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The audacity of Apple Podcasts

90 points3 hoursbasta.substack.com
crazygringo2 hours ago

> You could sign up to allow Apple to host your show and its audio (for a cool $20/year). In exchange, you could charge a subscription fee to your listeners... If you host your show with Apple, the only listeners you can have are folks with the Apple Podcasts app... The audio will be protected with DRM.

The author presents this as "audacity" and bad... but doesn't it make perfect sense? If you're charging a subscription fee then it makes sense that the podcast lives in a walled DRM'ed garden. Also, if Apple is hosting it for nearly free ($20/year is nothing), why would you expect Apple to make it available to competing podcast apps? If you post something on TikTok it doesn't show up on people's Facebook feeds.

Apple isn't taking away self-hosted RSS podcast feeds. It's presenting a separate paid subscription experience within its Podcasts app. No "audacity" about it. If you don't want that as a creator, don't use it.

bastawhiz1 hour ago

Author here.

> If you're charging a subscription fee

The DRM applies even if you charge no fee.

> why would you expect Apple to make it available to competing podcast apps

Because every single other podcast hosting service does, with the exception of folks that signed a contract with Spotify.

> If you post something on TikTok it doesn't show up on people's Facebook feeds.

It can, actually. You can post a link. If I upload a podcast to Apple, it's physically inaccessible unless you have a Mac or an iOS device.

> Apple isn't taking away self-hosted RSS podcast feeds.

That was never the point, and not my concern. What they're doing is tricking small podcasters into signing up for a cheap service that prevents them from ever leaving.

andrewjl25 minutes ago

> If I upload a podcast to Apple, it's physically inaccessible unless you have a Mac or an iOS device.

I'm curious if this sort of arrangement will remain in place in Europe once the DMA interoperability requirements come into effect.

xoa1 hour ago

>If you're charging a subscription fee then it makes sense that the podcast lives in a walled DRM'ed garden

No, it absolutely does not. In the same way it doesn't make any sense to have DRM on music or anything else I pay for. I'm a paying customer, why should my experience and the product I'm paying for literally be worse then the people who pirate it? This thinking is straight out of the 90s/00s RIAA playbook that Apple themselves played a major role in tearing down! Normal podcast systems charge money and make things member-only just fine with normal RSS and standard sound. If someone wants to save one they got while paying to listen to again later so what?

>Also, if Apple is hosting it for nearly free ($20/year is nothing), why would you expect Apple to make it available to competing podcast apps?

"Nearly" isn't actually free. It's a paid service, and it's for something that's "nearly free" to provide too by that argument. Why shouldn't it just be standard, with a bit of Apple polish in the interface and tooling and some options for users to add Apple as an intermediary for privacy if they want? This is a dumb, good-will burning approach for peanuts. Anything Apple gets from this isn't worth even having a front page story on HN and a few thousand people noticing and getting just a little bit more irritated. It's a symptom of a company that isn't thinking as holistically as it once did, or more charitably this is such an unimportant thing that it didn't actually get any serious attention and they just built it in a proprietary lazy way out of their current defaults I guess.

karaterobot1 hour ago

> Apple isn't taking away self-hosted RSS podcast feeds. It's presenting a separate paid subscription experience within its Podcasts app. No "audacity" about it. If you don't want that as a creator, don't use it.

It sounded to me like the audacious part was that they don't make it clear that, once you sign up for this service, your users cannot get your podcast in any other way than using Apple Podcasts, and you will never be able to change that. The audacious part is this:

> They say that your podcast will be available to listeners on Apple Podcasts, but they don’t explicitly say that your podcast won’t be available to anyone else. When you upload your audio, they say it will have DRM, but they don’t make it clear what the consequences of this are. They tell you your show won’t have an RSS feed, but they don’t tell you what you’re giving up by not having one. This is predatory.

Which, I agree with the author, is a really, really wild thing to do, which few companies could think they'd get away with. You can just imagine a PM saying "ayy, they don't like it? screw 'em, we're Apple!"

RC_ITR58 minutes ago

>they say it will have DRM

I confused what possible definition of 'Digital Rights Management' could entail 'anyone can freely rip your files.'

friend_and_foe29 minutes ago

What about "I can freely rip my own files"? Does the definition preclude that also?

cool_dude8549 minutes ago

How about 'nobody can freely rip my subscriber only files' but free files are free to be ripped? Seems like a reasonable interpretation to me. Even more reasonably, I might expect that I can freely rip my files regardless of DRM.

dabernathy891 hour ago

This service doesn't give podcast hosts a way to retrieve their own material. It doesn't inform them that they'll be completely locked into Apple's service. If creators were aware of this upfront, then sure, I'd say "just don't use it" too.

moogleii1 hour ago

I'm a bit out of the loop but wouldn't hosts have the original source material that they uploaded? Similar to how users have the source images/videos to whatever they upload to TikTok and Instagram? I suspect neither offer an export either.

