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Insider (June 3, 2021): Audio Collective based on a podcast feed, podcast-television consumption parallels, Spotify’s Only You package

Group Economics. Ah, collectives. They’re all the rage right now.

From The Verge:

A new collective is trying to solve the live audio monetization problem. A group of primarily tech-focused hosts are launching a shared podcast feed that’ll round up the many social audio chats they’ve started, with plans to run ads across the collected feed.

The group, which is being spearheaded by Techmeme Ride Home host Brian McCullough, will initially involve nine total contributors, including Alex Kantrowitz of the Big Technology newsletter and product designer Chris Messina. They’ll share a podcast feed where they can publish audio they’ve recorded live across various social audio platforms, like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, and that feed, which is already live but hasn’t been publicly announced, is called SpaceCasts. Anyone who participates can publish their live audio on the feed and profit from whatever ad sales are made. 

Also worth noting: applications for participation in the feed are open, pending review by the team managing the collective.

This experiment brings a few things to mind. The first is the extent to which this story emphasizes how the live social audio experience — at least, as mediated through the emerging buzzy cohort of apps and options like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and Locker Room — ultimately remains very much early in its development, despite the hype. The fact remains, they still carry the burden of giving creators (or whatever you’d like to call them) a reason to stay over the long-term. Right now, these platforms are pure potential, which, when combined with pure capital and the influence of the men who fund them, is presumably what makes them so sexy in the eyes of some considerable swathe of creators and observers on the outside.

Me, I’ve grown to be more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Excessive focus on theoretical potential worries me, I like to feel things in the palm of my hand. Point being: at some point, that potential has to convert into actual outcomes, and short of that, it behooves folks building presences on these platforms to figure stuff out on their own, like what SpaceCasts seem to be doing here.

Viewed from a different angle, this development also speaks, I think, to the diverging incentives and inherent tension that fundamentally lies between platforms and the community that live on them. For one thing, their interests aren’t ultimately aligned — certainly not over the long term — and the latter doesn’t always have the luxury of waiting for the platforms they use to get their shit together. It’s the creator’s right (and indeed, it’s in their interest) to take whatever capital they’ve accrued in one platform and carry that over to platforms or areas where they can more effectively extract value for themselves. In many ways, that’s the job of being a person in the business of making stuff. Ask any talent agent.

Anyway, all of which is to say, this is super smart, and beyond the obvious relationship with podcasting via the feed usage, there’s another reason podcast folks might find this story interesting: SpaceCasts kinda reminds me of what old podcast networks used to be. Except, instead of selling across a bundle of shows, it’s selling against a consolidated feed. Which, in my opinion, is perhaps a tactic that some publishers might find value experimenting with.

On a related note… At this point, I get all my Clubhouse updates from Casey Newton. From a recent tweet: “New Clubhouse stats from Sensor Tower: -2.6M installs on Android so far, 1M of which are in India – 719K downloads on iOS in May, down 22 percent month over month.”

  Spotify continues to tinker, as they are wont to do. Earlier this week, the platform rolled out what TechCrunch regards as “new personalized experiences and playlists,” which you might’ve seen floating around social media in the form of an in-app experience called “Only You.” The thing mimics the year-end “Wrapped” experience in the way it draws from your listening data to create a shareable package reflecting your consumption habits back to you, which often successfully leads to many, many, many of its users to share and generate free social media marketing for the platform. I happen to like the “Wrapped” gimmick quite a bit — listen, I am not above novelty and narcissism — but this “Only You” package really didn’t work for me. The actual substance feels forced, and the fact users are presumably getting another one of these per year takes a bite out of the showmanship of the move. A party trick pulled too frequently loses its magic. Of course, the bigger issue here is the one pointed out by Gizmodo: “Spotify’s ‘Only You’ Is a Glaring Reminder of Its Emotional Surveillance.” But we do live in the dystopia of 2021. Anyway, Spotify also rolled out an experimental feature called Blend, which allows users to create blended playlists with friends, emphasizing the platform’s current greater interest in shareability.

Speaking of Spotify, in my inbox over the past hour: “Spotify and MAGNA released a study today, ‘Digital Audio Expansiveness: Growing Landscape & Opportunities,’ showing how closely podcast listening mirrors television viewing habits in the U.S. The growth of digital audio was accelerated in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic with a majority of people (72 percent) reporting screen fatigue and 42 percent citing this as the primary factor in listening to more digital audio content.” Can’t seem to find a good link for this, and as always, take these kinds of studies with a grain of salt, but here are two findings meant to support the notion of the podcast-TV habit link: Firstly, “60% of podcast listeners listen to a new episode of their favorite podcast within a day while 58% of TV viewers watch a new episode of their favorite TV show in the same time span.” And secondly, “75% of respondents said they frequently relisten to podcast episodes, which closely mirrors the 74% of respondents who reported rewatching their favorite TV shows.” I don’t feel too confident in these specific data points, but I do think the general idea of podcast consumption being similar to TV consumption is actually a true thing, though my sense of it is purely anecdotal and subjective at this point.

This technically qualifies as a brief follow-up to my notes on Headspace in last Friday’s Insider. From Variety: “Headspace, Sesame Street Team Up on ‘Goodnight World!’ Podcast, Book Series.”

From Melissa Hung, the founding editor of the almost two-decade old nonprofit Asian-American magazine Hyphen, responding to the existence of the newly-founded podcast studio launched to “promote diversity in the audio space,” also called Hyphen: “Oh, IDK, maybe check to see if there’s already something called Hyphen in the media space before launching your new venture?” Between this and the brouhaha surrounding the QCODE-affiliatedHold Still, Vincent that I linked to in Tuesday’s newsletter — oh look, QCODE is affiliated with the latter Hyphen too — it’s been a banner week at being annoyed at a certain slice of upwardly-mobile Hollywood-focused Asians. And Hollywood’s sweaty dances around diversity too, for that matter.

Speaking of Hollywood, a broader context note to keep in the back of your head, just in case. From the Hollywood Reporter: “Rising Inflation Hits Hollywood as Production Costs ‘Have Shot Through the Roof.’”

From NBC News: “The embattled chief editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association is resigning amid a probe of his handling of a podcast on racism.” Trace the original story via this STAT news piece from April: “Troubling podcast puts JAMA, the ‘voice of medicine,’ under fire for its mishandling of race.”

From Vanity Fair: “‘Exacerbating and Enthralling’: How a Wildly Unpopular Podcast Became a Literary-World Sensation.” The podcast in question is the Our Struggle podcast, which is ostensibly about the Karl Ove Knausgaard books (beloved by a Certain Kind of Book Person, Often a Man) but is apparently mostly anything but that.

Revolving Door.

  • Maria Paz Gutierrez and Sindhu Gnanasambandan join Radiolab. Gutierrez, who will be an associate producer on the WNYC show, was previously at NPR, where she worked on Code Switch, TED Radio Hour, and Planet Money. Gnanasambandan, who will be a producer, was at the New York Times, where she worked on the company’s various limited-run series, including Odessa, Rabbit Hole, and The Jungle Prince.

Got a new job? Tell me — would love to Let The People Know.