During a meeting with Apple, seven top podcasters voiced serious concerns over the company’s apparent lack of interest in their business, The New York Times reports. Despite essentially creating the format for downloading “digital audio shows” in 2005, Apple’s cumbersome process for promoting shows and lack of solid tools for artists to share and monetize their work drew serious criticism, according to two attendees of the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Social media sharing for within Apple’s iTunes interface is clunky, requiring multiple clicks. That leaves promotion of podcasts within iTunes as one of the only ways to build an audience, but the process is handled by a small team that fields all the pitches and handles its own outreach. Ultimately, decisions for who gets the coveted handful of promoted spots within iTunes falls to Steve Wilson, who podcasters said acts as Apple’s de facto podcast gatekeeper.
His contact information is a hot commodity in the podcasting world, his preferences are the topic of much debate in the industry, and his whims can have far-reaching consequences. Last year, small podcasts from Disney fans and a show that hadn’t even released its first episode were ranked alongside shows with hundreds of thousands of listeners, leaving podcasters confused and frustrated with the lack of transparency.
As the podcasting world has grown from a handful of hobbyists to a multi-million dollar business, Apple’s refusal to let creators charge for paid subscriptions or single-episode downloads leaves them dependent solely on advertising for revenue. Measuring how people listen is also a source of frustration, since podcasters get numbers on how many people downloaded their podcast, but not how many people listened or how far they got into the show before stopping.
With more data on actual listener counts and listening duration, podcasters think their industry could reach a new level. But podcasts bring Apple almost no direct revenue, which may explain why the podcasting hub receives little to no attention in terms of updates. In a statement on the internal debate, Eddy Cue has said, “We have more people than ever focused on podcasting, including engineers, editors and programmers.” But with no clear profit incentive to push development, podcasters said Apple’s lack of movement could open the door to a competitor, much in the way Apple’s reluctance to get on board with music streaming opened the door for Spotify and Pandora. Spotify recently rolled out its own line of podcasts, and Google has added a podcast feature to its music app included with Android smartphones.