Apple has put Tuesday, June 15 on the calendar as the date when Apple Podcast Subscriptions will go live. First announced in April, Apple had originally planned to debut the paid service last month but delayed the launch by a few weeks to address some technical hang ups that prevented many podcasters from logging onto Apple Podcasts Connect.
Apple said last month that it has been “delighted” by the response with “hundreds” of submissions from publishers worldwide. Apple Podcast Subscriptions has so far been embraced by a growing number of publishers, including NPR, Wondery, CNN, Tenderfoot TV, Luminary, The Athletic, Pinna, Pushkin Industries, PRX’s Radiotopia, Lemonada Media, QCode, the Los Angeles Times, and Sony Music Entertainment, among others.
Apple has also released a list of “best practices” and other marketing tips for podcast publishers to follow. They include suggesting they clearly communicate the benefits being offered to paid listeners. Apple also recommends producers upload enough subscriber-only content at launch to “provide a premium experience.”
Most publishers are charging $5 per month although under Apple’s outline each podcast company will be allowed to set their own prices with the option to create an annual plan and offer free trials. Apple is also allowing individual shows to pay a $19.99 fee and sign-up for the Apple Podcasters Program.
Apple will take a 30% cut of subscription revenue in the first year, with the rate falling back to 15% in subsequent years. It also announced a Family Sharing plan which allows up to six family members to be able to share a subscription.
To incentivize podcasts to embrace subscriptions, Apple announced last month that it has expanded its affiliate services program to allow podcasters to profit whenever they recruit a listener to sign up for subscription. The program will give producers a 50% cut on the first paid month of every subscription membership. That means if the special link they send leads to the sale of a podcast subscription costing $10, the podcaster will earn a $5 commission.
Yet some executives have expressed doubt that asking listeners will attract more than just podcasting’s hardcore fans, while others think it could confuse listeners about whether a medium already burdened by the longtime use of the term “subscribe” may be sending a message that without ponying up money you cannot listen.
At iHeartMedia, CEO Bob Pittman said he believes most creators want to reach as many people as possible and not throw paywalls around their show. “We have yet to see any evidence that the subscription model will work in podcasting except perhaps for select niche products,” he said. Pittman has also said he has never seen a free product successfully move to a pay product.
SiriusXM CEO Jennifer Witz has echoed similar concerns. “I’m not sure that content creators and consumers really want a number of micro subscriptions,” she told analysts last month. “What we’re hearing from content creators and publishers is they want broad distribution, and they want ways to really grow their audiences. And that’s where I think we will continue to focus unless there’s a reason to pivot in the market,” said Witz.
Nevertheless, consumers are likely to be bombarded with even more messages about podcast subscriptions as Spotify debuted its paid tier in April with a number of NPR podcasts. “By enabling wide distribution of subscriber-only content, our aim is to help podcasters maximize their subscription audiences and grow them from their existing listener bases,” the company said.
Unlike Apple, Spotify is pledging for the next two years that 100% of subscription revenue – minus payment transaction fees – will go into the pockets of creators. Then in 2023, Spotify plans to begin taking a five percent cut of subscription revenue.
What Listeners Want
A survey conducted this spring by Signal Hill Insights, in partnership with Cumulus Media, found slightly more than one in three (35%) of weekly podcast listeners said exclusive and original content would most influence their decision to pay for a podcast. That was roughly on par with the 37% who said the same thing in a July 2020 survey. Among weekly listeners, one in four (23%) said the ad-free listening experience would be the biggest factor for them. While 13% said the ability to have exclusive access to podcast creators and hosts would most influence their decision to pay for podcast content.
When Signal Hill dug deeper, it found that overall, when presented with a podcast subscription option, listeners mostly liked the content-driven benefits of paying. Four in ten said they would be willing to pay for bonus episodes. And a third would be willing to pay for access to extended episodes. Of less interest is access to transcripts, with just 14% saying that would get them to subscribe.