Additionally, the author complains that an Apple Podcast user has to go through the app (and all its restrictions), but again, not that different from Instagram posts. As a user, you must go through Instagram to see photos. These users aren't there just for generic hosting, but also for the network effects. For those that want generic hosting, there are other more appropriate services, like google photos or maybe Flickr (or self hosting).

I'm not arguing the Podcasts/Instagram model is better, just that there is fairly old precedent, so the purported shock value seems pretty low.

bastawhiz1 hour ago

Author here.

> wouldn't hosts have the original source material that they uploaded

As far as I'm aware, Apple never resurfaces the audio after it's uploaded, even in your dashboard. Even if they did, making someone manually download and reupload every asset for potentially hundreds of episodes is sadistic. Moreover, you physically can't leave, because your listeners won't follow you to your new hosting service.

> These users aren't there just for generic hosting, but also for the network effects.

The network effects are limited to an app with only 40% of the market. Outside the US, that number is even smaller.

> just that there is fairly old precedent

Every podcast hosting service ever has allowed you to leave their service.

howinteresting56 minutes ago

This is all Apple bringing their usual dirty tactics into an ecosystem that has historically been open. Everything Apple does is designed to keep you buying Apple products and services forever.

timerol58 minutes ago

It's perfectly reasonable for a user to pay a big company for hosting, and then delete their local copies, since they paid for hosting. And then assume that, because their data is publicly available, that they'll be able to download that information.

Getting your photos off of Instagram is easy, according to the top 10 search results for "Instagram photo downloader". But even then, the distinction that you're not paying Instagram for hosting is notable.

crazygringo1 hour ago

Why would there be any expectation that a podcast distribution service should also serve as a private file archive? And why would podcast hosts even need to retrieve their own material?

If there are podcast hosts who don't hold onto their original audio files they had before uploading them, then what are they thinking? That's like sending a project to a client and then deleting your own copy of it.

I understand that the author tries to provide an "import from Apple Podcasts" service for convenience, but that's merely a convenience. It really shouldn't be too hard for a podcaster to just re-upload their original audio files and descriptions to a new service. Nobody's "locked in" to anything here as far as I can tell.

bastawhiz58 minutes ago

> It really shouldn't be too hard for a podcaster to just re-upload their original audio files and descriptions to a new service. Nobody's "locked in" to anything here as far as I can tell.

If you reupload your audio to a new hosting service, there's no way to have your listeners move to the new service. The listeners need to physically unsubscribe and resubscribe with a new feed. This is a feature of _every single podcast hosting service_ with the exception of Apple.

If I bought a bunch of apps on my Samsung phone, and then I wanted to switch to an LG phone, but I couldn't transfer my apps or data—despite the phone running the same OS—that's lock-in. If "having to start over if you want to leave" isn't lock-in, I'm not sure what is. It's an artificial limitation that Apple deliberately put in place and didn't make clear to their customers.

dabernathy8943 minutes ago

What a weird attitude. "Why would you ever expect [Business X] to offer [Feature Y] that you, as a potential customer, would like to see?"

edit: especially since they are an outlier in the podcast hosting space in this regard!

paulette4492 hours ago

I listen to hours of podcasts each day (dog-walking, walking, running etc) and am fully immersed in the Apple ecosystem, but the Apple Podcast app is a turkey. Shallow feature set, bugs that never get fixed and an environment that doesn't evolve. It's software that can only be developed by a company that hates its user base. Ugh. I've been using and loving iCatcher for years [1].

[1] - https://joeisanerd.com

l33tbro34 minutes ago

Overcast really destroys everything else I've used for listening to a podcast. Simple and intuitive UI, customizable streaming/download settings, quickly add any podcast - and that's at the free level. I would never go back to Apple or even Spotify.

I rarely get enthusiastic about apps, but it's awesome when one clearly demonstrates a team having gone 'how can we get this right'?

acer58926 minutes ago

Just so you know, Overcast is not a team. It's one guy.

marco.org

arwhatever49 minutes ago

I’ve used the Apple podcasts app to pre-download content for offline listening, only to drive out to the middle of nowhere with no data service only to have the app refuse to load.

It would be much less aggravating to have an app which crashes on launch and never gives the appearance of doing anything, whatsoever.

willhslade31 minutes ago

Broken is better than unreliable.

mikece2 hours ago

"Under the hood, Apple stopped having each device request a copy of RSS feeds."

