There is little doubt that Spotify is one of the fastest growing music streaming services today. In March of 2016, the company announced they had over 100m subscribers to the service, with 30m of those being paid subscribers. And while Apple and Google have set their sights on music streaming, Spotify has been able to maintain its edge through its accumulated momentum and innovation.
Yes, Spotify has some great stuff going on. Between their seamless integration with the Amazon Echo, to IFTT and other connected services, there are a lot of positives to what Spotify brings to streaming music. But what about podcasting? How is Spotify capitalizing on the enormous audience for podcasts?
The state of Spotify’s podcasting support.
Spotify announced that podcasts would become part of their app back in May 2015. They told us that we should expect the most entertaining Spotify ever. Although podcasts were mentioned, they were relegated to just a single mention at the bottom of the press release. Spotify did follow through and launched their podcast directory with the usual lineup of popular shows including WTF, The Nerdist and 99% Invisible.
Amongst my friends in the podcasting community there was a lot of excitement! We had thoughts of Spotify’s massive user base and the potential windfall of new subscribers who could now find and enjoy podcasts inside of a familiar music app. We wouldn’t have to ask our friends and family to go and download a podcast app from the App Store! Frankly, it just seemed to make sense that a company like Spotify would make a move into podcasting, after all, Apple and Google had.
Why can’t I add my podcast?
Spotify only launched with only the most popular podcast shows (fitting into very specific genres like tech and storytelling). That makes sense in a way, although I’ve never been a fan of limited launches with “select partners.” But as a marketing professional for over 20 years I get it. We’ve all seen it before, from Facebook and Twitter, who routinely open up new advertising platforms to only the largest content producers. Sadly, as I write this today, over a year later, there still isn’t a way for me to add any of the podcasts I produce to Spotify’s directory.
The Spotify Community forums have thread after thread about this, but there has been no response from those in the know at Spotify on how or when us regular old podcaster producers will be able to submit our shows.
Desktop users don’t get podcasts.
Spotify podcasts are unavailable on the desktop and only found in the iOS or Android app. I personally don’t own a Windows Phone, but it seems as if those users are out of luck as podcasts aren’t available on the Windows Phone version either.
I haven’t seen official desktop statistics for Spotify, but a casual survey of my officemates shows a majority of them listening to Spotify while working at their desk on their desktop computers. It only makes sense that people would enjoy music while working (or podcasts) so why not include podcasts on the desktop app? Only Spotify knows, but it seems like a missed opportunity, especially given the fact that Spotify is really good at syncing across devices (desktop and mobile) and most podcast apps are not.
We can’t really evaluate how Spotify does with podcasts on the desktop, but we can examine Spotify as a podcast player on mobile. How does Spotify compare to popular podcast apps like Overcast (my personal favorite), PocketCasts or even Apple’s dedicated podcast player?
Spotify’s podcast player is rather uninspiring. I’d almost call it utilitarian but that’s not quite accurate, either — it’s missing too many key features.
The interface here is spartan — it’s essentially just a long list of podcast shows listed in no particular order.
If you want to search for a podcast, which let’s face it is one of the most important functions of any podcast app, you have to settle for Spotify’s unified search function which mixes results from songs, videos, playlists and artists (as well as podcasts).
The WTF podcast of Marc Maron, one of the most popular in the world, is nowhere to be found on the first screen of results – or the second, or the third, or the fourth. Spotify hasn’t reached Google status I guess in terms of determining intent. Marc’s show comes up first on regular old Google searches for the phrase “WTF”, even above Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary!
Spotify’s podcast discovery could be vastly improved as well. There is a screen in the app that attempts to break down podcasts by genre, but some podcasts defy that sort of categorization. Take the I AM RAPAPORT podcast, a personal favorite. Is it comedy? Sports? Something else? I’d argue it is a category unto itself. The genres are nice to have, but not a substitute for a proper dedicated or filtered podcast search. I can sum up my feelings on Spotify’s overall directory with one word: Yahoo! (from the late 90s). That, my friends, is not a compliment.
How is the player itself?
Podcasts are MP3 files after all, and Spotify is essentially a fancy MP3 player, so from a technical perspective it sounds just fine. Spotify is known for having a large music catalog that is available at a high bit-rate (320k) but its not known whether or not podcasts can or are being distributed at that high of quality. I’d assume not as podcast files can be enormous due to their long duration. Honestly, podcasts inside of Spotify sound as good as anywhere else to my ears.
Where I do notice big differences in Spotify’s approach and lets say, Overcast’s, when it comes to the features that are important to podcast listeners. Some of those features include:
- Reducing or remove silence
- Speeding or slowing a podcast
- Easily getting to show notes
- Sharing an episode at the current time
- Creating smart playlists
- Chapters within a podcast
Perhaps Spotify can’t add these features to their app because they also have to support music streaming. Maybe the podcast that is played inside of Spotify is thought of like any other song, or video, and therefore cannot support the features that Overcast does. Or maybe, Spotify saw the addition of podcasts to their service as low hanging fruit — a couple of changes in the code that enabled them to make the claim they are a place to go to listen to podcasts. Maybe Spotify doesn’t have an interest in becoming the best podcast player in the market and that’s okay too.
I’m not sure, but it does seem plausible that Spotify can’t add the features because Apple has had to split their podcast app out of their music streaming app.
Regardless of the reason, Spotify doesn’t have a compelling podcast player right now. There is no reason to use Spotify as a podcast app if you already have one, and most dedicated podcast apps have some or all of the features above.
Spotify users deserve a better podcast experience, though.
As a Spotify subscriber since they came to the US market, I feel like their effort into supporting podcasts is minimal and half-hearted. Yes, you can listen to podcasts — very specific ones — inside of Spotify, but the discovery of new podcasts is lacking, as are the features of the player itself.
The podcast community, which includes listeners and creators, should be able to enjoy their music and their podcasts inside of one app that syncs across all platforms. We appreciate the acknowledgement that podcasts are important and are here to stay, but Spotify can do better. We’ve seen them do better in many, many areas from their pricing to their 3rd party integrations. Podcast fans and creators are passionate about them, and we want to be able to find new ones and share our favorites with friends.
I hope that Spotify will revisit their podcasting strategy, including opening up submissions to the thousands of high-quality if lesser known shows, innovating their player to surpass what’s currently available with most free podcast apps, and going beyond “good enough” to truly innovating this space like they have in so many other areas.