Apple confirmed that podcasts will be its next subscription offering. The company is adding paid subscriptions to its Podcasts app, so podcasters can charge listeners for content directly. The new feature will be added to the Podcasts app in May, and will be available in 170 regions and countries.
Each podcast creator will be able to set their own prices, as well as what’s included with a subscription. For example, paid subscribers may get ad-free shows, exclusive bonus content or early access to new episodes. Podcast creators can also offer free trials and sample episodes to lure new subscribers.
In addition to subscriptions, Apple will roll out a redesigned Podcasts app with its upcoming iOS 14.5 update. The latest version of the app will come with a new "channels" feature, which will recommend “groups of shows curated by creators with unique titles, descriptions, and artwork.” Some channels will be free, while others will be paid. Apple says channels will make it easier for listeners to discover new shows, and allow podcasts to offer additional perks to subscribers.
The updated app also has improved search features and redesigned landing pages for each show and episode. Apple has also made it easier for listeners to jump into new shows with a new "Smart Play" button. "The new Smart Play button helps listeners automatically start episodic shows from the latest episode and serialized shows from the beginning of each series," Apple explains.
Apple’s move into paid podcasts comes as competition heats up in the audio space. Facebook announced several new social audio features, including a collaboration with Spotify to make podcasts available directly in its app. Apple has also experimented with its own in-house podcasts. Longtime Beats1 DJ Zane Lowe has hosted a series of interviews with artists since 2019. Earlier this month, the company launched a companion podcast to promote its Apple TV+ true-crime documentary The Line.
Subscriptions could give Apple a significant edge over its competitors. Up until now, podcast creators have had to rely on outside platforms like Patreon in order to offer paid perks to listeners. But by bringing subscriptions into its own podcasting platform, Apple is making that process much simpler for show-runners. Along with subscriptions, Apple is also offering a new service for podcast creators with the $19.99/year Apple Podcasters Program. The program will give podcasters access to analytics, episode management tools and other features to help creators manage their shows.
Of course, as with the App Store, access to subscriptions also requires creators to agree to Apple's commission fees. According to the Apple Podcasters Program Agreement posted by Twitter user and podcaster Matt Medeiros, Apple will take a 30 percent cut of podcast subscriptions for the first year, and a 15 percent cut for each year after, in addition to the annual $19.99 fee. That fee structure is similar to the model used for App Store subscriptions. But it may still raise eyebrows among the podcasting community, where paid subscriptions are less common. Apple's commissions have also been a source of controversy in the developer community in recent years, and the focus of some antitrust scrutiny into the company.
Updated with details on Apple's commission structure.