Issue 182,  published October 23, 2018

Preamble: Those Wacky Charts, Week Three

Buckle your seatbelts: we’re stretching this story out to another week. As the discourse around click-farms and Apple chart manipulation continued to swell last week, a producer named John Perotti was contacted over LinkedIn by someone claiming to be a “podcast promoter” on Fiverr, the online freelance services marketplace. Perotti, who manages podcast production at WBUR for his day job, decided to run an experiment: he would follow up with the scammy offering, apply it to now-defunct personal podcast feed, and tweet out his journey down the rabbit hole. (Shouts to Perotti for still actively checking his LinkedIn profile.)

John kindly agreed to write up the experiment for us, but before we get to his adventure, a quick preamble.

After writing about the Apple Podcast charts two weeks ago, during which I briefly mentioned the Fiverr scam, I heard from some readers who argued:

  • That the charts don’t matter to most people, and
  • The only thing the column achieved was publicize the scam to more would-be chart manipulators.

I’ve heard the latter argument before, and though I am somewhat sympathetic — it’s partly why I haven’t written extensively about chart dysfunction until now — my sense is that we’ve hit a tipping point with the charts in recent months where the problem is now past the point of being just an innocuous quirk. To return to a question I raised in that column: What does it mean when the top of the Apple podcast charts, one of the first touch-points for many newcomers, features more scams than authentic entries?

To the former point: don’t gimme that nonsense. That’s unnecessarily dismissive! (Perhaps nihilistic? Whatever, it’s a look.) Newer listeners still use the charts for discovery, and there are still rewards for high placements generally provided by those unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of podcast-land and the charts: providers of broader media coverage, new listeners still trying out podcasts, along with potential buyers of derivative works like talent agencies, book publishing houses, and so on. The Apple Podcast Charts are supposed to be a signal for sorting and discovery. What we’re seeing now feels like a signal failure.

With these things in mind, let’s get to Perotti.