Apple threatens to upend podcasting’s free, open architecture


Back in 2005, an ebullient Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs announced the integration of podcasting into Version 4.9 of its desktop iTunes software, calling podcasting “TiVo for radio.”



a pair of sunglasses on a table: Creators will now have the option to require a payment for audiences to access their content on Apple's platform.


© Ramyr_Dukin/Getty Images
Creators will now have the option to require a payment for audiences to access their content on Apple’s platform.

Sixteen years later, during its April 20, 2021, “Spring Loaded” event, Apple has once again signaled a long-term corporate commitment to podcasting. But this time, instead of introducing listeners to the medium, Apple is creating the technical infrastructure for paid subscriptions through its Apple Podcasts service.

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Creators will now have the option to require a payment for audiences to access their content on Apple’s platform, with Apple taking a 30% cut of the revenue.

Paid subscriptions aren’t new. But as scholars who study the podcasting industry, we believe the integration of paid subscriptions into podcasting’s most powerful platforms could reshape the medium in significant ways.

Millions introduced to podcasting

In 2005, Apple brought podcasting into the mainstream by making the medium visible and instantly available. Transforming iTunes into a sophisticated podcatcher – software that allows users to locate and download audio files – made it easy for users to access podcast shows. It did this by allowing users to easily find and add podcast RSS feeds, which give people the opportunity to automatically access new episodes as they’re released.

Once it began installing the now-iconic purple Apple Podcasts app by default on iPhones in late 2014, many listeners discovered podcasting for the first time, leading to major audience growth. Currently there is a proliferation of podcast apps to discover and listen to podcasts; most of them can be used at no cost to the consumer.

To this day, Apple has by far the largest podcast directory, which serves both as a gateway to tens of thousands of new podcasts and as an archive of the medium’s history by storing the RSS feeds of shows no longer releasing new episodes.

The grassroots podcasting boom

Apple’s initial foray into podcasting was guided by its…

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