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Insider October 28, 2022 — Paying Subscribers Are Your Biggest Promoters

Plus live audio updates and what to do about Kanye West?

Hi, everyone, happy Friday. Ariel is in prep mode for Hot Pod Summit, so I’m here to fill in and write too much about tech platforms. Today, we’ve got subscription recommendations from Apple, updates on the state of live audio, and some differing approaches to how to deal with Kanye West.

Before we jump in, one important update on yesterday’s issue: an item about a Rooster Teeth mentorship program ran on Thursday — that write-up was actually from April. It slipped in due to how our newsletter template is set up. We regret the mishap here and are sorry for any confusion. Lesson learned: I’ll be adjusting our templates today to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Okay, to the news.

Apple spells out why paid subscribers are so important

Paid subscribers aren’t just more lucrative — they’re also the power users of listeners, according to some takeaways published by Apple this week.

Apple’s podcast team says that paying subscribers listen to twice as many shows and, perhaps more importantly, are more than twice as likely to share podcasts with friends than free listeners. Paid subscribers are also more likely to finish a serialized show and explore new shows in a publisher’s catalog.

That means paid subscribers can also be important promoters. They’re not just customers — they are, Apple’s findings suggest, a little bit of an evangelist, too.

Of course, caveats abound: Apple doesn’t provide specific baseline numbers, and it’s in Apple’s interest for everyone to launch an Apple Podcast subscription. But I don’t think these findings seem particularly surprising or out of line. Paid subscribers are naturally going to be more loyal and engaged. The real question is how to get someone to that point.

Apple has a couple tips on how to make that happen and hook potential subscribers: offer a free trial and offer an annual plan at a discount. Aka, give people a taste, then lock them in. And hopefully, they’ll net you a few more listeners along the way.

Live audio continues to have a shaky 2022

A couple of updates in the live audio world this week. First: Twitter has shut down paid live audio Spacesaccording to The Information. I don’t think Twitter’s “ticketed” Spaces feature ever went beyond a test group, so this isn’t necessarily a huge change. But it certainly suggests to me that people weren’t using the paid feature enough for it to be considered a success.

Twitter said it has paused ticketing “indefinitely” as it focuses on the “core Spaces experience,” so it’s not as though live audio is going away. I do still get pretty regular push notifications to my phone prompting me to join Twitter Spaces (I never do), so people are certainly using them. They just usually happen to be the crypto bros in my feed, and I’m following them for work — not for fun. (Sorry to all the Web3 fans reading this.) Of course, now that Elon Musk owns Twitter… who knows how priorities will change.

Whether live audio remains a priority also speaks to the second update this week. TechCrunch sat down with Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison to talk about how the platform has been doing, and he said that Clubhouse’s early growth wasn’t sustainable. “We had a couple of months of insane, silly, unsustainable 10x month-over-month growth,” Davison said, later adding, “I don’t think extreme hypergrowth is good for a company.” The ideal, he said, is to grow at a steady pace.

What I find interesting now is how Davison isn’t framing Twitter Spaces as a competitor so much as an alternate product. Twitter, he told TechCrunch, is for broadcasting and speaking to a wide group of people. Clubhouse does that, too, of course, but he said that a “much bigger” part of Clubhouse today is smaller, private spaces. “Clubhouse at its core is about participation in conversations and friendship … and having these off-the-record conversations and sharing ideas and learning. And I think it’s a very different use case,” Davison said.

Apple and Spotify take different approaches to Kanye West

Sorry, everyone, we’ve got to talk about Ye. After several weeks of bizarre antisemitic comments, companies have been pulling away from the perpetually controversial musician / designer.

One of the more challenging questions is: what should streaming platforms do about it? There’s a tension between distributing his work and promoting an artist whose viewpoint has become completely vile. And so far, we have two different answers.

On Wednesday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said that Ye’s comments were “just awful.” But Ek told Reutersthat Spotify wasn’t planning to pull any Ye material from the platform because the company is only moderating what Ye says on the platform itself. “It’s really just his music, and his music doesn’t violate our policy,” Ek said. That also extends to podcasts. If Ye’s label wanted to pull his music, Spotify would comply, he said.

Apple seems to be taking a similar and slightly stronger approach. The company hasn’t made any public comments, but Billboard spotted that Apple Music has pulled an editorial playlist called “Kanye West Essentials.” A cache of the playlist shows that it previously included about three hours of Ye’s music, spanning his discography. Now, the page is just blank. Spotify has a similar playlist called This is Kanye West, which remains up as of this writing.

Both approaches make sense to me, even if neither feels truly satisfying. The platforms risk alienating subscribers by unilaterally dropping a top artist. But neither platform is under any obligation to promote that artist’s work, either, and that’s what we see Apple Music pulling back on as it removes an editorial playlist.

The other element of all this: if these platforms do get into the habit of moderating music based on artist behavior, things get messy fast. Spotify knows this from experience! The company tried to implement a “we’ll stop promoting artists with horrific behavior” policy back in 2018 — which included R. Kelly and XXXTentacion — and reversed course about two weeks later. There are just a lot of problematic musicians out there, and platforms can either say “this isn’t our problem” or take heat every time they decide an artist does / doesn’t get cut off. So I understand why Spotify has gone in this direction.

That all said, I don’t think this would be a great moment to put Ye at the top of any playlists or front pages. A platform can quietly exercise editorial discretion, even if it isn’t publicly issuing a ban or stating a policy. Given that Ye hasn’t released a hit album in many, many years, that should be easy enough.

We’ve got an exclusive discount offer for On Air LA Annex

Hot Pod Summit and On Air Fest’s LA Annex event are next week. While Hot Pod Summit is sold out, On Air LA Annex still has tickets available — and the team over there gave us a discount code to share with Insiders. Use the code “HPinsider” at checkout, and you’ll get 35 percent off the ticket price. Or you can just click this link, and the code will be pre-applied. Here’s the event’s full lineup if you’re interested. Ariel and I will be in LA next week; hope to see some of you there!

That’s all for today. I’ll be back again Tuesday, and then we’re going to go on a short Insider break as we head out to Hot Pod Summit.