It’s been a little over month since Luminary, the aspiring “Netflix for Podcasts,” stumbled out into daylight, and it’ll be a little while longer before we can figure out if the deep-pocketed upstart will actually tell us anything about the viability of a subscription-based business model for podcast-style programming. (It’s also worth noting that the Luminary episode may well tell us not very much at all outside of its own story.)
That said, whatever Luminary will become, it won’t fundamentally serve as a “pure” test of the subscription model, given the relatively late-stage revelation that it was going to also distribute the rest of the open podcast ecosystem. The choice essentially rendered the whole thing into a sparklier version of something we’ve long seen in the marketplace: a luxuriously-resourced Stitcher Premium. Furthermore, as it stands, Luminary won’t be alone as a newcomer within this specific iteration of the paid podcasting experiment. Over in France, there’s a new startup called Majelan that’s angling a similar structure, and over the past few months, I’ve heard mumbles from one or two non-Apple/Spotify podcast apps that’s quietly contemplating the prospect of doing the whole “exclusive content tier” thing as well.
I remain deeply curious about the prospect of a strictly-bounded, subscription-based on-demand audio app for podcast-style programming. For that reason, I’ve been keeping a close eye on what’s been going on with The Athletic — FWIW, I like the product execution a lot, though the programming itself needs some polishing — and I continue to nurture my tin-foil hat theories around the nature of Audible’s increasingly complex original content adventures. (Direct deals with authors? Theater stuff? Kate McKinnon? What is going on?)
Can you build a true paywalled platform for podcasts? I raise the question, of course, fully aware of the terminological contradiction. Podcasting, after all, is structurally defined by its open and free nature, though “Podcasting,” the concept, has evolved as it drifts further into mainstream culture and the entertainment industrial complex.
As it turns out, we’re not too far away from another go at the question.