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Tilting At Podcasting's Apple-Shaped Windmill

Oct 21, 2019

Apple has long been the punching bag for a lot of more indie-focused players in the podcasting business. Yet Apple maintains massive dominance in our podcasting space. Shouldn’t those two things be mutually exclusive? Not really. And as you’re about to see, it’s pretty common in tech. 

A couple of years ago, I penned an article on Medium called Your Hatred of Apple Podcasts Isn't Helping. It got a lot of reactions from a lot of people, exactly as I expected. Some agreed. Most thought I was smoking crack. 

Now, before you label me an Apple apologist, it doesn’t take much research to find me taking Apple to task when it’s warranted. What you may see as bipolar or wishy-washy behavior is just life as a professional contrarian. While I’m able to bifurcate my brain to see and sometimes argue for both sides, I sometimes think that I send a mixed message to my audience. 

The good news is my audience is made up of people just like you who are also working podcasters, and you are used to (or soon will become used to) changing opinions and shifting best practices.

Here’s one thing that hasn’t changed since that article was published nearly two years ago: Apple still controls 80% of the podcasting world. Yes, even with Spotify, Pandora, and Google making headway into podcasting. And yes, even though your stats may show downloads to Apple devices accounting much less than 80% of your overall total on any given episode of your show. 

Here’s why I say that Apple controls 80% of the podcast landscape: Many apps and directories pull from Apple Podcasts’ dataset. Some don’t have a way to manually submit to them, making Apple Podcasts the de facto keeper of (statistically speaking) all podcasts. So as my friend James Cridland says, if your show gets kicked out of Apple Podcasts, you’re effectively kicked out of almost everywhere else that matters.

The great future statesman Andrew Yang made a similar argument recently. For those of you not steeped in U.S. politics, Yang is running for President of the United States of America. He's not likely to win. Nor is he likely to get the nomination of his party. Regardless, and at the risk of alienating some of you, I’m a big fan of Andrew Yang's message for a lot of reasons. But this isn’t about politics.

Andrew made the argument that sometimes services are the biggest because they're absolutely the best. To directly quote him: 

“There’s a reason why no one is using Bing today… Sorry, Microsoft. It’s true.”

The argument of whether or not tech giants should be broken up or not aside, there’s a reason Google is the tool everyone uses, even though there are a lot of other search engines out there. As someone who's worked in the digital marketing and advertising industry for nearly two decades, much of that on search engine optimization and search engine marketing, I assure you that if you do it right for Google; you do it right for just about everywhere else. 

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s close. If you set up your podcast for Apple, you’ve mostly done it right for everywhere else that matters. Mostly.

I have friends who are very successful independent authors. They aren’t exclusively represented by any one giant publishing house and remain fiercely independent. Amazon is a huge powerhouse when it comes to book sales, and my friends have chosen to study this, since their livelihood is largely impacted by the decisions of Amazon. (Sound familiar?)  They’ve learned that Amazon has some pretty amazing superpowers. For example, Amazon can, with the near-literal push of a button, get an extra 50,000 sales of any ebook in a day. 

Fifty. Thousand. In a single day. Most books never get close to 5,000 total sales for their entire life.

With that in mind, think on Apple and the incredible power they wield over podcasting.

But I’ve a message to all the people out there building competing podcast listening apps, podcast directories, and brand new podcasting services that give us something different (you could say better) than our Apple overlords:

Keep on keepin’ on.

Do your thing. Get it off the ground. Do not stop innovating or disrupting this space. Keep going. There's plenty of room for other players in what just looks like a crowded marketplace. 

As for working podcasters, I can’t tell you what to do or what loyalties you should have. I can only suggest that you not do silly things like try to get your listeners to switch away from Apple Podcasts, or decide to not put a link to your show on Apple Podcasts on your website. That’s just short-sighted. And rather pointless.

Recently I was gathered with a dozen or so relatively new podcasters. I asked the group what app they used to listen to podcasts. Not surprisingly, more used Apple Podcasts than anything else. What was surprising was the behavior of these podcasters -- all of whom were podcast listeners first -- exhibited when they wanted to listen to a podcast they discovered at this gathering. Without fail, all of them got the name of the show (or the name of the host), opened up their chosen podcast listening app, used the search feature, and added/followed/subscribed to the show. 

What no one did was go to the website for the show, find the raw RSS feed of the show, copied the URL for the feed, and then manually subscribed. So… maybe the best practice of making URL of the raw RSS feed an option is pointless?

Granted, this was a very small data set. But… I can’t think of the last time I used the raw RSS feed to subscribe to a show. And with few exceptions, I’m willing to bet you haven’t either. And we’re way more technically advanced than casual listeners. 

Of course, I could be wrong about that. Do you use the raw RSS feed to subscribe, or is that purely a hold-over from 2004 thinking, and I need to reset my assumptions? Tell me here in the comments, or you can go to Flick.group/podcastpontifications to chat privately on your mobile device with a small group of listeners to this program.

Maybe we should be more like my publishing friends and seek out a tighter integration with podcasting’s powerhouses? I'll be exploring this theme for the rest of this week here on Podcast Pontifications.

You’ll notice I don’t run ads on this show, but you can show your support for the program by going to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and making a small contribution.

And if you're in business and need some help with strategic podcasting, that's what my firm, Simpler Media, does. Get in touch with me. evo@PodcastLaunch.pro or go to PodcastLaunch.pro to see how we can work together.

See you tomorrow on another Podcast Pontifications

Cheers!