2020 was the year I discovered my love for podcasts. With the lack of things to do, I dived head first into the podcast world. Binging on Netflix didn't cut it.
I started listening to shows about anything that interested me: politics, investing, coding, etc. When it came to politics, podcasts were the main media I used to keep abreast of what was happening in my country, Brazil.
One particular show in Brazil announced their producers were launching a new podcast in partnership with Spotify: Retrato Falado (Spoken Portrait). There they would tell the stories of people in our political sphere. They started with our current president, and I was curious to hear more about it.
Unfortunately, I missed one key thing: this new show was exclusive to Spotify. You can't listen to it anywhere else. I was disappointed. Podcasts were built on an open "protocol" (RSS feeds). That was the beauty of it. You could just grab an RSS link, plug it into any podcast player and it would just work. Not anymore.
Down the rabbit hole
I got curious. I wondered what other shows had been encaged by Spotify. After all, if they cared enough to do this with a podcast from Brazil, they surely would do the same to high-profile podcasts in countries like the US.
That's when I found out about Joe Rogan's show. You may think whatever you want of Joe (I'm not particularly fond of him), but you have to admit this is big news. The Joe Rogan Experience is probably one of the podcast shows with the largest following. And now it's locked inside Spotify's platform.
I kept searching. I then found out the media company behind StartUp (one of my favorite podcasts!), Gimlet Media, had also been acquired by spotify in 2019. For now, Gimlet's shows remain open. But I wonder how long that will last.
Why this scares me
Spotify has the cash, will, and expertise to go around buying media companies and individual podcasts.
What happens when they get big enough that, for a podcast to be successful, they have to be on Spotify? What if what happened to Amazon's sellers also happens to podcasters? Will they have to bow down to Spotify?
You could argue that by having more control over the medium, Spotify can offer better deals to producers. Like more accurate data on subscribers, listening times, etc. But what will the costs be? There's no free lunch.
I feel regulators are so focused on FAANG (which I agree they should), that they are letting things like this slip through the cracks. Just like with the tech giants of now, they are letting rising companies do the same thing that led to all the tech monopolies of today.
I fear podcasts as we know them today will end.