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Insider: September 20, 2019

- Update on Pocket Casts switching business models - Stitcher launches an affiliate program - Edison Research publishes its first ever Infinite Dial report for South Africa

How to be Free. Following the announcement from Pocket Casts that its apps are now free to use, which Nick covered in yesterday’s Insider, there was a bit of a backlash from a small but vocal minority of users who had paid for lifetime access to the app’s web version, only to see it now bundled into the new Pocket Casts Plus subscription. (Check out their Twitter replies for some sample complaints.) These users had been offered three free years of the Plus tier, but many still felt that wasn’t sufficient compensation, given that the original purchase had been advertised as one off and coming with no required monthly subscriptions.

In response, Pocket Casts CEO Owen Grover published a post titled “We Heard You”, in which he says that “although we intended to demonstrate our appreciation to our most loyal users, we know many of you feel we missed the mark”. That three year of Plus access has now been extended for the users concerned to lifetime membership. “Hopefully, this gesture eliminates confusion and demonstrates our commitment to you, the loyal listeners who’ve helped build Pocket Casts into the platform it is today,” Grover said.

While I can see why Grover told The Verge when the shift to free was announced that a one-time download fee was “antiquated” — I mean, we all just rent everything from the cloud now, right? — I do think Pocket Casts made a mistake in assuming those who had paid for lifetime access to something would be happy to be compensated with a few years of free subscription instead. The fact that they’ve remedied the problem so quickly suggests that they think that too. Which is all good.

This swiftly-resolved situation did make me think about how big changes like this can be made with minimum disruption/outcry in the podcasting space, though. As anyone who’s ever made a podcast will know, there are always those listeners who complain about a change in frequency of episodes from a show they were consuming entirely for free, or belly-ache about the appearance of advertising without being willing to chip in a cent of their own money. I don’t really have an answer to any of this, just the observation that perceptions of value and what is “free” seems especially fraught in podcasting, probably because so much of the output in the medium has operated without monetisation for so long.

Stitching it up. This has actually been around since 30 August, but it only just came to my attention. Stitcher has launched an affiliate programme for its premium service, whereby if podcasters promote Stitcher Premium to their listeners and they then sign up using a unique promo code, the podcaster earns $10 per referral.

Of course, this isn’t by any means an unusual model — affiliate deals and referrals are how a lot of podcast sponsorships function. However, what’s intriguing about this is that it strikes me as being as much of a marketing ploy as it is a subscriber acquisition strategy. The usual way of getting people to join a premium tier in a podcasting app is by putting some of the content outside of the paywall, and then try and push those listeners into upgrading for a full series. Stitcher does do this with some of its exclusive shows, and of course it’s also how Luminary works too. Anchor also has something a bit like this, where Anchor-hosted shows can earn commission by referring other podcasters to the service.

But this Stitcher Premium affiliate deal can be taken up by any show, and there doesn’t seem to be any requirement for said show to even appear in the free section of the Stitcher app. Instead, it’s just a way of getting a lot of people saying “Stitcher Premium” a lot, I think, beyond the silo of people who are already aware of what that is, and at a cost way less than running midrolls on a whole bunch of podcasts. Harnessing the hunger for monetisation options, especially among smaller shows… Smart.

Infinite Dial: South Africa. Edison Research has released the first Infinite Dial for South Africa, a piece of research that is intended to be roughly equivalent to those already conducted in the US, Canada or Australia. You can check out the results in full here, but here’s three stats that caught my eye:

  • Podcasting awareness is still relatively low in South Africa, with only 23 percent returning a positive result, compared to 71 percent in the latest Infinite Dial US, and listening is low at 19 percent.
  • Smart speakers have yet to really “arrive” in South Africa — only 23 percent had any awareness of them, compared to results in the 60s and 70s in the other places Infinite Dial has run surveys.
  • Radio listening, however, is pretty much exactly the same as in the US currently, with 68 percent having listened in the last week.

Also, not strictly podcast related, but I really enjoyed seeing the WhatsApp stats in this survey: 79 percent of South Africans surveyed use it, compared to only 19 percent of Americans. (My entire extended family lives in South Africa, and I work mostly with people based in the US, so this mismatch in communication preferences has long baffled me.)

Two good Twitter threads to hit up: This one started by Lauren Ober highlighting narrative non fiction podcasts hosted by people of colour (that aren’t true crime) and this one by Arielle Nissenblatt of female hosted shows.

Podstrike is underway. A group of podcasts are showing their solidarity with the climate strikes around the world; find out more here.