The passion of Pocket Casts users that allowed the group to charge $4-10 to download its app, even when there were plenty of free options showed itself in a fresh way this week. The podcast listening app owned by a consortium of public radio companies announced they were moving to a free model with a paid tier that offers more features. The company said anyone who previously bought the desktop app would automatically receive three free years of Pocket Casts Plus.
A backlash on social media quickly followed from people who’d previously thought they had bought a lifetime arrangement. “I don’t need your three year free gesture. Refund my $9. Breach of trust, breach of contract,” said one user on Twitter. Others posted messages that used considerably saltier language.
In response, Pocket Casts has sweetened its offer. “We’ve heard your feedback loud and clear,” CEO Owen Grover announced in a blog post. “Although we intended to demonstrate our appreciation to our most loyal users, we know many of you feel we missed the mark. With that in mind, today we’ve decided to provide any user who previously purchased our web version with lifetime access to Pocket Casts Plus.” That means anyone who uses Pocket Casts on either an Apple or Windows-based machine will automatically get bonus features like cloud storage to save audio and video files for future listening and viewing, and exclusive app icons and themes. Desktop App purchasers will also gain access to all of the Pocket Casts Plus features on their mobile devices. “Hopefully, this gesture eliminates confusion and demonstrates our commitment to you, the loyal listeners who’ve helped build Pocket Casts into the platform it is today. We simply wouldn’t be here without you,” Grover said.
Since May 2018, four of the most prominent podcast producers in the U.S, including NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life, have jointly owned Pocket Casts. In an interview with Podcast News Daily, Grover said the decision to move away from a paid app model was to more closely align Pocket Casts with the open-access model of its public media ownership.
“The whole ethos of public media is that it’s free and open. And so while we’ve continued to grow the team and audience and build out the platform and improve the technology, there has been this misalignment,” said Grover. “We all believe podcasting should be an open ecosystem, should be free and we don’t believe in walled gardens.” The move to a free app has been in the works since last year but it took time to make technology updates, including putting the iOS and Android apps on equal footing. The result is what Grover said is a “much more robust and scalable” backend for the app.
While Pocket Casts Plus will feature storage capabilities, the basic version will still allow users to play individual episodes with or without subscribing and automate file downloads. The update will allow users to play local audio and video files already stored on their device. It will also include cross-platform sync capabilities that enable users to pick up exactly where they left off on another device. That’s especially handy for users to switch to an in-car system, to a smart speaker, or to an Apple Watch. Other features also remain, such as the ability to speed up playback by as much as two- or three-times, trim silence, create custom filters to organize episodes based on a variety of parameters, and tailor the look of the app and its icon.