Yes, because this was creating DDoS levels of traffic to podcast hosting providers. Now Apple simply pings madly away at all known podcast RSS feeds and updates clients when there is a new episode. What would be far greener -- and efficient! -- would be for them to get on board with PodPing[1] to not only deliver feed updates much faster but to use a tiny fraction of the resources they are using now to get it done.

[1] https://podcasting20.substack.com/p/podping

bastawhiz2 hours ago

> creating DDoS levels of traffic

Author here. This has never been a problem, both in terms of volume and cost. I host ~0.25% (maybe more? I haven't checked recently) of all podcasts listed on Apple and up to a few years ago, I wasn't even using a CDN. Two Heroku dynos at ~$250/mo (25 customer subscriptions today) running a Python back-end with no caching at all was able to keep up without trouble. In fact, the only reason I added a CDN was Heroku's infrastructure having spooky issues with that volume of traffic.

Podcast hosting providers larger than me running on their own hardware should have (had) exactly zero trouble.

georgel1 hour ago

The entirety of all the podcasts on iTunes/Apple Podcasts RSS feeds downloaded is around 200-250GB across the 2.5M+ pods. Hosting the RSS feed should be an easy task. Add in caching via ETag and server-side (host the feed as a static file, only re-render when user updates something), and your server load goes down drastically.

It gets a bit complex if your hosting company supports dynamic audio/ad insertion depending on how you accomplish that, but as far as retrieving the RSS XML feed, that has no impact.

bastawhiz1 hour ago

Audio insertion is actually straightforward: the audio URLs from the feed can redirect!

djl02 hours ago

I'm interested to see this podping service, however given the whole model of RSS is that the end-user is requesting feed updates (I would guess daily on average, but maybe hourly?), I have a hard time thinking this was a problem for podcast providers. I have no knowledge of the implementation at scale, but given the feed is static for the most part, wouldn't podcast hosting providers want their users constantly checking in?

wwalexander17 minutes ago

I was recently on a long drive and, if I had started listening to a podcast, then listened to something else, then tried to resume the podcast, it wouldn’t play. I tried multiple episodes, marking it as played, restarting the app, and restarting the phone and still couldn’t resume.

Funnily enough, the podcast was ATP, wherein Marco Arment frequently discusses his podcast app Overcast.

cosmotic2 hours ago

I stopped using Apple Podcasts because 1) they killed connectivity to my iPod; 2) the app is extremely buggy; and 3) the app is totally unusable.

browningstreet1 hour ago

I only use Apple Podcasts to automatically sync a couple of podcasts onto my Apple Watch. The rest of the time I use Overcast. But that Apple Watch sync feature is a compelling use case.

wingworks36 minutes ago

I primarily listen to Podcasts on my Mac, been using the default Apple one... which works, but it feels very much like a half baked copy from the iPad app.

Sadly no Overcast on Mac, anyone found a good podcast player for Mac? (paid or free)

Edit: Little things like pressing left/right arrows does nothing in the app. (just want to skip around the podcast ads). Buggy UI (as I type this, the volume slider in the app is greyed out.. but still works). Also there doesn't appear to be any timer, to stop the podcast after x minutes. (I sure it used to do this)

ezfe10 minutes ago

There is Overcast on Mac for Apple silicon devices

arthurofbabylon2 hours ago

Reading this, I get the impression that someone at Apple tried to do the market capture playbook tactics (churn prevention, competitor lockout, first-party-favoritism) in an open world (podcasts). Obviously it doesn’t work, while eroding the underlying ecosystem.

The smart move by Apple is to keep podcasts open, keep being the de facto provider, don’t bother making money from it now, and use it as a foot-in-the-door as the web evolves for future plays.

lancesells36 minutes ago

I've noticed Apple is destroying their brand equity in so many ways just to squeeze out as much from their customers as possible. Having advertisements in my iPhone settings just shows how petty they are willing to be. I used to use their TV app but now it's first purpose is an advertisement for Apple TV+.

voytec1 hour ago

I remember having an iMac with 3TB hard disk on which I stored all my CDs ripped in an lossless format. iTunes had an option to stream the library to local network and since this iMac was on 24/7, this was a perfect solution for me to have an audio-NAS and also kind-of remote streaming when I was connecting via VPN to my home network.

Than there came Tim Cook's "upgrades": OS X was renamed to macOS, iTunes to Music, and Apple blocked LAN-related options which came with purchased devices.

