Paywalls and Windowing

NYT is opening its documentary Caliphate up to subscribers first. As Nick Quah points out in his latest newsletter, was is interesting here is that NYT already has a large subscriber base and isn’t necessarily pushing this as a customer acquisition strategy:

I like this move, by the way, and here’s why I think it’s different from other windowing campaigns we’ve seen so far: the Times already has a strong subscriber base that’s scattered across a range of media and platforms. As such, “Caliphate” isn’t made to bear the burden of needing to drive new conversions and spark new lines of businesses to justify its investment. Furthermore, the fact that the Times’ subscriber base is already significant means the project doesn’t run the risk of artificially capping any potential momentum it might generate off the bat. This raises a broader question: are audio windowing strategies only unambiguously strong when its attached to a mature and developed subscriber base?

There are a few companies trying out this windowing idea. TuneIn has an early access tier, Earwolf is putting its back catalog behind a paywall and most notably Wolverine: The Long Night is only on Stitcher Premium until later in 2018.

Windowing was used a lot by artists (or their labels) in music streaming a few years ago as an attempt to drive sales of downloads from superfans who wanted new music first and then would make an album available for streaming later. This has gone away as artists (or their labels) seek the largest audience rather than trying to maximize early income. (See: Lucian Grainge of UMG saying exclusives are bad for artists and fans and banning them at UMG and Katy Perry’s poor performance of her single Rise when windowing it on Apple Music). I think this will turn out to be true for podcasters too – reaching a wide audience will be more appealing than maximizing profit.

What about paying for additional content? A few podcasters have made this work with Patreon and ‘secret’ feeds that runs on the honor system that the listener will not share out. Is it possible to put a feed behind a password (the latest version of Overcast now offers this) but what strikes me as backwards about this is that your paying listeners now have a worse experience to get your content. Now they have to create and account/password, then tap around in their podcatcher to find how to authenticate, and then remember or somehow copy their password onto their phone and now finally they can access your content. The reminds me of those terrible, unskippable “You wouldn’t steal a car” anti-piracy ‘ads’ that punished paying viewers who had actually bought the DVD by making them wait through the anti-piracy message before they could watch their movie. And the viewers who pirated the movie for free, which either removed the ‘ad’ or made it skippable, actually got a better experience!

So if windowing and paywalls aren’t great, what is the solution? I think instead of paying for content, people will pay for the experience – that is, a better listening experience. Something akin to Spotify’s free tier vs their paid tier. What if a listener could pay to remove all ads from all podcasts? Sure, this is very difficult with the current podcast infrastructure as there is no universal way to mark where a promo starts and ends and no way to collect and distribute payments back to creators (another argument why centralization might be good) but I would love to see podcasting move away from being so dependent on ads.

Anchor's Shareable Videos Are Back

After removing the feature in the recent Anchor 3.0 launch, Anchor Videos are back. These are short (up to 3 min) videos of an episode with captions and an animated waveform that can be shared on social media.

From the company’s blog:

Earlier this year we launched Anchor 3.0, the easiest way to make podcast, ever. As part of our mission to democratize audio, we believe it’s important to innovate on how that audio is shared. It’s always been a chore to visualize audio segments for social media, and with our new web tools, it’s easier than ever.

I think the interesting underlying story here is the Anchor’s embrace of the desktop. They started out as mobile-only but my guess is that to appeal to more experienced creators they realized they needed a desktop experience. Currently all post-production work is done on a desktop and getting your finished episodes out of, say, Hindenberg and onto a phone just to upload to Anchor was a pain. With their new play as a hosting provider, they needed to remove any barriers and appeal to a broader range of creators. Which meant a desktop experience. And I would argue that the more experienced creator is a better customer for Anchor. They know they like podcasting and will stick around for longer on the Anchor service rather than a creator that just wants to dip their toe into podcasting only to abandon it an episode later.

The Anchor Video creation experience is still not geared towards the experienced creator – it is not possible to extract a short clip from a full episode and make that into a Video on the Anchor app. You will need to render and create a 3 min segment first and upload that to Anchor to be made into a Video.

Now that Anchor is positioning itself a hosting platform, they hope that easy access to creating Videos will pull creators in to use their hosting service.

As I noted back when Anchor Videos launched the first time (which they called Clips back then), it seemed strange that there was no way to push users to subscribe from the video:

The problem for Anchor (and Pippa) is that they don’t have a traditional player. Since Pippa has no player yet and Anchor will only play content created on its own platform, there is no clear call to action that users can take from a shared video. Indeed, it’s odd to see Pod Save America use Anchor branded Clips on social media when you can’t listen to the show on Anchor.

I think it’s just a matter of time before Anchor offers the full iTunes catalog for playback in its app. Right now it feels like a confusing proposition for listeners – they have to know whether this an Anchor podcast or not and remember which app to use to listen. Why not offer a single app that can play both podcasts and Anchor shows?

