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A New Front to the Luminary Pushback

Proxy servers and its discontents.

The effects of Luminary’s rocky rollout are still rippling out through the podcast sphere. Here are some updates to the main story threads.

More publishers have joined Joe Rogan in pulling their shows off the platform — podcasts from the New York Times and those under the Spotify umbrella, i.e. from Gimlet, Anchor and Parcast, were never there to begin with — or have made requests of that manner. At the time of writing, the missing include: Barstool Sports, Endeavor Audio, PodcastOne, MacStories, and Enchanted Sky.

(Luminary has a page up listing the “Currently Unavailable” shows. Unless I’m mistaken, it seems incomplete. Also, it appears that at least some of the takedown requests remain unfulfilled.)

Other publishers and individual podcasters, including David Chen, Owen Williams and others have posted that they have sent takedown requests. Interestingly, the BBC, which had such a problem with Google displaying their shows without linking explicitly to their BBC Sounds app, has not pulled their shows from Luminary yet.

The big issue for some of these withdrawing podcasters revolved around a technical worry: specifically, that Luminary was using a proxy server to deliver the free podcast feeds through their app, as was initally suspected. This isn’t the same as caching episodes and delivering them from their own server (so that the original host sees no downloads and can’t insert ads), but it does mean that Luminary was redirecting requests through their own system, supposedly because it “provides a shorter distance and faster link to the hosting provider’s audio file.”

Plenty of people, including Marco Arment, have expressed doubt that this would indeed make file retrieval faster. In addition, it’s been pointed out that using a proxy like this still makes it hard for podcasters to collect accurate listenership data (which is commercially crucial for monetisation), and it also makes Luminary listens IAB non compliant. Luminary responded to these concerns with this statement. The key part:

“We now see that this approach caused some confusion. We have spoken with multiple hosting providers who suggested changes we could make to clarify that public feed audio is not being hosted or cached by Luminary, and ensure that hosts receive the data to which they are accustomed.”

It looks as if this change has already been rolled out, and Luminary is now using straightforward HTTP 302 redirects to access free podcast feeds. As a result of this change, some podcasters, including Marco Arment and Ben Thompson, are now not pulling their shows from the platform as had been previously suggested.

However, there is still a major outstanding tech issue with Luminary that some podcasters are taking issue with: the editing and truncation of episode shownotes. Benjamin Ahr Harrison of The Greatest Generation pointed out that the Maximum Fun donation link had been removed from his shownotes when his podcast was displayed on Luminary, and others have also noticed that sponsor information has disappeared. This is potentially a big problem for commercial and ad-supported shows, since linking to a sponsor or sharing a discount code can be an intrinsic part of an advertising deal.

Given that Luminary says in their FAQs that “we will not insert or remove any advertising in any publicly available podcasts on our free app and podcasters will retain 100% of the revenue from advertisements placed in their show”, it’s not clear how stripping out links that are part of podcast sponsorships fits in. At the time of writing, Luminary has not responded on this point.

[Update: And now it looks like they have. They cite “security concerns,” and mention that they’re “exploring solutions that balance this with the security needs of all podcasters and listeners on the platform.”]

We’ll continue to follow these strands over the next few days, and as always, do let us know your thoughts as this develops. And of course, we’ll be back with a bigger picture analysis in Tuesday’s newsletter.