If so, we better make sure that iTunes isn't the new App Store.
Podcasts are gaining popularity so fast with listeners. Tools like iTunes and 3rd party mobile apps that let you automatically subscribe and listen to podcasts are really making it easier and easier for more and more end users to enjoy all the great content available in podcasts. There's just way too many commercials on FM talk radio to be able to enjoy it, people are looking for an alternative.
Where do people go to look for an alternative? A place they're already comfortable, iTunes. For podcasting, iTunes is both a blessing and a curse. iTunes provides a familiar store and content delivery system for listeners to discover new podcasts. It reaches many, many people. In addition, it allows listeners to rate shows, and provide comments on shows. This is great in that it helps surface these opinions to others, and helps iTunes algorithmically determine where the high quality content is.
This is where the problem lies.
Listening to this week's episode of The Podcast Method on 5by5, I was disturbed to hear Dan Benjamin discuss some of the perceived ways that iTunes determines how to promote podcast shows. It uses a combination of ratings, reviews, downloads, and subscriptions as input into some magic stew that outputs what the "New & Noteworthy" shows are. This sounds alarmingly similar to the same mysterious algorithms that rank and promote apps in the iOS App Store.
In comparison to iOS apps, podcasts are in their infancy. I have absolutely no hard data to cite here, but my pure gut feel, there are millions more iOS apps than podcast shows available today. At one point though, there weren't so many iOS apps as there are now. There was a time when the number of iOS apps available mirrors the number of podcasts available now. At that time, the App Store's "Top" charts worked well. The App Store was necessary in order for new iOS users to find apps that they would gain value out of. Now, the App Store is a cess pool of SEO and gamification where the rich get richer, and the unknowns are suffocated by the 50 Flappy Bird clones that are pushed to the top of the search results.
Furthermore, when I recently submitted Brotherly Mobile to iTunes for publication, I was notified by Apple that it must be reviewed before it would be made available through iTunes. Yay, another big brother moment in which I'm now at the whim of Apple to deem my content appropriate for release through their channel, iTunes. Throughout the iOS App Store's life there has always been cases in which Apple has changed their mind regarding the appropriateness of apps. What was okay by Apple one day and making lots of money in the App Store is mysteriously removed from sale leaving the developer helpless and pissed off.
I would hate for this to happen with podcasts.
When does the monopoly on podcast distribution affect our rights for free speech?
If momentum for podcast popularity, through iTunes, continues to gain traction, just as app distribution through the iOS App Store, at what point do Podcasts out grow iTunes? At what point does Apple's control of the medium become unhealthy?
I propose that we're already there.
At the end of the day, podcasts are just people speaking into a microphone, recording it, and getting it into other people's ears. What can we do to help podcasts flourish beyond the constraints of the walled garden of iTunes?
We need something beyond iTunes to help distribute podcasts to the general public. Who is going to step up?