Home / Tech / Will Spotify Ruin Podcasting? – BIG by Matt Stoller

Will Spotify Ruin Podcasting? – BIG by Matt Stoller

Will Spotify Ruin Podcasting? – BIG by Matt Stoller


Welcome to BIG, a publication concerning the politics of monopoly. If you’d like to enroll, you are able to do so right here. Or simply learn on…

Today I’m going to write down about podcasting, with some observations on how a media market that’s far more healthy than on-line publishing features. But first, a fast replace on the Democratic Party cartel . Most folks noticed the fiasco of the Iowa caucuses as a political story, which it clearly is. But it’s additionally a monopoly story. The company, ACRONYM, which ruined the caucuses with their Shadow app, has energy due to their relationship with large donors. This nugget in Politico drives residence the purpose.

Critics of ACRONYM declined to talk on the report as a result of they’re involved about sustaining occasion unity and retribution from the group’s donors.

Imagine that, fellow practitioners are so afraid of retaliation that they’ll’t overtly criticize a self-dealing con artist who overtly ruined the Iowa caucuses, a kind of 737 Max second for Democrats. This is identical concern and coercion we really feel in any concentrated trade, solely utilized to the enterprise of Democratic politics.

And now…

Photo credit score to https://nicolassolop.com/.

A Functional Market

From 2000-2006, the net was an open place. If you constructed a extremely trafficked net property, you might finance your self by promoting promoting. It wasn’t simply that the web itself was a decentralized community, so have been financing streams behind content material. There have been many publishers and paths for readers to get to these publishers by means of totally different engines like google or aggregators, and advert networks matched advertisers to these properties. The outcome was a flourishing of voices and new media tasks.

It was a 3 tiered system, with manufacturing, distribution, and promoting working in vertically separated layers. There have been definitely trade gamers who breached these layers – the New York Times bought its personal adverts and distributed its personal product, however nobody had dominant energy in anybody layer.

That may be very a lot what podcasting seems to be like at the moment. About a third of Americans take heed to podcasts recurrently, and there are 750,000 energetic podcasters, together with unbiased successes like Chapo Trap House, The Bill Simmons Podcast and Joe Rogan, as properly funding by main newspapers just like the New York Times, and capital-infused podcast-solely networks. Nonprofits have podcasts, so do trade associations.

There are actual and critical issues in podcasting, as there are in any trade, resulting in union drives and typically to makes an attempt to wreck the trade by overfunded Wall Street goons. As extra advert cash floods into the house and branded podcasts grow to be extra necessary, there are debates over labor relationships, in addition to censorship and promoting particularly inside massive branded podcast establishments, like Pineapple Street Studios or Radiotopia or Spotify. Fear of Apple, which has a strong spot in podcast distribution by means of its podcast app in addition to its app retailer, is rife.

But these are debates inside a rising trade during which varied stakeholders debate values and guidelines. It’s nothing just like the nuclear winter of the non-audio web content material trade.

In podcasting, the main directories for distribution use an open normal referred to as RSS to record podcasts, an ordinary initially developed by open net advocates like Aaron Swartz. Apple has the dominant podcast app. I’ve heard there are some points with how Apple offers with scores, however to this point, Apple operates as a benevolent despot, largely not amassing knowledge and never privileging its personal content material. There are additionally a bunch of promoting networks, in addition to some subscription choices, so financing is comparatively distributed.

Podcasting is a 3 tiered system, with manufacturing, distribution, and promoting in vertically separated legal professionals. There are companies who produce, distribute, and promote podcast adverts, however the markets in all three legal professionals are open. As a outcome, there’s relative ease of entry. It’s onerous to construct an viewers, however if you happen to do, you will get entry to a financing channel. And the online result’s a whole lot of numerous voices and entrepreneurship. This dynamic is altering considerably, as branded podcast companies more and more construct formulation to launch new exhibits, however relative to close all different media ecosystems, excluding the mid-2000s open web, it’s open. And the debates inside the trade about contested relationships between advertisers, podcast hosts, company administration, and employees occur inside a context of a comparatively versatile system.

There could also be totally different curiosity teams inside the trade, however the trade as an entire has an curiosity in preserving this construction. It was very very similar to the open net of the mid-2000s. So there are lots of classes podcast trade gamers can study from what occurred to that house, and the best way to stop it from occurring to podcasting.

Why the Open Web and Publishing Began Dying

Anyone making an attempt to know trendy media or monopoly has to spend so much of time understanding Google and Facebook, as a result of they’re the tempo-setters in our financial system. Every company chief, from agricultural to podcasting, sees what they’ve performed, and tries to breed their success in their very own trade.

