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Did Joe Rogan make a huge mistake accepting his Spotify deal?
Talk about timing! On Monday I sent out a newsletter analyzing Spotify’s decision to fuse podcasts and video. In the piece I specifically namechecked Joe Rogan as a podcaster who’s seen massive success posting his episodes to YouTube. An hour after I sent that email, the news broke that Rogan had signed an exclusive deal with Spotify that would move all his podcast content -- including video -- exclusively to the platform.
In the few days since the news broke, I’ve seen non-stop takes on the move, some of them very good. But there are two specific takes I want to address in this issue.
The first comes from Marco Arment, a podcaster and the guy who created the podcast-listening app Overcast. First, he tweeted: “F%^k Spotify, and f#%k any ‘podcast’ that’s only playable in one app.” He then tweeted a prediction: “What @joerogan is going to find out — after it’s too late — is that moving an existing, open, free show behind a proprietary wall results in *massive* audience loss. I hope he at least leaves his public feed up so he can return to it when his Spotify exclusivity fails.”
Rogan reportedly attracts 190 million downloads a month. What Arment is positing is that his audience dropoff will be so huge that he’ll come to regret the deal. Will that happen?
I don’t think so. According to The Wall Street Journal, the deal is worth $100 million, though WSJ didn’t know the period of time the contract covers. But let’s say it’s five years. At $20 million a year, Rogan will pull down more than most A-list celebrities. Let’s say he loses half his audience during the move. Would that still be worth $100 million? Absolutely.
I suppose one could imagine a scenario in which the Spotify deal ends, and then when Rogan tries to return free podcasting apps he finds that his audience has mostly abandoned him for good. In that scenario, he could miss out on some revenue in the longterm.
But I genuinely don’t believe that will happen. Over the two years, Spotify has gobbled up some of the biggest podcast talent outside of public radio. Gimlet. The Ringer. Joe Budden. Now Joe Rogan. I have no doubt that it’ll increasingly become a dominant player in the podcast space.
It’s already made significant headway in growing its podcast listening market share. What’s remarkable is it did that without hindering the growth of other major podcast players. What does that mean? That it managed to actually bring new podcast listeners into the fold, likely by converting many of its users who initially signed up for Spotify just to listen to music.
Now that it has so much exclusive content, I think we’ll finally see it start to steal away users from other podcast apps, namely Apple’s.
Which leads me to the second take I want to address. Since the news broke, many have openly wondered how Apple will respond to the news that one of its most popular podcasters is pulling its episodes and moving them to its largest competitor. I’ve seen several pundits express the opinion that Apple will do absolutely nothing in response because it doesn’t really care about podcasts.
Here’s how this thinking is framed: the podcast market is tiny and is mostly reliant on advertising. Because Apple has never shown much interest in the advertising business, there’s no good reason to waste resources just so it can maintain its market dominance in podcasting.
This take is flawed for reasons I laid out in an article last year. For one, we’re not just talking about podcasts here. Spotify and Apple are in a battle for paid music subscribers, and a potential customer who listens to all of their podcasts on Spotify is probably likely to choose it over Apple for music.
What’s more, any mass migration away from an Apple-owned app means less user lockin for the iPhone. The fact that someone consumes all their podcasts in the Apple Podcasts app would make them slightly more likely to buy another iPhone for their next upgrade. Spotify, on the other hand, can be downloaded on Android, and so making the switch away from the iPhone wouldn’t be as painful.
My guess, then, is that Apple executives are taking the move very seriously. The company has reportedly already held discussions with producers about creating exclusive shows. I bet the Rogan news accelerated those talks.
Oh wait, while I was writing this, look what happened right on cue.
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Remember blogger drama?
Spend any amount of time on Twitter, and you’ll no-doubt witness multiple fights break out. At any given moment there are hundreds of warring factions on the platform that span across every political, hobby, and career spectrum. Occasionally, when a feud involves big enough names it’ll spill over into other parts of the internet or even into the mainstream press.
There was a time, a little over 10 years ago, when this sort of drama could be found within the blogosphere — a blogosphere that largely doesn’t exist any more. I was reminded of this when I visited the home page of the blog BoingBoing for the first time in a while. I noticed something weird almost right away: Cory Doctorow’s name didn’t appear anywhere on the homepage. After some Googling, I found that Doctorow went from blogging daily on the site as recently as January to hardly writing for it at all. He hasn’t posted to BoingBoing for the entire month of May. I also noticed that his name was missing from the site’s masthead.
Given that BoingBoing was once the most popular blog on the internet and Doctorow’s been writing for it since the early 2000s, this seemed like a big deal! So I did some more Googling. In the BoingBoing forums, other readers from the site wondered about Doctorow’s sudden absence. Someone posted a link to a cryptic tweet in which Doctorow stated he was no longer affiliated with the site. The forum members further speculated that the rift had to do with some kind of feud between Xeni Jardin and Glenn Greenwald.
What I find fascinating about all of this is that, outside of a few people in the BoingBoing forums, Cory’s move has largely gone unnoticed. Again, BoingBoing was one of the OGs of the blogosphere. If this had happened a little over 10 years ago, you can bet that the internet would have talked about it.
How do I know? Back in 2008, BoingBoing did something weird and mysterious. It removed all the posts in its archive linking to a sex blogger who went by the pseudonym Violet Blue. BoingBoing articles published years before suddenly vanished. Not only did other bloggers notice, but the drama got written up in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and the Columbia Journalism Review. And Violet Blue wasn’t even officially affiliated with BoingBoing!
Anyway, sorry to geek out on a somewhat niche topic, but it really drove home for me how much the blogosphere that we once knew and loved is truly gone. Sure, blogs still exist, but there’s no longer an ongoing dialogue between them. These days, if you want your feud to be covered by the media, you better have it on Twitter!
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