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Tracking: August 25, 2020

Audible breaks out separate pricing plan specifically for its exclusive programming. Seemingly wonky, but there’s quite a bit here, I think.

First things first: this new plan is called Audible Plus, and with a $7.95 per month price tag, it’ll offer subscribers access to its exclusive podcast and audio programming. That content library includes a bunch of celebrity-led stuff they’ve been piping in for a while now, but also audio shows from big media operations like the NBA as well as studios that would otherwise be making stuff for the more conventional podcast ecosystem, like Pushkin Industries. Interestingly, Wondery will also be supplying some of their existing shows to the service, though stripped of ads. (Side note: between this, a random standalone listening app, and whatever’s been going on with CEO Hernan Lopez’s legal situation around the FIFA bribery scandal, Wondery’s fast becoming one of the more strange and confusing podcast operations in recent memory.)

Anyway, the roll-out of Audible Plus also comes alongside another new plan: Audible Premium Plus, which is a consolidation of what were previously the Gold and Platinum plans that’s now priced at $14.95 a month and gives subscribers access to both original programming and the traditional audiobook offerings they’ve come to know and maybe love. That’s a whole lot of nomenclature, and for a more formal write-up, head over to The Verge.

Here’s the bigger picture as I see it: with Audible Plus, we’re talking about something that looks like a paid audio content platform operated by a massive and deep-pocketed company, one that concentrates on distributing original content commissioned specifically for its purposes. Audible Plus is precisely the product Luminary was supposed to be, and frankly, it’s the version that has best runway of actually pulling it off.

But let’s not gloss over Audible’s notoriously on-again off-again history with original podcast-style content. As mentioned in previous newsletters, Audible used to operate an in-house original programming team led by Eric Nuzum, which published some pretty interesting podcast-like work before a mysterious executive shuffle led to that team being laid off. The platform then pivoted its original programming strategy to a glitzy “audiobooks but without the book” model, profiled here in the New York Times in the summer of 2018, before iterating out to what now genuinely appears to be a Netflix-like approach, in which the platform signs development deals with various audio production studios.

One intriguing thing is that they appear to be explicitly using the word “podcasts” to market these original audio products, even though Audible seemed to have historically rejected the use of the word to describe its original programming a few years ago. In any case, it’s a nomenclature that some corners of the podcast would reject due to the fact that those shows live behind a paywall, and are not distributed as part of the open ecosystem. (Similar critiques have been levied at Spotify for its own use of exclusivity around podcast programming.) Chalk this up to Audible’s Amazon heritage; diplomacy is rarely the concern of companies of this size and nature.Meanwhile… iHeartMedia has deepened its relationship with Newt Gingrich’s media company, called Gingrich 360 (oddly enough), through a multi-series production deal that’ll add four new conservative leaning podcasts to the iHeartMedia podcast line-up. Those shows will apparently feature millennial and Gen Z hosts, and are ostensibly meant for the “next generation of conservatives.”

Because if there’s anything millennials and Gen Zers like, it’s Newt Gingrich.

In tomorrow’s Servant of Pod:  I speak with Richard Parks III, the one-man operation behind Richard’s Famous Foods Podcast, which, I assure you, will be one of the stranger things you’ll ever pipe into your earholes.

Richard’s Famous Foods is ostensibly a food podcast, something that could be said as being in the vein of Gastropod or The Sporkful, but it’s not really that. Rather, it’s a cross between a cartoon and a gonzo documentary series, which is a mix you wouldn’t naturally expect from podcast-land, as there simply isn’t very much of either in the medium. I first wrote about the show for Vulture late last year, and I’ve only grown to appreciate its borderline unsettling inventiveness more and more.

Two things stand out to me about this conversation. The first is how Parks talks about the show’s cartoonish aspects as a problem-solving tool — that is, as a way to get around using traditional and often tired methods of narrative exposition. The second is the extent to which Parks’ independent situation with the show made me think about the relationship between business models and creative experimentation. This isn’t just a show that would be hard to sell ads on, it’s also a show that probably wouldn’t be as good if it had to be run through, say, a manager.

Anyway, that’s tomorrow’s episode. You can find Servant of Pod on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or the great assortment of third-party podcast apps that are hooked up to the open publishing ecosystem. Desktop listening is also recommended. Share, leave a review, and so on.