On Premium Podcast Networks

PodcastOne launched a premium podcast network last week, which got me thinking: why are premium podcast networks (henceforth ‘PPNs’) charging for access rather than features?

What can PPNs learn from the streaming music market?


Exclusives don’t work. Drake’s Hotline Bling missed out on being #1 last year because the song was ‘windowed’ (it was only available on Apple Music at release time). Kanye didn’t chart for The Life of Pablo because Tidal doesn’t submit streaming data to the charts.
As an artist you want your work to be available to as many people as possible. Music sales count for nothing these days, it’s touring and merchandise that make money for artists. Artists should be seeing streaming platforms as promotional tools (an image that YouTube has perfected while actually paying artists a pittance).
For the listener, if an album you want isn’t on the streaming platform of your choice, what are you going to do? Find your credit card and sign up for a free trial that you must remember to cancel after 90 days or just go download it from a file-sharing site?

Free Trials

Which brings us to free trials. They don’t work either. The moment a user hits a credit card form the conversion rate plummets. Apple Music was able to minimize this as they have all your card details on file already so signing up for a free trial never meant you hit a credit card form.

The problem is deeper than just making sure a user completes the registration form. As a user during a temporary free trial, your behavior is exactly that: temporary. You don’t build up playlists, you don’t interact with the service as a subscriber would, you make no long term commitments. You drop out very easily once the trial period is up.

If exclusives and free trials don’t work then what is the answer?

The tier model, a.k.a. the Spotify model.
On Spotify you can access anything for free but if you want more features and less ads then you can pay. It is the free tier that drives users to pay for premium, they know what they are getting and they know they want to pay for it.

And the free tier still earns Spotify money from advertising. Win-win. Users who are unsure if they want the product can use it for free as much as they like. When they want more they can pay for it. Of course there are questions: how do you get people to pay and is removing ads an effective tool for getting people to pay? That is a discussion for another day.

For PPNs this seems like a no-brainer - they already produce the ‘free tier’ supported by ads, why not just add a paid tier that removes ads and maybe offers some exclusives?

I don’t have any good answers but I suspect there are a couple of reasons: