The rise of the podcast streaming wars threatened to upend all that. As large tech and media conglomerates — companies like Spotify, SiriusXM, iHeart, and Amazon — invested in podcasting, many assumed they’d take a page out of Netflix’s playbook and pull all their shows off competing apps. Indeed, Spotify pursued this strategy aggressively, shutting off the RSS feeds for many of its acquired and licensed podcasts. You could even argue that the strategy has paid off, given that last year Spotify overtook Apple Podcasts as the most widely-used podcast player.
But there are also signs that the exclusivity strategy generates limited returns. Not only did some Gimlet shows experience a 75% drop in audience once they were locked down, but multiple other podcast companies — including Last Podcast on the Left and the Obamas’ Higher Ground — cited it as one of the reasons they chose not to renew their contracts with Spotify. Back in 2021, The Verge compiled publicly-available data indicating that The Joe Rogan Experience saw a sizable drop off in influence once it went exclusive. And Luminary, a podcast startup built on the idea of locking down exclusive IP on its premium app, also struggled to gain traction and recently began distributing its content on other platforms.
Pairs well with the June 24 episode of Dithering, in which Ben Thompson argues the benefits for Spotify of controlling its audience. To summarize, Spotify has the same base library as everyone else, but it can attract and retain users with the extras. (Thompson also argues for how Spotify can use that as an advantage for record labels, but that is irrelevant here.) The question for me is whether podcasts that became Spotify exclusives retained their core fanbase and perhaps gained existing Spotify subscribers — even if they lost subscribers overall. But there is no reason why a podcast needs to be exclusive to a platform like Spotify if their objective is to keep only a committed audience. Dithering is one such example: it is paywalled but remains independent.