Culture

Before Spotify, Apple owned the podcast market. Now it wants it back.

In typical Apple style, the company is hoping it can offer a podcast experience so good people will pay for it.

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According to Bloomberg, insider sources familiar with the matter have said that Apple is looking into creating a subscription tier service for its podcast program. The development is expected to become reality this year. The potential addition of a podcast subscription is Apple's way of trying to catch up with giant rivals like Spotify, who've come to dominate a segment Apple pioneered.

By doing so, Bloomberg reports that Apple will be able to create new original shows and series and supply funding for existing content. At the moment, Apple's existing style of podcast distribution is free. You can put practically put any term in the Apple podcast search field and land on an almost endless list of options, genres, series, interviews, documentaries, and more. But its current model doesn't generate meaningful revenue for it. To change that, it'll need content users who are used to a free service don't mind now having to pay for.

Services matter — Apple's services offerings — from the App Store, to Apple TV+, Apple Music, and more recent additions like Apple Arcade and Apple Fitness — are a growing focus area for the company, which wants to generate revenue from more than just hardware like iPhones, AirPods, iPads, and other devices.

The company is also increasingly bundling services together. A podcast subscription could help increase profit and it might even be merged with its existing Apple TV+ service. For that to happen, though, Apple needs to create an offering so good that the average listener can't refuse it.

Too late? — Investing in podcasts has paid off for Spotify. The company released its Q4 findings in 2019 and showed that at the time, it had amassed a jaw-dropping total of 271 million active monthly users thanks to its aggressive focus on podcast content. Both its premium and ad-supported tiers have been doing incredibly well, and it's amassed a substantial selection of podcast-related businesses to help it diversify from merely offering music it has to license to producing its own content.

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Open the war chest — Apple, on the other hand, has yet to invest in original podcasts at the same level. The company will have to boost its investment in advertising, bring on heavyweight names like Spotify did by featuring the Obamas and (the controversial) Joe Rogan, bankroll original series, acquire lucrative podcasting companies, and generate additional sales from current podcasts to even begin catching up with its Swedish rival.

We're not saying that it's too late... after all, Apple has not only the patience for protracted battles but the funds. And with the right kind of investment (Spotify's spent at least $800 million so far) and a strong roster of original fare, it could very well challenge Spotify. But it should probably hurry up.