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Apple seeks input from top podcasters as it weighs future of medium

In an attempt to address, and potentially assuage, long-standing concerns over podcast monetization, data and other perceived platform issues, Apple employees and top brass late last month met with leading podcast publishers at the company's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters.

According to two people familiar with the matter, Apple invited seven podcast professionals to take part in a candid discussion regarding the state of the medium, particularly problems that since late cofounder Steve Jobs introduced the platform onstage in 2005, reports The New York Times. While Apple fell short of promising change, employees at the meeting later relayed podcaster grievances with iTunes chief Eddy Cue in a closed-door meeting.

"We have more people than ever focused on podcasting, including engineers, editors and programmers." Cue said in a statement. "Podcasts hold a special place with us at Apple."

Despite a self-professed sentimentality for the medium, podcasts are far from being a major focus for Apple. Producers lament a dated iTunes support structure that has been outgrown by the fast-moving industry. Chief among complaints are issues related to advanced monetization tools and related features like promotion within iTunes and social media sharing. For the most part, Apple's backend services have remained largely unchanged since 2005.

For example, podcast publishers make money by selling advertisements, but mechanisms for obtaining and measuring listener statistics are woefully outdated. With iTunes, producers are unable to break down show metrics beyond absolute download count. Podcasters don't know if a listener turned off the show after 10 minutes, or shared the episode with 10 people. Such measurements are vital to assigning value to and selling advertisements.

Part of the problem is Apple's hands-off approach to podcasting, the report says. Since the company does not take a cut of advertising revenue, and restricts publishers from selling episodes or subscriptions through iTunes, it has little skin in the game. For Apple, podcasts are effectively a value-added feature to promote hardware platform stickiness.

Further, podcasters jockey for position on iTunes' top charts. Netting a spot as a top show on Apple's Podcasts app can often make or break a production, and there is a single person — Steve Wilson — in charge of that space. Apple's podcast ranking and featured content systems are also in question.

Competitors are taking the opportunity to step in, offering podcasters the tools they want and the monetization they need. Spotify in January activated a podcast service promising publishers access to listening data, as well as episode hosting and streaming. Amazon's is also making a push into the sector, the report said.

Apple is still the market leader when it comes to podcasts, and according to podcast tracking firm RawVoice is pulling in 65 percent of listeners. That number is down 70 percent year-over-year. As it stands, there are more than 325,000 podcasts served through iTunes and the company estimates listeners will have consumed some 10 billion episodes by the end of the year.

AppleInsider, for example, produces a weekly podcast discussing the hottest Apple news and rumors.

After essentially creating the podcast segment out of whole cloth, Apple now risks losing control to industry upstarts. Before that happens, however, it seems Apple is at least willing to entertain new ideas from podcasting's top performers.