While Google and Facebook are framed as tech firms, they’re the truth is promoting firms and middlemen within the stream of data. Google will get roughly 80% of its income from adverts, for Facebook it’s a bit over 98%. And what they did from 2004-2014 was to redirect the stream of advert cash from publishers to themselves. So that’s what’s occurring all through the financial system, particularly within the media trade; middlemen all over the place are looking for methods to redirect the stream of different folks’s income to themselves.

Google and Facebook did this by means of two key methods. The first was to amass gatekeeping energy in distribution. Google is gatekeeper in search, on-line video, and maps, whereas Facebook is a gatekeeper in social networking. To get to customers, it’s important to undergo Google and Facebook.

The second was to make use of this gatekeeping energy to vertically combine into dominant promoting platforms. Google and Facebook each promote massive quantities of promoting, and so they each purchased up adtech firms in a merger spree from 2004-2014. They power companions at hand over knowledge – and knowledge is a key enter into promoting – as a situation of gaining access to their networks.

Such knowledge wasn’t simply private details about the customers, however extra importantly, proprietary enterprise knowledge of publishers. The Wall Street Journal has a listing of subscribers and readers, and it could by no means share this data with the New York Times, as a result of they’re competing to promote house to the identical advertisers. But each Google and Facebook received all of this proprietary data, and extra, from the publishers utilizing their networks.

With most customers going by means of both Google properties or Facebook properties, these companies might then de-commodify the advert worth of a writer advert slot. After these companies turned dominant, there merely was no must promote in, say the New York Times to indicate an advert to a New York Times reader if Google might present that advert to that very same rich reader cheaper elsewhere. The relationship between the New York Times and the reader relies on belief earned by means of capital invested in reporting the information. Google then takes that relationship within the type of structured knowledge, and makes cash that ought to have gone to the New York Times by promoting to New York Times readers in opposition to non-New York Times content material. This seems to be extra like a type of theft, not effectivity.

Facebook and Google dominance is throughout a complete layer – search or social – and in addition vertically upstream into the promoting, and more and more the distribution by means of apps and browsers.

It’s necessary to acknowledge that these companies form their enterprise fashions round public coverage choices that allow monopolization and focused adverts. Both Facebook and Google acquired energy a collection of anti-aggressive mergers, like Google’s buy of YouTube and DoubleClick, Facebook’s buy of Instagram and WhatsApp. Similarly, throughout debates over privateness and knowledge within the 1990s and 2000s, libertarians received the argument that knowledge markets ought to stay largely freed from public guidelines. And so these two platforms, who have been working communications networks that ought to have been regulated as public utilities, might discriminate and insert adverts in entrance of those that wanted to make use of their networks to succeed in clients.

The results of these public coverage choices was Google and Facebook, the dying of the open net, and more and more, unbiased publishing on the web.

So what classes does that maintain for the podcasting trade?

The Spotify Challenge

This week, Spotify introduced an acquisition of The Ringer, one of many largest networks in podcasting, constructed by sports activities author Bill Simmons, with 30 totally different podcasts which have tons of of tens of millions of downloads a month. The CEO of Spotify mentioned what they see by way of worth with this acquisition, saying “we bought the next ESPN.” It’s an open query what Spotify goes to do with this acquisition, however the technique of the company appears pretty clear.

Spotify is rolling up the web audio market, which their CEO, Daniel Ek, thinks will develop from $100 billion in income a 12 months to someplace close to the video market, which is $1 trillion. People spend about the identical period of time consuming audio as video content material. “Are our eyes,” he asks, “really worth 10 times more than our ears?”

From 2014 to 2020, Spotify purchased 15 firms, firms that construct every thing from knowledge analytics to music and audio manufacturing instruments to audio advert instruments to licensing platforms, and podcasting networks. These firms included the Echo Nest (2014), Seed Scientific (2015), CrowdAlbum (2016), Sonalytic (2017), MightyTV (2017), Mediachain (2017), Niland (2017), SoundTrap (2017), Loudr (2018), Gimlet (2019), Anchor (2019), SoundBetter (2019), Parkast (2019), and now The Ringer (2020).

Spotify is immediately mimicking Google and Facebook, and trying to roll up energy over digital audio markets the best way Google and Facebook did over the web. It has already performed so in music. Here’s Rolling Stone, reporting on Spotify’s exploitation of its public utility platform of music distribution to organizes payola-fashion extortion in opposition to artists.

In Spotify’s pitch deck, which was despatched to a distribution firm, the platform advises artists or labels to spend a minimum of $5,000 on these campaigns. If an artist pays that quantity at 55 cents a click on, the marketing campaign ought to deliver in additional than 9,000 potential listeners over a seven-day interval. 

The streaming service’s announcement instantly drew comparisons to pay-for-play at radio or, possibly extra precisely, the retail variation, the place report retailers requested labels to pay for premium positioning. “Stores would say, ‘we want you to pay us for this space,’” explains George Howard, a professor of music enterprise and administration at Berklee College of Music. “Spotify is saying, ‘we wish you to pay us to show your information.’ All this does is proceed what payola at all times has performed — the main labels, which have essentially the most cash and essentially the most frequent releases, get essentially the most play, consolidating the quantity of artwork that’s put on the market.” 

Payola of this kind tends to work in opposition to small gamers, and cartelize industries into giants negotiating with each other. Will that occur in podcasting? Spotify is probably going looking for to make it so, particularly because it went public and has to reply to buyers who desire a story concerning the firm’s technique, which is a coded method to discuss buying market energy. Last 12 months, Spotify purchased a number of podcasting firms, together with podcasting community Gimlet Media Inc. (“Gimlet”), in addition to Anchor, which made podcast creation and advert instruments. Ek made it clear throughout this acquisition that the aim of Spotify is to dominate podcasting. Here’s what he wrote in his weblog publish explaining the acquisitions.

No different firm has Spotify’s scale and viewers across the globe with the 78 markets the place we do enterprise. No different audio firm has the 2-sided market that now we have constructed at Spotify — a market that advantages artists and creators together with shoppers. Nobody else has each audio promoting and subscription income mannequin at scale globally. Nobody else in music has the engineering capabilities and the experience in audio that now we have at Spotify.  And with the addition of Gimlet and Anchor, Spotify will now grow to be the main world podcast writer with extra exhibits than every other firm. 

Podcasting, he argues, can grow to be a enterprise based mostly on scale and vertical integration. “As we expand deeper into audio, especially with original content,” he wrote, “we will scale our entire business, creating leverage in the model through subscriptions and ads.” The enterprise can “become significantly larger when you add Internet-level monetization to it.” Ek isn’t actually being clear about what he means by scale. Podcasting, with its comparatively decentralized construction, is already a scale enterprise. RSS is an open normal and tens of tens of millions of individuals take heed to podcasts.

What Ek actually means is that he’s making an attempt to privatize the open requirements, principally take over the already massive public commons. To the extent there’s scaling occurring, it’s simply doing gross sales work to maneuver advert budgets from large firms in different audio or video channels to Spotify. This is scaling like Google and Facebook did scale, they took over an already large net organized by open requirements and democratic participation, and pretended they constructed it so they may management it.

Ek additionally added typical language for aspiring dominant gamers, which is pablum on how there’s “fierce competition” in podcasting and the way his firm believes in a stage enjoying discipline. Such language is nearly at all times inserted into merger acquisition press releases by antitrust legal professionals, and is a transparent inform, like a child with crumbs on his face preemptively telling his mother and father “I didn’t eat any cookies before dinner.”

Commodifying Independent Podcasts

Recently, Spotify introduced a brand new promoting service, Spotify Podcast Ads with what’s referred to as ‘streaming ad insertion.’ Here’s what it means.

The expertise makes key knowledge — like precise advert impressions, frequency, attain, plus anonymized age, gender and system kind — out there to podcasters and advertisers for the primary time.

In earlier years, podcasts have been delivered by approach of downloads from RSS feeds, which might make this kind of knowledge assortment troublesome if not inconceivable. The shift to streaming adjustments that, as Spotify can faucet into its suite of planning, reporting and measurement capabilities, because it does for streaming music.

In different phrases, Spotify is doing what Google and Facebook did. First, it’s privatizing the distribution normal for podcasts by changing extra folks to streaming their podcasts by means of Spotify companies as an alternative of the open RSS normal. That means it’s turning into a gatekeeper to shoppers. Second, it’s vertically integrating into promoting, and creating the expertise to seize knowledge that podcasts generate by means of their trusted relationship with listeners. It then makes use of that for concentrating on.

Spotify appears to be making an attempt to construct out management of promoting and distribution of podcasting. With gatekeeping energy over listeners by means of its streaming service, and gatekeeping energy over advert income by means of its promoting community, Spotify will ultimately have the ability to power podcasters to reside in its ecosystem. It received’t be inconceivable to get listeners with out Spotify, simply as newspapers can technically get direct visitors as an alternative of visitors from Google and Facebook, however it’ll be very onerous.

It’s not 100% clear how properly this may work. Podcast adverts are, like radio adverts, usually based mostly on the belief of the host of the present. Hosts are inclined to learn out adverts, so they’re extra like paid sponsorships counting on the belief and voice of the host than conventional ads. But if the Spotify advert insertion tech is refined and efficient sufficient, they can alter this dynamic, making any explicit advert slot on any podcast much less useful.

