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If the beta version of Apple Podcasts in iOS 14.5 is to be believed...
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: No, the beta version is not to be believed, we now know. It’s reported as a bug in the beta version and Apple claims the default “always download” functionality of Apple Podcasts will not change when the release is made public later this month. However, the implications and speculations on this action are still interesting, so I’m leaving them for you to read — Evo
...then Apple Podcasts is going to decimate your podcast’s episode downloads. If you’re lucky, it’ll only be the literal definition of decimate. Because with that release, as James Cridland discovered, Apple Podcasts will no longer auto-download podcast episodes.
If that holds true in the public release, it’ll mean a podcast measurement shake-out of a similar magnitude to the summer of 2018, when some podcasts saw their downloads drop by 50% or more. That moment of crisis was driven by podcast media companies adopting IAB 2.0 standards, which forced them to stop inflating download reports by filtering out file actions that were markedly not actual downloads.
Welcome To The Streaming World, Apple Podcasts
Briefly, here’s how Apple Podcasts works: When you subscribe to follow Podcast Pontifications on Apple Podcasts, Apple Podcasts will automatically download the audio file of the most recent episode of my show for you, storing it locally on your iOS device.
If I release an episode tomorrow, Apple Podcasts will download that episode for you. It doesn’t matter if you listened to the prior episode or not. Apple will helpfully download the next one for you.
And the next day, it’ll do the same thing. And the next day. And…
Now, at some point—I think it’s five un-listened to episodes—Apple Podcasts stops downloading and won’t resume until you’ve started listening again.
Spotify works differently. When you follow Podcast Pontifications using Spotify, no download happens without your express action. You’ll see the episodes, and you can play an episode’s audio file by streaming it. Or you can click the little down arrow inside any episode to actually download the audio file to your phone. But Spotify won’t auto-download any episode without your input.
That’s why you keep hearing how Spotify is growing bigger than Apple Podcasts, but your download report paints a very different picture.
That picture is about to get reset when Apple follows suit and switches away from auto-downloading later this month.
Brace For Impact
Every podcaster is going to be impacted by this. Starting in April, your download stats will be lower. My download stats are going to be lower. So get ready for it.
If you’re selling advertising on your show, that means your available inventory will look smaller starting next month. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that means your revenue will be impacted, as you will no longer be able to supply the same number of impressions (at least those tracked by file downloads) in the same amount of time. I genuinely feel bad for the rough weeks ahead facing those who earn a living from ad revenue generated by their podcast.
How big the drop will be is, in part, predicated on how hard you’ve pushed Apple Podcasts on your listeners. The more listeners you have accessing your show with Apple Podcasts, the bigger the drop will be. If you’ve been more agnostic when it comes to asking people to subscribe to follow your show, you might see less of an impact.
But you’re still going to see an impact.
I hate to say “I told you so”, but I told you so. Hanging our collective hats on downloads—which has little actual value to anyone—has been a weak link in our chain since inception. It’s going to be very difficult for publishers and ad rep firms to convince advertisers to part with the same amount of money while receiving less. And though they really aren’t getting less, they're perceiving the drop in downloads as less.
Live by the download sword, die by the download sword.
I’ve been in the advertising game since before the turn of the century, so trust me when I tell you that advertisers have always demanded and will always demand more accountability, visibility, proof from publishers. Podcast publishers are not immune.
Better Focus Makes All Of Podcasting Better
In the audio version of this article, I said something like “hey, no big deal if you’re not selling ads.” But on reflection, I think this is still a big deal for those of us who don’t sell ads. Not necessarily in a bad way. Just a better way.
As with the summer of 2018, this coming drop doesn’t mean suddenly fewer people are listening to your show. The coming drop doesn’t mean your audience shrank. It just means that the data you had about your audience was wrong. You’ll probably have the same people listening to your episodes the same way they did before. Now, you’ll have a more accurate picture. That seems like a Very Good Thing.
There’s a group of service providers who could soften the blow: podcast hosting companies. Specifically, podcast media hosting companies need to step up and give podcasters better data about the true size of their audience.
This is their window. They have all the info they need to give us this information right now. By smartly looking at the user-agent, IP address, and referring URL of all file requests, they could answer the questions every podcaster—and, arguably, every advertiser—wants to know: what’s the size of my audience, and is my audience growing?
Time to step up, podcast hosting companies.
In the meantime, spread the word about this coming change. Tell your podcasting peers to brace for download decimation, if they’re lucky. Please share this article with them to help them better understand the full scope of what’s about to happen.
If you loved this early heads-up from me and aren't totally defeated by the implications, please consider going to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and sliding a virtual coffee my way.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.