Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Apple Takes Aim at Spotify's Podcast Ambitions

By Travis Hoium - Apr 25, 2021 at 10:00AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Spotify wants to dominate podcasts, but Apple is taking a big swing at taking the market back.

Despite being extremely early in podcast distribution, Apple (AAPL 2.14%) neglected its podcast app for a long time, failing to grow subscriptions, streaming advertisements, or exclusive, high-quality content. That left an opening for Spotify (SPOT 0.73%) to build and acquire the tools necessary to make podcasts a success for listeners and producers alike, potentially making it Spotify's biggest business long term. 

That dynamic changed on Tuesday when Apple introduced subscriptions to its Podcast app. Subscriptions will allow producers to charge listeners directly for their content. It could be an effective way to monetize content, but does it really hurt Spotify's position in the industry? 

Apple Podcast refresh image.

Image source: Apple. 

Apple's theory of the case 

What Apple is betting on is that easy-to-use subscriptions will be a win-win for producers and listeners. Producers can make money while listeners can get premium, ad-free content. The theory makes sense, but may not be as easy to pull off as you might think. 

Print organizations have proven that paywalls are a tough way to build a business model. The New York Times and a handful of other large organizations have had success moving content behind a subscription paywall, but most who've attempted paywalls have failed. 

The reason why paywalls haven't made sense on the internet is that a free version of the information users might be looking for is likely only a click away. And information travels so quickly that paying for content is a tough ask for consumers. 

Audio may be a little different because the content is unique and consumed differently. A conversation between a podcaster and a guest can't easily be replicated into print or other audio forms like the content of a news article can. So the paywall could work for Apple and podcasters because it's the exclusive place to find the content people are seeking. 

The challenge will be discovery. Free podcasts are easy to find and they open up a world of users to podcast producers. Once a podcast goes behind a paywall there's a lot more friction between users and discovery. 

Spotify is playing a different game

Apple is a big competitor of Spotify in podcasts, but this move may not upend the company's plans. Spotify already has a subscription business in music and exclusive podcasts, and subscriptions to some podcasts may be coming. But I think the biggest opportunity will be building out an advertising business with the user data and advertiser network to make "free" podcasts profitable. 

Podcast production, which Spotify has in its portfolio, is also not dependent on being on Spotify's platform. It has creation tools with Anchor and an editing suite with Soundtrap, just to name a couple of tools. So it's possible that Spotify will make money on podcasts that are made with its tools but distributed through Apple Podcasts. 

Do subscriptions make sense in podcasting at all? 

For creators, it's great that Apple is providing a new revenue option in its podcast business. But the biggest question facing Apple is whether or not subscriptions make sense at all in podcasts. If listeners don't mind a few targeted ads in a podcast, just as they get with radio content, then the subscription model may not generate as much revenue as ad-supported podcasts. 

Aggregation is another thing to think about in podcast subscriptions. Paying one lump sum for access to all podcasts may be appealing, but paying 5-10 subscription fees may be a turnoff. There's a reason music, TV, and now streaming have aggregated content from multiple sources into a subscription and not charged on a per channel or per record label basis. 

There's also the medium that makes podcasts slightly different from any other streaming service to date. Podcasts are a passive medium that you can listen to while working out, driving, or doing almost anything throughout the day. There's no action needed, unlike clicking on an article or actively watching TV. Given the passive nature, ads may not be the end of the world for podcasts. And if discovery outweighs the revenue from subscriptions, I could see an ad model working out better than subscriptions long term.

As an Apple podcast listener, I'm happy to see the company put more attention into audio content. But as a Spotify shareholder, I don't think it's as big a threat as some investors might think. And even if subscriptions are successful, Spotify is small and nimble enough to adapt to the market as it grows, so my money is still on Spotify winning the podcast battle long term. 

Travis Hoium owns shares of Apple and Spotify Technology. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Spotify Technology. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long March 2023 $120.0 calls on Apple and short March 2023 $130.0 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
$172.10 (2.14%) $3.61
Spotify Stock Quote
$123.63 (0.73%) $0.90

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 08/15/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.