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Spotify’s bad month keeps getting worse

The headlines don't stop

Tuesday, we meet again. Today’s issue is going to be quick as I continue to prepare for the week ahead, most notably Hot Pod Summit and On Air Fest. I’m excited to see many of you there. On that note, I have a housekeeping thing to mention: we’ll skip Thursday’s Insider edition this week, and I’ll be with you all again on Friday. Hopefully, we can discuss some of what we heard on Thursday in Brooklyn, as well as some other news!

Now to today. We once again have a Spotify-centric issue — the company can’t stop generating headlines — as well as a couple other news bits.

Spotify can’t get it together

Spotify keeps taking punches to the point that I’m wondering how much more they can withstand. Let’s revisit last week in Spotify. On Friday, and then seemingly again over the weekend, multiple Spotify podcasts, including The Joe Rogan Experience, were unavailable for an extended period of time. A spokesperson confirmed to me that, yes, it was a bug, but it didn’t stop many people from tweeting, driving the stock price down by 5 percent. This follows a previous drop after the company’s quarterly earnings report earlier this month. All of which is to say: Spotify needs to get it together. Now isn’t the time to have an app bug that takes down your star podcaster, who you defended to the world, as well as all the other exclusives. 

Then, again on Friday, Insider published a story about all the podcast deals Spotify has made and the failure of many to launch. One person describes the company as a “shit show,” and the reporters point to “evolving strategy, executive turnover, and a reluctance to pull the trigger on production” as primary reasons shows haven’t happened. The story also says neither these celebrities nor many Spotify executives had created podcasts before, causing delays. 

This comes on top of The New York Times’ reporting that Rogan is being paid $200 million at a minimum to make his show exclusively for the platform, twice what was previously believed. This looks extra bad for Spotify given that it committed $100 million to creators from historically marginalized groups, which, at the time, appeared to mirror its commitment to Rogan. (Though the company never acknowledged that commitment publicly, either.) So now, it just looks like the company purposely didn’t correct the record and short-changed the audio creators it’s trying to please.

Once again, oof! And, to add even more insult to injury, a reader wrote in to me this weekend to surface an email Acast is seemingly sending to Anchor creators in an attempt to poach them. “Have recent events got you thinking about a new podcast hosting platform?” asks the email’s first line. “Switching from Anchor to Acast is quick, easy, and completely free.” It then pitches the service, includes a direct link to switch over, and offers customer support if anyone runs into issues. Yikes!!

Spotify already took a hit in the form of the entire Rogan media cycle. The company issued essentially one fully baked statement, along with its moderation guidelines, and then went quiet — apart from internal messages that leaked. Even Rogan himself had a better communication strategy with two public apologies, a public stand-up set, and his ongoing podcast. (Not to say all the messaging resonated, but at least we know where he stands.) 

Despite Spotify continuing to generate headlines with its acquisitions, like Podsights and Chartable last week, I wonder if the purchases compensate for everything else happening in Spotify’s universe. In just a few years since its initial podcast purchases in the form of Gimlet and Anchor, Spotify’s become the center of Bad Podcasting Stories, and somehow, more keep coming out. Layoffs happened at the company last month at its internal podcast studio; some employees are upset about how the Rogan situation has been handled; current and ex-partners are speaking out; and I wonder what the next big story to drop will be. Even investors’ patience seems to be wearing thin, given the stock drops.

This could just be the cost of trying to overtake an industry — you need to generate headlines through purchases and deals to show the world you’re serious, which comes with scrutiny. But the fact that Spotify isn’t making good on those promises is where we enter dark territory, and Spotify can’t seem to dig itself out of this hole.

Speaking of streaming platforms…

Kanye West says his new album won’t be available to stream

Kanye West says his latest album, Donda 2, will be released soon, and instead of making the album available on streaming platforms, he instead says listeners will have to buy his $200 Stem Player to hear it. “Tech companies made music practically free so if you don’t do merch sneakers and tours you don’t eat,” he wrote in an Instagram post. Obviously, this isn’t directly podcast-related, but given that most every company running a music streaming platform also operates in some area of podcasting, this feels important — if West holds to it. (But also, can he just make it an affordable CD release and still get people to buy physical media?) 

Taking this move with the context that Neil Young and others pulled their music from Spotify, as well as the recent legal movement around comedians trying to be compensated for their work differently, it makes even more sense why Spotify and others are pursuing podcasts. The situation on their platforms now might be untenable or at least too expensive to maintain as a full business moving forward. Musicians are unhappy; comedians are, too; and, three years in, podcasters are starting to be, as well. Again, the hole — it’s getting deeper.

I have one more small thing to shout out, and then I’m going back to event planning for Hot Pod Summit. 

  • iHeartMedia says it’ll start using Veritone’s AI to release podcasts in different languages. The future is here, maybe. (I released a podcast episode at The Verge about synthetic voices, so if you’re curious about this and how it sounds in practice, I encourage you to check it out here!)

Okay, I’ll catch you Insiders Friday, or maybe in-person on Thursday. See you later!!