The podcast world is again seeing increased activity for exclusive deals. Only this time, it’s not just shows moving toward exclusive relationships with a single platform. We're seeing an increasing number of shows moving out of their exclusivity deals and once again becoming widely distributed across all platforms.
While that's probably more than a little concerning for the platforms that are losing these exclusive shows (read: is this business model actually working for us?), the return to wide distribution is quite exciting to both podcast listeners and podcasters alike.
LIsteners find it exciting because they can now, once again, freely enjoy what had been exclusive and perhaps off-limits. And it's their excitement that has podcasters excited. Because maybe exclusive doesn't mean forever, and that if the exclusive deal sours or doesn’t turn out to be all the podcaster had hoped, they can always revert back to free and widely available, right?
Yes. That is true. I’d wager that all exclusive deals have some sort of an end date. And any contract can be renegotiated, if not broken. There may be hefty penalties, but it’s possible to go back.
As podcasters do the calculus themselves, the one thing they count on is their audience appreciating the move back to free and wide distribution. Specifically, they make three assumptions. Assumptions that could do with some challenging.
Assumption #1: My existing listeners will keep listening when the podcast is no longer exclusive.
Yes, I think that assumption is largely true. Some fans will be thrilled that they are no longer forced to use the exclusive app to listen and can now enjoy the podcast on whatever app they, the listener, choose. And those fans that followed a cherished podcast to the exclusive platform, or perhaps new fans who found the show on that exclusive platform, will still be able to listen on that platform, right?
Maybe not. Some exclusive apps may be just that: exclusive. Or a bridge might have been burned during contract renegotiation and the podcast may no longer be welcome on that platform.
If that platform did an excellent job of curating content and was able to provide a much better listener experience than the plethora of podcast apps that do a mediocre job because they have to support every podcast… the listener may cherish that experience more than the content of the podcast that they can no longer listen to.
Poo-poo that notion all you like. But I think it's way too early to discount tightly curated podcast listening apps that list a much smaller collection and are able to provide a significantly better listener experience. I know we've seen a lot of big failures of some early, half-baked attempts. But I think those failures are valuable lessons learned for a new wave of aggregators soon to enter the market.
Assumption #2: The listeners I lost when I went exclusive will love to have my podcast back.
Are you sure about that? Some grudges run deep and are hard to get over. Even though I agree with Dave that Twitter is not real life, online forums are filled with vitriol and ire every time a podcast announces it’s going exclusive.
And then there’s the fact that listeners are spoiled for choice. Many—if not most—of them chose not to follow the podcast to the exclusive platform and instead found other content and hosts to fill the void left by a cherished podcast. And now they have a new cherished podcast. Or perhaps they no longer have as strong of a need to listen to a podcast that suddenly wants to get back together.
The more niche the show, the better the chances the listeners will take the show back. But that’s far from guaranteed. Think about the podcasts you listened to five years ago. Shows that are are still producing great content that you would still find interesting… but you’ve moved on. Because people move on.
You can try to call those lost listeners back to the fold by sending out an email letting them know that you’re bringing your podcast back to wide distribution. But that assumes you have an email list. And it further assumes that the listener you lost when you went exclusive didn’t unsubscribe to your emails. And also didn’t unfollow you on all your social channels. You abandoned them. Why should they stay connected? And why would you think they’d be happy to see you return?
3rd Assumption: Wider distribution + loyal fans + the fans who returned = larger audience.
The math checks out on that, but the big question is: larger audience than when?
If you got that exclusive deal because your show had a very big audience, there’s a very good chance you lost many, if not most, of your audience when your podcast went exclusive. And as was just illustrated, many, if not most, of the audience that felt abandoned by you will have moved on. So you’re starting from a deficit. You’ll have to work to rebuild.
You no longer have the power of the platform promoting your content. Growth tactics that worked for you early in your podcasting journey may be less effective today. You may find that the hustle required to make a splash is quite different than it was before, and now you’re behind the curve. Not a fun place to be.
So yes, read this as a cautionary tale. One you should consider before making the jump to exclusivity. Not that opposed to shows deciding to take the exclusive route if that is the right opportunity for them. I don't begrudge anyone an eyes-wide-open business decision. Just be sure you’ve thought through what happens when the exclusivity is over. Or when it loses its luster and you want to come back to the world of wide podcast distribution. The game may have changed while you were away.
Reverse Boostagram Corner!
A big welcome to the attendees of She Podcasts LIVE, a podcasting conference taking place the tail-end of this week in the Phoenix area. I’ll be in attendance at the conference and would love to meet up with you if you’ll be there too. I’ll have on my possession some special, exclusive gifts just for listeners of Podcast Pontifications that I meet in real life. So if you’re going, please come up to me and introduce yourself so you can get my gift to you as a listener.
And should you want to give me a gift—the gift of value for value—please visit PodcastPontifications.com/value4value to find easy ways to make that happen.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.