Opinion

Successful Podcasts Should Think Twice Before Becoming a Spotify Exclusive

A graphic of someone recording a podcast to represent the risk of becoming a Spotify exclusive.

Back in 2018, Spotify went public. With the core goal of paying artists fairly, the question of how the company would make money was top of mind for many, especially CEO and co-founder, Daniel Ek. 

Ek noticed a huge audience that wasn’t being tapped into: podcast listeners. According to Edison Research, since 2006, podcast listening has grown from 11 percent of the U.S. population to 57 percent. That’s an increase of 46 percent, and with consistent growth YOY (except for a small drop in 2013), it’s predicted that this trend will continue. 

In 2018, Ek noticed that although this audience was large, there weren’t many brands out there turning it into a revenue stream. The majority of podcast listeners used the Apple Podcast iOS app yet no ads were being run, therefore, Apple was not using podcasting as a method for monetization. Spotify saw an opportunity and it took it. And the investment into podcasting began 

Over the past two years, Spotify has spent over $900 million acquiring podcast production and technology companies as well as exclusive rights to shows. You’ll find exclusives with celebrities such as Brene Brown, Kim Kardashian, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Addison Rae, with its two most popular shows being The Michelle Obama Podcast and The Joe Rogan Experience.  

The Downfall of Spotify Exclusives 

With the constant acquisitions of popular shows, it begs the question of whether becoming a Spotify exclusive impacts the success of an existing podcast. In an ideal world, the podcast would become a Spotify exclusive and continue to bring listeners, sponsors, and awareness to the platform. But for some shows, that doesn’t seem to be the case. 

For example, let’s look at The Joe Rogan Experience. The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) is consistently top-rated on Spotify, is ranked as one of the highest-earning podcasts, and is said to have brought in an influx of shares as well as listeners for the company. But there has been consistent tension between podcast listeners and Spotify. 

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Spotify Episode Removals 

After acquiring podcasts, we see Spotify constantly state that they will not be taking any control over the content and creative of the show. But these statements don’t seem to be completely true. 

For example, over the past few months, The JRE fans have started to notice episodes missing from the popular podcast. Most of these episodes revolve around more controversial guests, such as comedian Chris D’Elia, David Seaman, David Asprey, and more. As of yet, 42 episodes—slightly less than 3 percent of all The Joe Rogan Experience episodes— have been removed from Spotify. So much for, “Rogan will maintain full creative control over the show.”That being said, loyal fans can still find some previous episodes of the podcast on YouTube

It’s been reported that some of Spotify’s internal employees voiced concern over some of Rogan’s content, and it seems they may have gotten their way. The removal of episodes has caused quite an uproar and sparked conversations about Spotify taking too much control over the content and what should be allowed to remain on the platform and what should not. 

On May 13, 2021, Spotify announced the acquisition of the famous podcast, Armchair Expert, co-hosted by Dax Shepard and Monica Padman. The podcast will become yet another Spotify exclusive with this three-year deal. “We are very excited to embark on this journey with Spotify. Armchair Expert will remain the same show it has always been, but with added opportunities that only Spotify can offer us,” says Padman. With this acquisition, Spotify ensures once again that Shepard will maintain creative control and oversight around the podcast’s content. But we’re left wondering about the accuracy of these claims. 

With The Joe Rogan Experience being one example of the authority that Spotify takes over its exclusive shows, it’s clear that the audio platform plays a larger role than we may think in the production and distribution of original and exclusive podcast content. Will listeners begin to feel as if content is being filtered through Spotify internally before it reaches their devices? Something that not many of us would think about when our favourite podcasters were still independent. 

Full Spotify Exclusivity 

Depending on the type of partnership that Spotify has with podcasters, some shows that were previously offered across all listening platforms end up becoming exclusive to just Spotify. What’s the problem with this? As human beings, we tend to not love change. We get comfortable in a routine and when someone forces us out of that routine, it’s not always met with open arms. 

This issue doesn’t come into play as much for podcasts like Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead, since the show never previously existed anywhere else. But when listeners have tuned into their favourite podcast from a different platform for years, being forced to migrate to Spotify can cause some issues. 

Joe Rogan announced that his podcast would become a Spotify exclusive and only be accessible via the audio app in May 2020, yet, The Joe Rogan Experience was still being uploaded to YouTube. Months later, when Rogan announced that the podcast would officially become Spotify exclusive and full episodes would no longer be uploaded to Youtube starting on December 1 2020, fans weren’t very happy.  

Are Spotify Exclusives Damaging Podcast Success? 

And so we’re left with the question: Are Spotify exclusives damaging the success of previously existing podcasts? Continuing with using The Joe Rogan Experience, let’s look at the trajectory of his show. 

Originally covered by TecTalk, search traffic for ‘Joe Rogan’ has dropped by 40 percent since his deal with Spotify. They also found that before being exclusive on Spotify, ‘Joe Rogan’ had an average search index of 57.9. After becoming exclusive on Spotify, ‘Joe Rogan’ dropped to 34.6

So, is it Spotify? With the global popularity of the podcast dropping after December 1, 2020, I’m leaning towards, “yes.” Especially since Spotify does not have a paywall so listeners can still access the content for free. As one user stated:

As podcasts continue to grow in popularity—and Spotify continues to gain exclusive rights to the most popular ones—it will be telling to see a podcast’s trajectory over time. The Joe Rogan Experience shows many signs pointing to the audio giant as a factor hindering its success, but that may not be the case for all Spotify exclusives. Does becoming a Spotify exclusive mark the beginning of a podcast’s doom? Maybe, maybe not. With the information laid out in this article, I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

About the author: Alison Osborne is the Head of Marketing at Quill Inc., a podcast production company that works with corporate brands on bringing their podcast to life, as well as the first one-stop podcast marketplace. Previously the co-founder and CMO at Origins Media Haus (a production agency acquired by Quill Inc), Alison is an experienced marketer specializing in podcasting, content marketing, and data-driven results. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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