app-exclusive "podcasts" aren't real podcasts at all

by the spiders (2022-06-16)

none of this is really original or new. it's been said before lots of times by lots of folks, but it's really bugging us lately and so we feel the need to rant about it:

the trend of "podcasts" exclusive to streaming platforms (spotify-exclusive, audible-exclusive, shows that only exist on youtube, etc) is one that i find deeply irritating and disturbing. it is shameful to refer to them as "podcasts", because locking your show into an app or service, preventing people from listening to it how and where they want, is anathema to the entire idea of a podcast.

true podcasts are built on the idea of the web feed. an rss feed (or atom, idk, trying to avoid pedantry here) which you can put in any feed application to get the podcast delivered to you and download it. this makes podcasts an open format. if you have special needs that necessitate listening to them in a certain way, the fact that it's simply an audio file in a web feed means you can accommodate those needs.

if you are managing debilitating rsi and use a chunky little nugget mp3 player to keep your hands off your phone, you can simply drag the mp3 onto it. if you have a slow or limited data plan (as we do) you can download it before your walk instead of streaming it. if you have sensory needs that mean you have to edit the file before listening to it, you can do that. if you only like listening on a certain app because others are inaccessible or annoying, you can do that! and, if all you want is just to stream your podcasts from a simple app with a nice UI, and not think about web feeds or downloads or anything, you could do that too!

and conversely, the simplicity of a web feed means that anybody with the means to host files over the internet can make a podcast. all you really need is file hosting and a rss feed, which is just a xml file you could probably write by hand if you wanted to, because that is all a podcast is. if you want a website for your show, you could make one on neocities or something for free.

and all this stuff does not preclude making money off of your show. there are lots of podcasts that offer exclusive bonus shows for people who donate, and they do it through patreon feeds, which support rss and downloading content (... for now anyways) and work just like any other podcast, or else provide a special feed for donors if they don't use patreon (last we were a member, this was how max fun worked. we assume it still works like that).

these are the defining characteristics of a podcast, and they are what makes podcasting fundamentally different from shows aired on tv or radio.

by contrast, the trend of app-exclusive shows masquerading as "podcasts" goes against all the beauty we just described. they usually don't allow you to download the files and do with them what you want. they force you to use their (inaccessible, annoying, privacy-violating) app. not just anyone can make them; maybe you need to pay a distributor service, or be famous enough to score an exclusive series. if anyone can make them (like with "podcasts" hosted exclusively on youtube), it is actively undermining the creator's skill development.

when the only way you know how to make a "podcast" is by uploading it to youtube, that is a bad thing for you, because practical knowledge that helps you better understand how the digital environment actually works underneath the glamour of apps, is replaced with corporate-dependent workflows, where you don't actually learn much at all in the process.

i can at least sympathize with small shows that are hosted on youtube because the creators cannot afford the bandwidth required to do file hosting themselves. file hosting and bandwidth can be expensive, especially for poorer people or unemployed folks, smaller creators, and young people who don't have their own source of income. if you've got a good reason for hosting your show only on youtube, you get a pass. people can just youtube-dl your show to listen to it how they want anyways.

but it is exhausting and egregious seeing "spotify-exclusive" or "audible-exclusive" shows that call themselves "podcasts", featuring well-off famous people (and the tech megacorps backing them) making money off of the idea of podcasts, without actually participating in the podcasting world in any meaningful way, and confusing people about what a podcast even is by misusing the word. it's exhausting seeing youtubers with large audiences and large incomes, who could easily afford the hosting fees for their show, continue to post it exclusively to youtube.

you wouldn't call a facebook page or corporate blog a "zine". you wouldn't call discord & slack "email" or "irc" or "forums". you certainly wouldn't call the amazon kindle store a "public library." so don't let streaming megacorps take the word "podcast" from us. don't allow them to enclose the commons.

service-exclusive content may be a "web show" or some other such thing, but unless i can put it in a podcatcher or rss reader of my choosing, unless i can download the file and do with it as i please, it's not a podcast.


this website now has a atom feed here