Why No One is Angry About Apple Taking 30% of Podcast Subscriptions

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Yesterday my wife told me that she'd been using the Apple Podcasts app recently, and while she didn't love it, it was enabling her to pay for a few premium podcasts that she loved. The specific shows don't really matter for this story, but I will say that the ones she is paying for through Apple, all have Patreons as well, which she could subscribe to and listen in any app she wants.

Now I'm on the record many times saying that I think Apple's complete control over what software I get to run on my iPhone is bad, and they should make changes there. I'm not alone, but there are certainly people who don't agree with me, and one of their main arguments is that Apple is providing value to developers, and therefore the full control and 15-30% cut they take from all money made by those developers is earned.

In fact, when I posted the anecdote about my wife to Mastodon, a comment was:

It does support Apple’s argument on why they feel entitled to 30% cut. Because they do help facilitate a transaction between the creator and the end user to some extent.

And yes, absolutely! I'm not mad at all about Apple's 30% cut of podcast revenue, and I don't really know anyone who is. Yes, I'm sure everyone would love to see that number go down, but the entire point is that if you don't like Apple's terms for podcast revenue share, then you can do something else. Apple doesn't even have a "you can sell it online, but you also need to sell it in Apple Podcasts." Oh, they also don't have a clause that prevents podcasters from linking out to their payment pages in show notes! Here's ATP in the Podcasts app linking out to their payment page.

I just bring this up because what Apple Podcasts is doing is exactly what I wish could happen with apps as well. Apple takes a higher cut of the subscription, but it offers in-app purchases as well as subscription management built into the OS, both things that are very convenient. But this is competing with podcasters' ability to host their show wherever they want, and to earn a bit more for those listeners (and to have a more direct relationship with them).

Basically, podcasters have 3 choices:

  1. Host your paid podcast on something like Patreon. A bit more friction for listeners, but you get a direct relationship with listeners, earn more per listener, and give your listeners more flexibility on how they listen.
  2. Host your paid podcast on Apple Podcasts. Earn less per subscription, don't know your customers, and limit their listening options, but make it easier to upgrade to the paid show.
  3. Do both! Let listeners do whatever is best for them, getting the best of both worlds.

I think this model works for podcasts, and I think it would work for software as well.