I was saddened today to see that Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast is going to be distributed exclusively by Spotify. This comes a few days after I was chatting with my neighbor, who consults with a ton of people on podcasting, and we talked about how the big platforms have become the gatekeepers of all the content, and no one will own their own thing anymore. That sucks.
Podcasting became technically possible when the RSS quasi-standard, "Really Simple Syndication," was updated to include "enclosures" in 2001. RSS wasn't that well understood by most people, but there were a lot of computer applications popping up, and even some that were web-based, that allowed you to plug in an RSS feed (which is at a URL, like anything else on the web) and it would update and show you when there was new stuff. What's awesome about this is that no one really owns your distribution. Sure, discovery is a different problem, but once you're known, you're known.
In 2004, as the iPod started to gain traction, and broadband began to put dial-up connections out to pasture, podcasts started to get a little attention. In 2005, former TechTV host and radio personality Leo Laporte started This Week in Tech, which turned into an entire network, complete with video. Suddenly, the niche started to show potential, with tens of thousands of listeners. That fall, I got the bug too, and put those dusty radio skills to use by starting the CoasterBuzz Podcast. I wasn't really trying to make a buck with it or anything, but before too long, we were consistently getting a few thousands listeners a week, sometimes getting tens of thousands if we got some weird Google juice or something. When I look at how "cool" podcasts are now, with every formerly quarantined celebrity starting one, I firmly present my hipster card for doing it before it was cool, and on software I built, thank you very much.
Of course, 2005 was a different time. Smart phones weren't really a thing yet, and some people didn't even have wi-fi yet, let alone broadband. But people who wanted to publish stuff on the Internet owned it, with their own site, and even with the dominance of Google in search, you didn't really have gatekeepers to content. It didn't run through apps or social media or video sites.
I'm not opposed to change on principle, and there's no question that the Internet has been good for the world, and insanely good for my career and financial well-being. But I hate how the openness of the Internet has been replaced by a few huge companies owning everything when it doesn't have to be that way. I mean, our old podcast is still available virtually anywhere that you find podcasts because it is neutrally self-hosted. I can search for it on the screen in my car and find it. I mean, to be timely, yeah, you can even find it on Spotify, and I never did anything to enable that.
There's little question that the Armchair folks are getting paid, I get that. But I also think that they're giving up control and limiting their audience. Meanwhile, the small players have all been shut out, so they publish their stuff on YouTube or Facebook and never own their distribution. That's unfortunate.