No advertiser will care if you happen to’re a listener of Joe Rogan or Bill Simmons, solely that you’re a 34 12 months outdated male with a sure revenue reachable in thirty forty totally different audio slots, which may then all go in an public sale. Or even when they do care, aggressive advert networks who provide the service you need will most likely die. Then, simply because the New York Times content material turns into far much less necessary on-line as a result of Google can simply discover you that New York Times reader by means of one other writer outlet or Google’s personal properties, the precise podcast turns into commodified, as a result of all that issues is the listener knowledge mixed with the advert slots, not the present in opposition to which these advert slots are bought. This is one other sophisticated approach of claiming the individuals who do the work of creating and distributing a present don’t get the profit from the work they do.

What occurs on this state of affairs is that a number of giants, not simply Spotify, in the end grow to be dominant vertically built-in podcast, distribution and promoting platforms. These will then lower offers with one another, and cartelize the trade right into a land of giants, a lot as Disney is doing in Hollywood. (In truth, I wouldn’t be shocked to see these two areas merge.)

The Clayton Act and Incipiency Standard

None of that is inevitable. And the truth is, there’s one important distinction between at the moment and the mid-2000s, and it’s not a small one. Today, we perceive that monopolies are harmful. This means we will activate an entire collection of legal guidelines designed to guard us from them.

Fortunately, there’s a regulation to handle the merger spree Spotify is partaking in, and it’s referred to as the Clayton Act. Passed in 1913 and strengthened in 1950, the concept is to cease monopolies by means of mergers, even when such monopolies are of their incipiency. A whole lot of states have comparable legal guidelines in opposition to mergers. Similarly, states and Congress and international regulators are debating privateness and knowledge legal guidelines, and what’s this Spotify downside if not a privateness and knowledge downside? Podcasters, in the event that they selected to prepare round this market construction downside, might have substantial political energy.

Today’s flourishing podcasting market is proof that we will have a various and financially viable media market. We simply need to cease gatekeeping in our markets for speech, stop vertical integration, finish the inappropriate use of different folks’s knowledge to let a intermediary like Spotify inappropriately monetize artwork it didn’t create, and retain open requirements like RSS for podcast distribution as an alternative of privatizing public utility features.

Oh, and it’s most likely a good suggestion to inform the Federal Trade Commission to dam the Ringer merger. They can try this, you already know.

Thanks for studying. And if you happen to favored this essay, you may enroll right here for extra problems with BIG, a publication on the best way to restore truthful commerce, innovation and democracy. If you wish to actually perceive the key historical past of monopoly energy, learn my e book, Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.


Matt Stoller

P.S. Here’s an electronic mail on CVS’s great ‘integration’ of its totally different traces of enterprise.

I’ve a further tactic CVS/Healthcare firms just lately employed to get much more cash out of these of us unlucky sufficient to be sick. I take a specialty pharmacy drug for an auto-immune illness. There is not any remedy however this drugs significantly improves my high quality of life and permits me to perform considerably usually and be gainfully employed fairly than on advantages. It is a really costly drug, taken month-to-month so I issue that into my determination when selecting a healthcare plan on the marketplace. Fortunately, the drug producer affords a rebate program that may scale back the price of that drug from $5000+ refill to $5. For years, I used to be capable of put that co-pay help card on file with the pharmacy and they’d invoice that immediately. My co-pay can be hit for the 12 months and I might relaxation a bit simpler realizing a hospital go to can be lined. 

Just a few years in the past, the insurance coverage firm stopped making use of co-pay help funds towards my deductible. When I referred to as to ask how they’d even know that I had paid for a prescription that was fulfilled by the pharmacy utilizing a co-pay help card, which they beforehand ought to have had no data even existed, they responded that the pharmacy managed all their prescription drug advantages now so the knowledge was “in-house” so to talk. Want to take a guess who the businesses have been? CVS Caremark and Blue Cross Blue Shield. For the report, on the South Carolina market that 12 months, BCBS was the one healthcare firm providing plans by means of healthcare.gov. This will not be a shot on the ACA, which helps me significantly by guaranteeing I can’t be denied protection for my preexisting situation, however the concept of calling one thing a “marketplace” when there is just one firm providing plans is ludicrous.

I’m lucky sufficient to have good credit score and a method to take in these ridiculous drug prices yearly however I’m positive tens of millions of Americans can’t simply put $5000 on a bank card and pay it off as over the course of the 12 months. On a facet be aware, I usually surprise how a lot of the “drug cost” I pay goes towards the expense of commercials for the drug I see each Sunday throughout NFL video games? 

Thanks on your time and I actually loved your e book. I inform everybody I do know to learn it to allow them to study concerning the bi-partisan efforts to erode small enterprise in America. 

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