Exploring Podcasting's Cost-Free Future
You say “free hosting” like it's a bad thing. And, sure, it mostly is today. But what happens when one major player in our space switches to FREE? It’s going to make a lot of current podcasting business models obsolete.
The future of free podcast hosting is part 4 of my future of podcasting miniseries, which goes deeper into each of the 10 predictions I wrote about in the inaugural print edition of Podcast Business Journal. (Pts 1, 2, & 3)
I know this is a sensitive topic. And I also know that the market hasn’t been kind to companies that offer free podcast media hosting. At least, it’s not been kind to those who only offer free media hosting. Any new company that also tries to offer free hosting from scratch will face the same harsh reality.
But I stand by my prediction: In the future, free hosting for podcast media files will be a viable option. I base that prediction on one deciding factor: Spotify is going to do it.
Spotify is still getting their podcasting act together and is starting to better leverage their investment in Anchor. Soon, I predict that Spotify will make media file hosting completely free for podcasters, just like they do for record labels and musicians. This means a lot of podcasters -- especially those brand new to podcasting -- opt for that model. And if Spotify generates an RSS feed that follows all best practices, then a lot of current podcasters will make the switch.
But I don't think everybody will switch to free. This is not meant to be a doom-and-gloom prediction. This is a coming reality that can be adapted to. YouTube’s free model certainly caused many of the other video hosting companies to shut their doors. But not all of them.
Some of the current podcast hosting companies will pivot their offerings and sell the advantages of using their services over the free option. Yes, advertising representation is one option. But if Spotify masses enough shows, they’ll have the impression numbers advertisers want and likely the ability to better target listeners and streamline the process, from buying to insertion. Plus, they could share revenues for plays on podcasts much like they pay royalties to record labels and artists for songs. That’s hard to compete against.
Hosting companies could compete with intelligent automation of some of the tasks in the production process. Not the “fastest way to make a crappy podcast episode” process of Anchor, mind you. That’s literally just stitching pieces of audio together. More like stapling.
More advanced assembly tools offered by Auphonic and Alitu go way beyond that. And then there’s Auxbus, a company with intelligent automation and media file hosting. These companies are making it not just easier to assemble and piece together audio, but to actually improve the quality of the episode. Others are out there helping podcasters strategize and plan upfront. Today’s media hosts purposely aren’t involved in the content creation process and only get involved when you’re ready to publish. But once that differentiation vanishes and a viable free host takes care of those basic needs… Where’s the value? Something in their current business model will have to shift.
There are opportunities on the other side, too. With Spotify lowering the barrier to entry even more, it’s going to encourage garbage content creation. We've seen it on YouTube. We see it on Anchor. You see it everywhere it’s dead-simple to post content. So that makes the landscape ripe for services to sift through and cut out all the garbage. Do you really need access to all one or two million shows in your app? You can’t listen to them all. And you don’t want to listen to them all. You want the relevant shows in your app. That's also a tricky problem to solve, I understand. So I’ll leave that to people smarter than I.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how that one change could cause massive disruption, positive and negative, to our industry. I have no crystal ball, but the idea of podcast media hosting going free seems like a shoo-in.
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Enjoy your weekend! I’ll be back on Monday with the continuation of the series on another Podcast Pontifications.