Why I Think Spotify Matters to Podcasters (& What Podcasts it Should Matter To)

UPDATE 2/6/19 - Check out Always Listening 403 for our reaction to the latest Spotify news


Lots of big tech companies have fallen in love with podcasting over the years. Microsoft loved podcasting one time. Google loved us, then they didn’t, then they sort of did, then they didn’t again. Now they REALLY do.

The one tech giant that has always stuck by us though is Apple. Since they introduced Podcasts into the iTunes Store in 2005, Apple has been the 900lb gorilla pushing our little podcasting choo-choo up the hill to the mainstream.

With Google back in the podcasting game, and Apple extending their podcast support to the HomePod and the Apple Watch, why do we need to worry about this new beautiful entrant to the podcasting pageant, Spotify?

Because of the different role they play in people’s lives, and the different people they put us in front of.

Spotify is an important part of a LOT of people’s lives.

The vast majority of these folks aren’t spending their time listening to podcasts EVEN those that already have and use an Apple device (which comes pre-installed with the Apple Podcasts app). Why is that?

Studies show that more and more people every year know that podcasts exist (and even have a vague sense of what they are), but they still don’t listen. In my opinion that’s because of the difference between the “lean back” nature of television viewing for the average consumer, and the “lean in” nature of podcast discovery.

No one “happens into” a podcast. There isn’t one playing on the radio already when you turn on the car, or one that comes on automatically every Wednesday at 4. Personally, I find that freeing. I HATE having something random on. I LOVE programming all of my entertainment or edutainment. But, I also am already an avid podcast listener. I’m not the person you need to convince to grow this market.

This is theory, based on the above referenced stats and my own understanding of the podcast market, but I think it is more likely than not that the next 50 million podcast listeners are going to want that “lean back” experience. They’re going to want someone programming things.

Spotify is already programming a lot of these people’s listening time. And now, it turns out that Spotify wants to use our podcasts for some of that time. I was skeptical in the beginning, but I’m seeing it laid out now and I think there are effectively three directories that matter now. Apple, Google, Spotify. Apple has a smartphone and smart speaker eco-system, Google has a smartphone and smart speaker eco-system, and Spotify has a brand of smart devices already starting and sits across both Apple and Google’s eco-systems talking to and bringing in a whole new group of people to wide world of podcasts. To get to 100 million, we’ll need them all helping us.

For Which Shows Does Spotify Matter Most?

For one, my podcast about podcasts is never likely to set the Spotify charts on fire (though with our background as a podcast review show, Spotify has featured us a time or two already). But obviously shows like Song Exploder, Cocaine and Rhinestones and even WTF with Marc Maron (which regularly features musicians) will be popular on a music streaming service. But also, high production narrative shows like Lore or Serial will find a lot of ready listeners that never knew they existed before.

Pop Culture shows, too, I bet are big hits long-term on Spotify. The next “Lost” or “Game of Thrones” will find it’s corresponding podcast a big hit on Spotify as well as Apple Podcasts. Again, these are “lean-back” experiences, and when Spotify serves them your show based on ads they’ve clicked or demographic info they have, they’ll be pleasantly surprised that other fans are talking about their new favorite TV show.

What about sports shows? The problem here is one of saturation and competition. Sports fans are more likely to already be searching team specific or sport specific content and have their preferred audio experiences already elsewhere. That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t rather hear your show in Spotify, just that you’re less likely than the above categories to gain a multitude of new listeners there.

Time Will Tell Whether Spotify is the Next Apple or the Next Zune Marketplace

As an experiment this Spotify adventure costs us little to start, particularly if your branding and audience calls to action involve your own website. But the potential upside is a new true third party player in the space, with long term ambitions in audio, a desire to promote content they don’t have to license at exorbitant rates and no tie to a particular hardware platform, so as to protect podcasters from a monopolistic actor in Apple or Google. That potential future, where we have three semi-equal directories all growing and advancing the medium of podcasting? It is one I am all in for gambling on.