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News Rundown: May 25, 2021

Apple Podcasts Subscriptions roll out, a look into the On The Media situation, and much ado about celebrities

Apple Podcast Subscriptions go live. Support for the much-anticipated feature came bundled with the iOS 14.6 update that rolled out yesterday. According to The Verge, the update also allows Apple Music subscribers to enable lossless audio, which is something I think a specific slice of people care a lot about?

In related news, Apple has also added its podcast platform to the Apple Services Performance Partner Program, colloquially known as the Apple affiliate program, which basically does what every other affiliate system on the internet does: offers incentives for publishers and their marketing partners to widely distribute links to their products distributed over the Apple infrastructure. (Think The Wirecutter or Kinja Deals.)

In this case, the product is any show using the Apple Podcast Subscriptions tool, and as for the incentives, those who link out to those paid subscription listings will get 50% on the first paid month of every subscription membership they convert.

The affiliate stuff is an interesting addition, I suppose, but I’m still generally skeptical as to whether Apple Podcasts Subscriptions as a whole will be a worthwhile proposition for most podcast creators. Not to discount the potential value of frictionless subscriptions within the Apple Podcasts app context, but the 30% first-year revenue cut on top of the fact the subscription tool only applies to the Apple Podcasts app — which remains not great in many ways — seems way too much cost for the potential value you get back, at least for anybody that isn’t a major publisher with robust, diversified business engines already humming.

The addition of the affiliate program does little to shift that equation, in my opinion. I continue to suspect that most Patreon-using folks are best off leaving things as is.

Oof, The Media. Ben Smith over at The New York Times looked into the Bob Garfield/On The Media situation over at New York Public Radio, and as you would expect from that organization given its particular history, the story didn’t end up being just the one thing, but one of many, many, many things.

While there are a few framing things in there that understandably rub some people the wrong way, Smith’s resulting column does lay out the current shape of the tensions at the station in the post-Laura-Walker era. That stuff had previously spilled out into the public last summer, when NYPR staffers expressed frustration with the hiring of Audrey Cooper, a white woman, as WNYC’s new editor-in-chief after an extensive period of “listening sessions” held by the organization’s new Goli Sheikholeslami-led management where staffers emphasized the need for more diverse organizational leadership. It seems that the frustrations have only deepened since, and as Smith’s column lays out, it sits on top of several other tensions that have long simmered at the station, including structural ones between producers and hosts, workers and “stars,” legacy and digital, those with power and those without.

Put simply, things continue to seem like a mess at NYPR, and it’s entirely reasonable to find yourself wondering whether an organization with that much historical baggage can be changed from the inside.

If NYPR or its place in the audio world means anything to you, be sure to dig through Smith’s column yourself. There’s a lot of details and textures I can’t even begin to touch on here. Well, maybe I’ll flag just one more: On Sunday, SAG-AFTRA filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against New York Public Radio in response to “a coordinated and aggressive campaign to undermine union and protected and concerted activity.”

Much ado about celebs. Over at The Guardian, Fiona Sturges asks a question that’s been on a lot of minds in podcast land for a bit: “Are celebrities ruining podcasting?”

It’s a good entry point into the question, though I should say versions of this question are equally applicable to many other contexts. “Are celebrities running children’s books?” “Are celebrities ruining the voice-over industry?” And so on.

Of course, the root of what we’re talking about here is anxiety over what can feel like a small, zero-sum pie. This feeling is understandably held by podcast-native creators who are concerned that relatively powerful celebrities are pushing them out of opportunities or value, whether we’re talking about advertising interest or, more simply, potential listeners. Whether or not the pie is actually zero sum is worth some debate, but there’s no denying that the heavy influx of celebrities into podcasting carries a strong waft of… dare I say, digital gentrification.

Anyway, check out the column, and while you’re there, do poke around Sturges’s archive more generally. I’ve been really enjoying her podcast coverage.

Selected Notes.

  • This week, PRX’s Radiotopia is launching Radiotopia Presents, a new podcast feed dedicated to one-off, limited-run projects from independent creators. If the concept sounds familiar, that’s because it is: The network had previously operated a similarly premised feed between 2017 and 2019 called Showcase. The first release under the new banner will be Blind Guy Travels, featuring Matthew Shifrin with production and sound design by Ian Coss. That drops on June 2. 
  • Radio Ambulante Estudios has struck a partnership with VICE Audio that will see the parties co-produce future episodes of El hilo, the former’s weekly Spanish-language podcast covering global news from a Latin-American perspective hosted by Eliezer Budasoff and Silvia Viñas. (For more background, I wrote about El hilo when it debuted in March 2020.)
  • Big press push around Max Linsky’s new feel-good/hard-talk podcast, 70 Over 70, in the past week, including glowing previews by The New York Times and The Washington Post
  • Another week, another torrent of Slate announcements: The publisher has relaunched The Waves, its long-running conversational podcast about “feminism, sexuality, and how gender affects our lives.” Produced by Cheyna Roth, the new iteration of the show will adopt a rotating approach to hosting, pulling people from its staff or freelance contributor pool based on the story, theme, or topic they’re looking to unpack in a given week. Also, Danny Lavery’s new advice-with-guest podcast for Slate, Big Mood, Little Mood, launches today, and its first episode with Maintenance Phase host and SELF columnist Aubrey Gordon. (Maintenance Phase, by the way, great show.)
  • Meanwhile, in the social-audio corner of the universe, Clubhouse claims that, just a few weeks after rolling out its Android app, more than a million Android users have joined the service. The company also noted that they expected the Android version to reach parity with the Apple version within the next two weeks. Also, from NPR: “Clubhouse Becomes An Emotional Meeting Place For Israelis And Palestinians.”