Audible's Domination of Audiobooks

Blomberg ran an interesting piece profiling the history of Audible. The whole article is worth a read but if you’ll allow me to pick out some parts that stood out to me:

As Amazon has in the years since, Audible first built the infrastructure for a novel form of media consumption, then slowly trained customers to adopt it. While the traditional media industry was apathetic or resistant, the company gradually increased the production of its own material.

With hindsight this is a very high risk approach – pretty much the opposite of the idea broadly accepted that you want to incrementally build small features and get the idea validated by customers at every step. It was an idea that was ahead of its time, survived the Dotcom crash of 1999 by luck and then got saved by the iPod boom in the early 2000s.

For years, the company operated without any real competition on the fringes of the $26 billion publishing industry. Google and Walmart Inc. , though, have recently announced plans to sell audiobooks online.

I hadn’t really ever realized that there was no competition in the audio book world. This could be an interesting parallel to the future of podcasting where things become centralized (i.e. controlled by a single dominant company).

Publishers are growing more aggressive about retaining the rights to produce audio versions of their books, and the price of such rights is increasing quickly. “We don’t like to work with Audible. Working with Amazon is always a treacherous affair,” says Dennis Johnson, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Melville House Publishing. “We’re certainly concerned with their dominance in the marketplace.”

I started to wonder how indie publishers can get their own audiobooks on to the platform and found the Audiobook Creation Exchange which is to audiobooks as Tunecore/Distrokid is to music, that is, an aggregator. Except ACX is owned by Audible. So they also own the ingestion/creation side of the market too.

What the article doesn’t mention is that with Amazon came access to millions of customers credit cards that smooths out the sign up process into a single click. This feels like an area Apple could swoop in and take market share. They also have huge numbers of credit cards on file, they have the infrastructure, they have the playback apps (iTunes/Apple Podcasts). Speaking of apps, this is an area of potential weakness for Audible. Personally I dislike the Audible iOS app. I find it slow, especially when trying to sync, and prone to crashes.

One thing I want to know more about is: how to authors feel about Audible? Do they get paid fairly? Are they finding more fans?

Recast Pushes Social Sharing Forward

Podcast host Simplecast has announced they will start beta-testing a new social sharing tool called “Recast” .

Audiogram creation saw a bunch of new endeavors last year but seems to have gone quiet recently – indeed, Anchor’s popular audio clipper tool was actually removed in its latest version 3.0. The smart twist in this latest idea from Simplecast is to allow for listener-side creation of clips – the theory being that your biggest fans are potentially willing to take the time to create and share their favorite parts from your podcast.

Brad Smith, writing on the Simplecast blog:

Most audiograms floating around social media today are created by the podcast creator or the show’s producer. While they create some wonderful things, this format prevents the listener from sharing their favorite segment, joke, or tear-jerker. We believe putting listeners in control of what’s contained in an audiogram will increase the joy of sharing, thereby increasing the desire and willingness to share. Recast is the industry’s first, fully listener-accessible audiogram sharing tool.

I love this idea in theory but, of course, the devil will be in the details.

How to you make a compelling audio clipper in a small embedded window?

They must push the user into a new window for this, I cannot imagine being able to cram all this into a 400px area within the embedded player widget.

How does the listener create an audio clip while listening to the show?

I can’t think of a way to make this a non-interruptive experience. Is the listener going to stop listening during a great moment to go make a clip? I guess the expectation is that the listener will complete an episode and then go back and make the clip. But how does a listener go back and find that 30 second clip in a 40 minute show? Leading to the next question…

What is the UI for finding the clip you want to share?

It’s easy to forget (for those of us who spend hours indoors in DAWs) that waveforms are a sucky way to visualize conversations. Will the everyday listener be able to understand and visualize where the part of the episode is that they want to clip? The ideal experience would be something like Descript or Anchor’s recently-removed-but-apparently-coming-back audio clipper where the user can read a transcript and use that to find the part of the episode they want.

I’m excited to see how this all works when Simplecast plans to roll Recast out to all users in Spring 2018.

Quick Picks From the Infinite Dial 2018 Report

Edison Research and Triton Digital have released their study of how American’s listen to digital audio, use social media and bunch of other things.

Check out the deck and Anna Washenko at RAINNews has some solid coverage for folks who want to delve a little deeper.

Here are a few tidbits in the deck that stood out to me:

Smart speaker ownership grew rapidly

Over the last year, the percentage of respondents who own a smart speaker grew from 7% to 18%. Of those, 11% own both an Alexa device and Google Home – which struck me as very high? Maybe because we are still in the ‘early adopter’ phase of smart speaker growth, those consumers are more open to trying all available products? Amazon Music usage grew this year as well which could well be attributed to the ‘power of default’ by it being the default music service on Alexa devices.
Note: the study was conducted before the Apple HomePod launched.

Decline in Facebook usage

Not new, since this was reported by Facebook in their Q4 earnings, but interesting to see this confirmed by another study. The percentage that “currently ever use Facebook” declined from 67% to 62% , with they youngest demographic 12-34 year olds declining the most. Twitter also has no growth in usage, leaving Instagram and Snapchat to take up the space left.

