Apple Podcasts launches in-app subscriptions

A monumental change is coming to Apple Podcasts’ business: the company is launching subscriptions within the Apple Podcasts app. During its spring event today, the company announced that people will be able to subscribe to content from the app for extra perks, like ad-free and bonus content, as well as early access. It’ll launch in 170 regions and countries next month.

Initial partners include Pushkin Industries, QCODE, and NPR. It appears that content creators will have to pay Apple $19.99 per year in order to offer subscriptions, and Apple will take 30 percent of revenue for the first year of a subscriber’s lifetime and 15 percent for the years following. This means that if a subscriber only subscribes for one year, a podcaster will have given Apple 30 percent of that revenue. Podcasters are incentivized to keep subscribers around longer.

Podcasters will have to upload their subscription content through Apple’s backend, not through RSS and their hosting provider. Their regular feed, however, can still operate through RSS. Because the subscription content goes through Apple, podcasters also won’t receive specific data about their paying listeners, like their email, names, or contact information. Apple essentially owns the relationship.

The app is also getting a redesign with channels to help people find new content curated by their favorite creators. These channels will feature artwork, titles, and descriptions unique to Apple Podcasts, and some might promote free content while others are paid. Luminary, a subscription-based podcast app that launched in 2019, is an initial channel partner. The company said today that people will be able to subscribe to Luminary shows from Apple Podcasts, as well as in the Luminary app. The Athletic appears to be offering a similar setup, too.

Other new features include a “Smart Play” button that’ll allow listeners to automatically start episodic shows from the newest episode and serialized shows from the beginning of the series. Listeners can also save individual episodes, which are downloaded for offline playback.

Overall, Apple is seemingly taking a bigger interest in the creators who use its platform to reach listeners. People widely speculated that Apple would launch a subscription service to promote its own original content, which has focused on companion shows for its TV Plus and Books content. Now, it appears that Apple instead sees an opportunity to make money off the podcasters themselves without investing in its own exclusive programming. This could set Apple up to more directly compete with platforms like Patreon, which have courted podcasters. Patreon only takes up to 12 percent of subscription revenue, however, so it seems unlikely successful podcasters will switch their models over to Apple Podcasts exclusively.

Apple has, for years, been the de facto app on which people listen to podcasts, partially because of its pre-installation on iPhones. That is, up until Spotify entered the fold in earnest in 2019. Since then, the company has been gunning for Apple’s market share, bolstered by flashy exclusive deals, acquisitions, and the company’s own podcast creation software funnel. The strategy appears to be working. eMarketer reported last month that this year, 28.2 million people will listen to podcasts in the US on Spotify versus Apple Podcasts’ 28 million. A separate report from Voxnest last year also found Spotify gaining ground in the US, specifically in New Jersey and California where it says the player has overtaken Apple.

Spotify has voiced an interest in helping creators monetize, as well, so it could end up competing with Apple for creators’ exclusive content, or podcasters will end up having to manage their subscriptions across various apps.