In April, Apple Podcasts was ready to revolutionize the industry. It released in-app subscriptions as well as a completely new backend that represents one of the most significant changes to the app since its release. The hype was easy to understand: the biggest name for subscription-podcast legalization apps could start a new podcast era where advertising revenue is less important and more people could potentially support themselves.
However, in the months following the announcement of the Apple Podcasts, the podcasters say the platform has failed in many ways. For a company that prides itself on functionality, design, and ease of use, launching a new background program is a mess. According to podcast users, Apple Podcasts Connect, which they have to use to take advantage of subscriptions, has a confusing interface that often leads to user error scenarios that cause them to panic at all times of the day in panic – one podcaster-wide program seemingly archived until Apple stepped in to help and explain what happened.
The updated application has been corrupted since the release. Earlier this summer an automatic download failure caused a 31 percent decrease in downloads Podtrac. People who trusted Apple to download new episodes for them might have missed them altogether. (Company given update last month, which reportedly fixed it, but this solution depends on people actually updating their apps.) Listeners also complained about app update issues in April – some say the podcasts they had already heard came to their libraries, and they also had problems syncing their podcasts between different devices. It culminated in a slightly delayed on-demand product launch, pushing it from May to June, some updates, and Apple didn’t get a public word as to why everything went so wrong.
Worse than bugs, podcasts, however, say the subscription push brings with it a new labor cost that not everyone can afford to address. The promise of RSS was a centralized place to publish on all podcast platforms; thanks to this new subscription product and other platforms, podcast users now have to publish in different places and manage different background programs – this is especially difficult for small groups. One podcaster says it is downloading to Patreon, Apple and their hosting provider right now, and they may end up downloading to Spotify and other services as well. None of these separate feeds play well with each other, so Patreon’s private RSS feed can’t be used to automatically download paid content to Apple – every paid episode has to be downloaded manually.
“Apple is approaching it from the lens of a big company,” says the podcast director of the independent program, who wants to remain anonymous because their relationship with Apple is sensitive. “I think it’s harder for them to think of smaller independent shows with so few people. It is such a foreign concept to them; they are Apple. “
This administrator says they have spent days troubleshooting the platform and waited at some point to deal with an all-night episode in the background when it was already obsolete content. One last night, they say they have uploaded their exclusive content to Patreon within five minutes, but then waited for hours for it to be processed in Apple Podcasts.
“It’s one of the consequences of us having a small team, it’s just that I’m sitting waiting for it to finish so I can publish an episode,” they say.
Larger companies have a better chance of managing the rise in custom work. They can hire producers to make bonus content, focus on multiple performances at once, and get financial resources to make a new project a success. For example, NPR — both the first Apple subscriptions and the Spotify subscription publishing partner — hired two new people to handle the release of six ad-free subscription programs, says Joel Sucherman, director of new platform partnerships. They also help with quality checks, for example, by making sure that the content of a subscriber’s feed is accidentally free of ads.
“The beauty of RSS was just publishing it [and] it goes everywhere – it’s just there and it’s available, ”Sucherman says. “And so these additional measures have brought potential for user errors or machine errors, and sometimes you play a little asshole trying to figure out what’s what, but I’d characterize it as growth pains and things that clearly get better.”
Apple’s main podcasting competitor, Spotify, has announced a solution to this work problem in its form Open Access technology. It says the technology will combine with existing subscription platforms such as Supporting Cast and Memberful to make publishing in one place even for premium content. However, both Apple and Patreon are not yet collaborating on the project, and Spotify will only make it available to an invited partner right now.
“By the time they come up with a more automated solution for uploading files, it’s awesome,” says Tracy Leeds Kaplan, director of partnerships and operations at Tenderfoot TV, about Apple’s new system.
Even now, after launching subscriptions, when one could hope that the worst problems with the platform have subsided, podcast users say they still have other technical glitches, namely major delays in releasing new episodes. One director, who wants to remain anonymous, says one popular presentation that is time-sensitive and has experienced 72-hour release delays on several occasions. Another manager, who also wants to remain anonymous, tells me that their listeners email them and ask where the new episodes were, all because of Apple’s delay. (In a couple of these cases, those episodes weren’t even behind the payment wall and were based on a typical RSS system.)
“People get into their routine, and if the episode doesn’t come as expected, it’s really easy to move on to a new performance,” one of these leaders says. “We’ve had fans who asked us what’s happened, and I think it’s a really bad look and really impressive for our numbers, which means ad sales.”
They also say that the Subscription Product, at least for the podcasters themselves, doesn’t feel perfect and easy, especially compared to their competitors. In 2017, Apple began offering podcasters analysis of their programs and episodes, such as audience retention, and it is assumed that analytics will move to a subscription product. Currently, however, podcast users say they need to download a txt.gz file or spreadsheet to see their subscription information. The director of the indie podcast says they have difficulty opening the file and still have no idea how many will pay for their program months after release.
“It’s frustrating because in Patreon we can just go to the web browser interface and see our number – we can do it with anything,” they say. “It just seems too complicated; why can’t you put it on the Internet?”
One of the podcast managers who has been able to open this file further says that the spreadsheet exists, and not the easy-to-use, readable interface is “not very apple-like” and “just not really easy to use.”
This is also the case where larger networks can have an advantage – their employees, or at least their tenants, may be familiar with spreadsheets and pivot tables. However, smaller companies are unlikely to have the resources and capabilities, which means a gap between large budgets and non-expanding ones.
There are other minor concerns, such as the fact that podcasters can’t watch the number of “followers” of a program or the people who follow the program but don’t pay for it. This figure is critical for podcast senders who want to follow a conversion, such as whether they are turning their followers into paying listeners, and can be a testament to the success of the program.
Apple declined to comment on this song.
While Apple didn’t respond to complaints from these podcast users, it’s easy to imagine the company saying that these people won’t be forced to use the platform. Apple Podcasts continue to support and support private RSS feeds, so people can publish on Patreon, Supporting Cast, or anywhere else, and their listeners can enjoy content in the world of Apple. But this choice pays off: the lack of an in-app button. They would lose a potential key to opening up new subscriber markets.
But the platform’s ongoing problems and its voice critics talk about the dynamics of power in the industry. If Apple Podcasts doesn’t publish a episode for a day or two, the podcaster’s month can ruin it, annoying paying subscribers and advertisers. The oversized impact of the industry means too much control, and podcast broadcasters want answers.