In-car seems very promising for podcast growth

Podcasts overtook Satellite Radio in the car for the first time

A reminder that podcasting still not that well known

64% of respondents were ‘familiar’ with the podcasting. Which is a sobering reminder for me that 2 out of 5 people would reply “huh?” when I start chatting about podcasting.

But of those that do listen, they are consuming more content

There was an increase in the number of podcasts listened to in a week; from 5 to 7. It seems like the rise in daily news shows may have had an impact in that figure for 2018

Podcast Streaming Might Be Key for New Listeners

Those of us who are knee-deep in podcast feeds often forget that subscribing and listening is still pretty hard for the new listener. There are lots of folks working on all these new ideas for discovery and recommendations – that is, finding ways for existing listeners to listen to more – but I think we often forget that getting brand new people into podcasting is a win-win for everyone.

The idea of downloading an episode, and then listening to it, managing storage space on your phone, the conceptually heavy idea of “subscribing”, are all things that put off curious new listeners. The recent app ‘sodes got some coverage this week and it aims to solve exactly this, with a super-simple interface that won’t appeal to you or me but would be great for the first time listeners. Chance Miller writing for 9to5Mac:

While traditional podcast applications are centered primarily around the idea of subscribing to a show and having new episodes downloaded as they become available, the goal of ’sodes is to let users listen to podcasts when they want, without having to manage subscriptions or a download queue.

And of course there is Spotify. Tucked in this week’s HotPod from Nick Quah was this:

“I’m a heavy user of Spotify for podcast listening, mostly because it works better with my data plan and I often spend huge chunks of the day without Wifi.”

I’m starting to think that streaming might be the key to pulling in those new listeners. I remember complaining when Spotify first introduced podcasts that they treated them like music: manual offlining, no auto download but maybe my thinking was upside down. Maybe I should have thought: “Hey how podcast consumption works is confusing, making it more like streaming music (which is something nearly everyone understands) is actually a better way?”

There are a few of us who love the old ways – the comforting nostalgia of managing your subscriptions in iTunes and syncing them to your iPod. Caroline Crampton writes in this week’s No Complaints newsletter:

I found an iPod Classic on eBay for about £80. I plugged it into my laptop and spent a very enjoyable hour resurrecting my iTunes podcast database, and then synced my shows. That was a few weeks ago now, and I don’t miss my podcast app at all.

Now where did I leave my Zune?

How Important is Anchor's Free Hosting?

Although Anchor started offering free hosting last July, with their pivot to podcasting creation tools in Anchor 3.0, I starting wondering: what are the implications of Anchor offering free hosting?

As Anchor says:

We don’t believe in charging creators to make or store their stuff. We’re all about democratizing audio, which among other things means making sure it’s accessible to everyone - so Anchor is completely free to use. No storage limits; no strings attached.

Well, of course there are some strings attached. They do insert a post-roll ad for Anchor on all your content and their Terms of Service offer no guarantees (which I think is fair enough for a free service):

You acknowledge that we may establish general practices and limits concerning use of the Services, including without limitation the maximum period of time that Content will be retained by the Services and the maximum storage space that will be allotted on our servers on your behalf…
We reserve the right to, but do not have any obligation to, (i) remove, edit or modify any Content in our sole discretion, at any time, without notice to you and for any reason…, or for no reason at all and (ii) to remove or block any Content from the Services.

Let’s consider this business strategy. Free removes any financial barriers that casual podcast creators may have had to starting a podcast (I still think that the hardest part is having content rather than any technology hurdles, but that’s a post for another day). Anchor makes a quick grab for market share (why wouldn’t you want to go with free hosting?) and creators move away from entry-level hosting companies like Podbean, Soundcloud and Simplecast.

Providing storage of data as Ben Thompson wrote in Stratechery in 2014:

Pure storage isn’t a great business. The cost is trending towards zero, as noted by Levie himself. Data, though, is priceless; it can’t be replaced…

If we look at the competition, free hosting is something that other “pure” (that is, their only revenue is from charging customers for hosting) hosting companies can’t offer – they aren’t VC backed and they aren’t going to kill their only source of income, so they will have to move to complete on other features than just hosting. Offering storage for a monthly fee is something anyone can do, the competitive advantage comes from what you can do with that data. And this is another area where Anchor is competing. While podcast consumption is so fragmented, making sure your RSS feed is submitted to all the right places is a pain, Anchor is making a play as the easiest distribution platform. Their headline feature is 1-click submission of your new podcast to Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Music. As far as I know, they are the first to offer such a feature.

An unknown area is customer service. The beginner creator is also the customer that needs the most help. Are Anchor going to be able to provide first-class customer service for free? I can imagine that they could offer a tiered approach, free hosting with no support and $10 a month for those who need more help.

It seems like the markets aren’t too worried by Anchor’s renewed push into free podcast hosting. LibSyn’s (who are the market leader in podcast hosting with a nearly $40M market cap) share price has remained stable over the last month at around 1.60USD.

See more posts in the Archive