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Follow-ups to the Apple Podcast Chats

Let's reiterate a few things.

I don’t have very much to add to Tuesday’s column on the Big Apple Podcast Chart Brouhaha of Fall 2018, other than to reiterate two things, simply because I think they’re fairly important to express.

Firstly, as I mentioned in the column, the charts seemingly returned to its normal, only-slightly-whackadoodle self by Tuesday morning, a few hours before I sent out the newsletter. The question of what that means exactly remains open: I, for one, don’t necessarily think Apple applied any specific or newly-developed fixes or what not. Podcast chart weirdness has happened many times before — albeit at relatively lesser degrees — and the chart has always ended up re-figuring itself out at some point. I’m aware there’s an entire cottage industry dedicated to decoding, interpreting, or weather-guessing the inner dreams and machinations of 1 Infinite Loop, but… I dunno, I guess see limited upside in investing excessive time, attention, and attention into decoding the nuances of the charts, when the larger enterprise should be to build businesses and show that aren’t overwhelmingly dependent on one platform. But I don’t personally publish a podcast, so this could just be an empathy breakdown on my part.

Secondly, because I got a bunch of emails after sending out the newsletter that were quite angry about Apple, I also wanted to re-iterate the more normative point I deployed in the column: I don’t quite buy into any positions proclaiming that Apple owes it to the podcast community to be super on-the-ball with the chart scamming stuff. Unlike the App Store, where Apple and app developers more meaningfully interact as part of a formal vendor-middleman relationship to collaboratively drive business transactions, the Apple Podcast platform is still very much a free publishing sandbox. It’s not particularly built to power and support businesses, and that was perhaps never the original intent of the platform. Instead, it’s a place where a good deal of people are free to circulate whatever they want within its given confines; it is, effectively, a space of serendipitous outcomes. (That doesn’t mean the situation doesn’t suck for business-building podcast publishers. I mean, it totally does. It’s just that I don’t see this as Apple violating any contract, pact, or implied trust relationships between the two sides.) Again, if you’re a podcast business, and if the bulk of your entire game plan is the Apple Podcast front page or charts, then you’ve got a risk dependency problem. And yeah, I totally get it: it’s easy for me to say that, and it’s easier for bigger and non-independent publishers to internalize that truth. Independent and smaller publishers are, indeed, disproportionately exposed to the downsides of a wacky Apple Podcast charts. But that’s just the state of being a independent and small publisher — which I am, by the way — whether we’re talking about the charts or not.

Anyway, thinking about this story— and seeing folks talk about potential alternatives to the Apple Podcast Charts, or potential alternative ways of charting, or potential alternative solutions — made me think of a few different articles that I’ve read over the past week as I was researching a different story. I highly recommend them if you’re processing all of this:

  • The Streaming Problem: How Spammers, Superstars, and Tech Giants Gamed the Music Industry. (Vulture)
  • How a Hit Happens Now: The most influential playlist in music is Spotify’s RapCaviar, which turns mixtape rappers into megastars. And it’s all curated by one man. (Vulture)
  • Life and Death in the App Store (The Verge)
  • 10 years ago, the App Store still didn’t understand what it meant to be mobile. (The Verge)

Oh, and as always, remember that the charts isn’t a bigness meter, but a hotness meter, and that nobody should seriously be using it as a measure of quality, size, or industry dominance. But you probably already know that. Just pass the message along so the people who don’t, do.