One of the great things about podcasts, aside from a vast and varied selection of great content, is that everything is free for the taking. Whether you’re prone to listening to NPR, breakdowns of your favorite TV shows or even the latest sports happenings, there’s no pay-to-play scheme associated with podcasts. Unfortunately, Amazon now has plans to change that.
According to Bloomberg, the Amazon-owned property Audible is planning to roll out a Netflix-style subscription service for podcasts featuring exclusive content not available anywhere else. As it stands now, Audible is set on charging users about $4.95 for “an exclusive selection of ad-free original podcasts, comedy performances, and audio renditions of written articles” under an initiative dubbed Channels. Note that these premium podcasts would be available for free for current Audible members.
For those unfamiliar, Audible — itself a frequent sponsor of mainstream podcasts — is a service that provides users with digital audiobooks.
While Apple has always loomed large over podcasting, other big companies like Amazon, Google, and Spotify are beginning to inch into the space. Channels is Amazon’s first major foray into the business and puts it in a position to be both a platform for and creator of new shows. “They are doing to audio what they did with Prime Video—it’s vertical integration, and it puts them in a position where they can firmly participate in the larger development of culture,” said Nick Quah, who writes the podcasting newsletter Hot Pod.
Of course, the underlying question here is if Audible can truly amass a stable of content that users would be happy paying for. As for what Audible plans to have available at launch, I would wager that the service won’t be an immediate hit as it includes a “collection of sketches of American presidents, a comedy show starring Eugene Mirman, and an eight-part scientific and cultural examination of human breasts.”
With so much free content already available, one struggles to see how Audible could possibly make this a viable service, especially when A-list personalities like Bill Simmons have podcasts available for free. Additionally, many of the personalities behind top sports, tech and comedy podcasts would arguably shudder at the thought of trying to charge users for a service that has traditionally been available free of charge. Further, there’s no indication that the money generated via subscriptions (which would have a much smaller audience) would offset any loss in advertising. Personally, I think ad-supported podcasting will be the standard way of doing business for years to come.
As far as the podcasting landscape is concerned, it will be particularly fascinating to see if Audible’s new service takes off or is dead on arrival.