world by a wide margin, holding roughly 60–70% marketshare.
The biggest podcast directory: The iTunes Store’s Podcasts directory is the only one that matters, and being listed there is essential for podcasts to be easily found when searching in most apps.

In other words: podcasters are so worried about what Apple might do, because anything Apple does with podcasts will essentially become the defacto standard for podcasts given Apple’s actual role in podcasts being too important to podcasting. Apple holds the best keys to discovery, and the largest market share for podcasting apps.

Or: if your podcast isn’t listed in iTunes, then do you really have a podcast?

Federico Viticci writes:

Think about it. Podcasts on iTunes link to external RSS feeds, files are hosted somewhere else, and there’s a team of people curating the best ones each week. It’s a benevolent service with a convenient interface based on an open medium. Can it last forever? How much would the “improvements” craved by Leading Podcast Professionals change that? And if such changes are implemented, would the podcasting industry be able to maintain its open and decentralized nature like the web is struggling to do?

Viticci is against any changes to the status quo, and I get it and so does he:

For podcasters, the current state of the iTunes Store is almost too good to be true.

There’s no need for almost to be a part of that sentence — it is too good to be true. But it is also true. Getting Apple to catalog your podcast is trivial and free.

Which is why every podcaster, big or small, should be all for paid podcasts. Subscription podcasts, or at the very least paid submissions to the iTunes directory. Because as it stands right now, Apple has no financial reasons to keep podcasts growing, and that’s always going to put the system at risk.

Podcasters cannot afford to lose Apple and what they are doing with the player, or with iTunes. If podcasters lost that, it’s game over. There’s no alternative that could be as easily adopted.

And again: Apple has no financial reason to keep this going. If anything, the argument could be daftly made that they have financial incentive to nuke all their work in podcasts.

If Apple allowed podcasters to charge for podcasts — and took their infamous 30% — now they have financial incentive to keep it going. Now they have incentive to promote podcasts. It’s not a win-win — you would likely lose some (if not all) of the decentralized and “open” nature of podcasting.

But is that not better than losing it all?

Right now Apple is podcasting’s generous host and free partner. That won’t, and can’t, last forever. At some point, and it sure seems like we are getting to that point, the amount of work Apple has to do to keep playing host is going to outweigh their benevolent spirit and something will have to change.

Podcasters should hope that Apple decides to start charging for something — anything — because the only other alternative I see is laying podcasts in the graveyard.

I hear there’s a spot right next to Google Reader.

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