As podcasters weigh whether a subscription model is a path the industry ought to take, a Bay Area startup has just soft-launched an app designed to give smaller, independent podcast producers a way to embrace the paid model. Brew has gone live with a handful of shows and only an iOS app for now—it says it’ll release an Android app next month. The app charges users a monthly $4.99 subscription fee to access podcasts it hosts. Its website explains the subscription goes towards show creators ensuring they’re able to focus on content and not advertising. “The less they worry about monetizing, the more they can focus on creating,” it says.
Brew is the brainchild of Jijo Sunny, Madhavan Ramakrishnan, Aleesha John and Joseph Sunny, the same team that built BuyMeACoffee.com, a tipping platform used by more than 45,000 creators to receive support from their audience. Brew has secured the backing of Y Combinator. That’s the Silicon Valley incubator which puts $150,000 into a large number of Bay Area startups each year. Brew was one of several dozen companies to get that funding as part of the Winter 2019 round with a simple, if not overused, positioner of creating an app to become the “Netflix for podcasts, driven by the creators.” TechCrunch reports they’ve raised another $250,000 from other backers, including CrunchRoll founder Kun Gao and Teachable CEO Ankur Nagpal.
The launch comes as Luminary prepares to enter the podcast market with $100 million of funding and a freemium business model that will charge $8 per month to access the roughly 40 shows that will be exclusive and ad-free. Nonsubscribers will be able to find scores of other advertising-supported podcasts through its app. It may appear to set up a David versus Goliath battle in podcasting, yet Brew CEO Jijo Sunny said in an interview they are embracing a different segment of the podcast business.
“Anyone anywhere can set up a podcast. To be a Netflix for audio, it has to be for all creators, not celebrities like Trevor Noah,” Sunny told TechCrunch, taking a whack at the roster of big names Luminary will launch with. Instead, Sunny explains Brew will resemble the traditional podcast model where small, independent creators can submit a show to be hosted on the app. “Our vision is to help millions of creators earn a living doing what they love,” Ramakrishnan added.
Subscription revenue is only the first phase of their strategy. Brew’s long-term plan is to create features that will allow listeners to pay a gratuity to shows they like. They also see merchandise sales, publishing, and production tools as part of the way they can help podcasters and Brew itself turn a profit.
Some podcast executives have questioned whether it’s too soon in podcasting’s life cycle to switch to a paid model. “I think you can do harm to a medium if you start to lock it up a little too early,” Conal Byrne, president of the iHeartPodcast Network, told the RAIN Podcast Business Summit. “For the time being, let’s default to ubiquity and make the content available everywhere anyone wants to consume it,” he urged the industry.
Owen Grover, CEO of Pocket Casts, has raised similar concerns in an interview with Cheddar. “Podcasting has traditionally and typically been free. The question that we need to ask ourselves is what problems are we solving for listeners?” he said. “There is a wonderful array of content available to listeners right now for free. Is the industry ready for paywalls? We’re going to find out in the next year or so.”