"One Day…" Promises

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

An article about podcasting, Bitcoin, and payments?! You know I had to comment!

Apple did a nice job keeping a hands-off approach to the market and letting third-party apps innovate where they could. What remained was an open protocol (RSS) that allowed anyone to subscribe to any show in any app. Good times didn’t last though. Over time, other companies got involved and certain shows became siloed to specific platforms/apps. Spotify signed exclusive partnerships, as did Amazon, Apple, and others. The open nature was somewhat still there, but show by show, it was going away.

I'm with Bradley that I don't like when a podcast goes to an exclusive provider. It was less than a year ago that Spotify took the crown as the most popular place to listen to podcasts, although it's of course worth mentioning that this doesn't mean most podcasts are closed. A quick look at Spotify's top 20 shows list reveals 18 being available via RSS feeds in any podcast player you'd like.

I'm all for grumbling about podcasts going exclusive, but the vast, vast, vast majority of shows today, especially popular ones, are just as open today as they were back when we were loading MP3 files onto our iPods.

Fans of podcasting got lucky that Apple kept an open directory for years. It was the only directory. Today, we’ve got a directory from Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon, etc. Podcast Index is an open directory with a promise to remain open as it’s crowdfunded.

This is totally true, we are lucky that Apple has been so open with their podcasts directory. An open alternative is great to have out there.

Paying creators for their content has always been something I’ve been passionate about, but it’s been challenging. Apple has a premium option, but that locks you to Apple Podcasts. Spotify has connections to third-party subscription systems, but again, it locks you to that platform. Patreon and other services have open RSS subscription options, but it adds a layer of complexity as well. Podcasting 2.0 pioneers a direct-to-creator option where podcasts (and their guests) can receive payment over the Bitcoin Lightning network.

Subscribing to paid podcasts should absolutely be easier.

You might be wondering, “Why can’t you do this over Visa, Mastercard, Apple Pay, etc.?” There are two reasons. The first is it’s not feasible to send someone $0.05 as a thank you for their podcast episode due to transaction fees. The Bitcoin Lightning Network also brings final settlement nearly instantly. Over the Visa rails, it takes six weeks before you can be guaranteed not to have a chargeback.

Ok, a few things here.

  1. This chargeback argument is wild to me. Yes, if you remove consumer protections, you sure can make things move faster. To be very clear, because the article obscures this (intentionally?), if you pay a merchant today, they will almost always have that money in their bank account tomorrow. There are obviously different situations out there, especially if you're a higher risk merchant (aka you get more chargebacks), then you maybe have to wait a few day. Basically, the money moves within 24 hours, and that would be that if there were no consumer protections. How much do you want to bet consumer protections will become in high demand if Bitcoin transactions become mainstream?
  2. While talking about chargebacks, it's worth mentioning that the average merchant has well less than 1% of their transactions contested by customer. Visa and Mastercard start to raise their eyes at you if you get to 0.8 or 0.9%, even. If you feel like you can't count any of your income for 6 weeks because you get so many chargebacks, I have serious questions about your business.
  3. 5¢ credit card transactions indeed don't make any sense today, given the cost to run transactions is a few percentage points, plus a minimum amount. $1 sales work great, with the merchant easily taking home 90%+ of the total, but I'll concede anything lower isn't practical.
  4. I'm not sure how much people want to make micropayments to creators in the first place. There have been ad blockers in the past that paid out a few cents to participating websites as you browsed in lieu of showing you ads, and these never seem to to have gained much traction. Compare this to the last few years of every writer you know starting a Substack or Patreon. Picking and choosing what creators we pay rather than passively having amounts debited from our accounts has won out in the market so far, but maybe that will change.
One of my favorite aspects is how podcasts can configure an automatic split among hosts, guests, and others without needing a third-party service. Payments can be made directly to each host/guest’s Lightning Wallet.

Once again, there is absolutely no reason this couldn't be done with traditional payments, but the ease of setup if all wallets were compatible would be nice. I'm imagining a world in which I pay $10/month to ATP for their podcast, I upgrade from within my podcast player of choice, and the ATP guys have this configured to automatically split my payment evenly between the 3 hosts. I don't know how they handle this today, but I would suspect the money gets deposited into one account and then one of them goes into their shared account and transfers 1/3 to each of their personal accounts once a month or something. Making this easier would be nice.

So long story short, I like the idea of a truly open podcast directory and I hope it does well and podcast app developers find it useful. The payments story is potentially interesting, but as with everything about Bitcoin payments, there's a whole lot of "one day…" promises going on and not a lot of "here's what you can actually do today" to go along with it.

Also, there are 5 listed apps that support payments, one is Castamatic, and it's a full on rip off of Overcast 😬