Just a week after Apple announced that it was launching a subscription podcast platform, Spotify announced its own long-awaited subscription service. Like Apple’s service, podcasters can’t actually start charging customers yet, rather, Spotify said it is opening a waiting list to be notified when the service launches in the coming months.
Spotify will offer subscriptions to podcasts hosted on Anchor, the service it purchased in 2019 for a reported $140 million. Apple has also gotten into hosting podcasts for the first time with its service, after spending more than 15 years as a sort of benevolent caretaker of the most widely-used podcast directory.
Both Apple and Spotify will allow podcast creators to offer monthly subscriptions for things like bonus content, or ad-free feeds. That, however, is pretty much where the similarities end.
Unlike Apple, Spotify doesn’t plan to take a cut of the subscription fee for the next two years, only passing along the cost of credit card processing with Stripe. After that, Spotify will collect five percent. Apple, for comparison, collects 30 percent of subscription fees the first year, and 15 percent after that.
Also, Spotify users won’t be able to actually subscribe to podcasts from within the app. Which, seems like an obvious attempt to avoid having to pay Apple’s 30 percent fee for in-app purchases (IAP). That’s the same reason you can’t subscribe to Spotify from within the app on iOS devices. Instead, you have to visit a website and subscribe directly.
And Spotify has been one of the most vocal critics of the way Apple manages the App Store, especially the cut it takes of every transaction for digital goods or services. Just yesterday, The Financial Times reported that the European Union was set to file formal charges against Apple based on a complaint from Spotify that the iPhone maker unfairly hurt rival streaming music services.
The question, honestly, isn’t whether or not Apple deserves any particular percentage of transactions. We can, for the sake of argument, assume that it does. Certainly, there’s some number that most reasonable people could agree on.
That’s because I don’t think anyone doubts that the scale of Apple’s platform is extraordinarily valuable to someone trying to build or–more importantly–monetize an audience. That isn’t even the point. The point is that Apple’s insistence on capturing a portion of every transaction in every app that offers digital goods or services is getting harder and harder to defend.
That’s because it is increasingly violating one of the simplest rules that I think every business should follow. It’s so simple, it’s only three words: “make it easy.”
To the extent that you are able, make it easy to do business with your company. Make the service easy to sign up for. Make the product easy to use. Make the user experience intuitive and, well, easy to understand.
That’s one of the things that people love about Apple–the company was always thinking of the user experience and finding ways to make it easy. Except, it is increasingly looking like the overall user experience is only a priority if it doesn’t interfere with capturing the huge amounts of money flowing through iOS apps.
Spotify’s podcast subscription might well be the best example of the worst thing about Apple, a company for which “it just works” has been a mantra for more than a decade. In this case, however, it doesn’t work.
Did I mention you can’t sign up in the app?
Instead, podcasts will have to send users to an Anchor link in order to subscribe. Except, most people who listen to podcasts on Spotify probably have no idea what Anchor is. It’s a really bad experience to be using your preferred listening app, find a podcast you’d like to support, and then have to leave the app, visit a website, and then put your payment information in.
Contrast that to Apple’s service, where users will literally just tap a button on the podcast show page, and click to confirm the in-app purchase. Spotify could have made it that simple, but then, Apple would have taken its cut. Spotify would have had to charge 35% to podcast creators in order to keep the same amount, putting it at a huge disadvantage.
I almost think Spotify might have made it this hard on purpose. What better example to make Spotify’s case that Apple is abusing its monopoly control over the iOS App Store than to literally highlight the worst problems all with one service.
Either way, for the sake of users, it’s time for Apple to make it easy.