At the same time Apple asked me to pay for the same functionality and their ecosystem's attractiveness started getting shittier. Since then, with similar actions, Tim Cook switched increasingly more of my activities from Apple's increasingly-hostile and toxic ecosystem to almost anywhere else.

tokamak-teapot55 minutes ago

Apple seem to believe what you’re talking about is supported via Home Sharing [1]. I have attempted to get this to work with a little success but I wonder if it was too little too late for you?

[1] https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT202190

voytec43 minutes ago

Too late. I have called Apple's support when they did this and they told me that there was no way to still use such functionality without paying for online Apple Music. They would serve me copies of some of my previously LAN-shared music from the internet.

For some reasons, which I don't recall, it was supposed to be some - not all - music from my original CDs, ripped by me under law allowing to have digital copies of owned audio CDs.

friend_and_foe32 minutes ago

I don't know why anyone is surprised. Apple's entire business model is trapping unwitting potential customers.

Orlan2 hours ago

Perhaps there were special deals in place for high profile podcasts?

I’ve never used the Apple Podcast app, and only learned about the Apple only features while listening to John Carreyrou‘s podcast during the Theranos trial. They had member only episodes (paid) which were only accesible using Apple’s app, but they also had a public RSS feed which excluded those members only episodes.

jjcon2 hours ago

The best part is how Apple Podcasts had a 1.x star rating in the App Store so they gamed the system in a way that would get any other app kicked off - they prompted people for reviews making them think they were rating specific podcasts and not the app

https://www.theverge.com/2021/11/19/22791968/apple-podcasts-...

chrisoverzero2 hours ago

> We weren’t able to track down a copy of the prompt ourselves to confirm when and where it appears or what it looks like — which seems important if people are getting confused […]

This is speculation presented as news. The confusion certainly appears to be real, but there's no actual investigative reporting.

howinteresting1 hour ago

Wait -- there are podcasts you just can't listen to if you don't have an Apple device? That's beyond absurd.

theshrike7954 minutes ago

There are also podcasts you can only listen to on Spotify. Also absurd.

oezi41 minutes ago

Enough podcasts to listen to that aren't on any of these platforms.

Give me RSS or death.

jxdxbx2 hours ago

Apple Podcasts does not have a silence-trimming feature, which is reason enough to not use it.

It would be nice if you could have a single podcast RSS backend with multiple client apps, like you can with text RSS.

joeconway51 minutes ago

Almost every podcast client has OPML export there is no need for a single backend to host that. Such a service would like end up awful, like Feedly

vmoore2 hours ago

I deliberately don't use any of Apple's services, even though I own an iPhone. The only thing I use is the App Store, and even then I'm a minimalist as to what I install. If I want to listen to podcasts, I use the VLC Player app, and grab the podcast from the Podcast's official site, and then use iTunes to transfer the .MP3 to VLC, over USB.

Cause I'm oldskool like that. If the podcast in question doesn't have a site where I can download episodes at my leisure, I send a friendly e-mail to the podcast asking them to provide downloadable MP3s so I can avoid the vendor lock-in of Apple and other companies (who also build a profile of your listening habits, because they chant they need it for 'improvements to our service').

harshitaneja2 hours ago

I appreciate the sentiment of not wanting to give into vendor lock-in for convenience but why manually download podcasts and go through the whole process when you can use RSS and ask podcasters to keep supporting RSS feeds?

You get good ergonomics while still keeping the process decentralized and without vendor lock-ins?

EvanAnderson2 hours ago

I agree-- RSS feeds are wonderful. I just wish more podcasts kept a complete feed. I'm a "completionist" and it turns me off when I have to scrape episode archive pages to get download links for past episodes that have dropped off the RSS feed. That's the biggest barrier for me to start listening to a new podcast.

I own an iPhone but also don't use Apple's built-in functionality unless the feature supports standards-based services can self-host (CalDAV, IMAP, etc).

I pull podcasts into my forked version of tt-rss[0] and use a script to pull down the enclosures onto my local webserver. I play the episodes using Safari (which, admittedly, is a sub-optimal experience) on my iPhone. (In my dreams I'd write an HTML5 front-end to play episodes, mark them to retain after listening, keep bookmarks, etc...)

[0] https://tt-rss.org/

harshitaneja1 hour ago

I feel you. Even though I am more okay with the transience of the feeds.

I have a similar setup but running on my cloud VM and using my custom scripts and apps. I have built a CLI client but not gotten around to mobile apps yet. Hope to finish work on a proper self hosted server and a suite of applications for desktop and mobile for the same and open source it.

nofreelunch1 hour ago

That is so much work to go through when you could just buy an android instead of an iphone!

I don't see how this could possibly provide you any benefit besides some sort of glib satisfaction. You don't want to support apple but still give them money to use their devices.