1. Playlist infrastructure
Playlists has been an essential part of Spotify from the very start, and they’ve spent a decade refining them. There are now playlists for every mood, season and obscure music subgenre you can think of. Spotify’s algorithms coupled with human supervision also brings you personalized playlists based on what you’ve been listening to in the form of playlists such as “Discover Weekly” and “Release Radar”.
Ordinary Spotify users also create playlists of their own, some of which have hundreds of thousands of followers. This also enhances the social element to Spotify. Moreover, playlists are now truly one of the best ways to get discovered as an artist, with a myriad of examples as evidence.
It seems to me that a substantial part of this infrastructure should be applicable to podcasts as well. Podcast listeners in general don’t get sufficient help from their platforms to find new content. One of Spotify’s key missions has been to help users find new music that they might enjoy based on what they’ve already listened to. Astonishingly, I’ve yet to come across a platform that does this well for podcasts. There’s really no reason why it shouldn’t exist.
Listeners should be able to sort podcasts they enjoy in to playlists just like they do with music. What other better way could there be to send multiple podcasts to a friend, or to even keep track of them on your own. Playlists for podcasts is one of those ideas that makes so much sense that you can’t believe it doesn’t already exists, and nobody knows playlisting better than Spotify at the moment.
Spotify provides great data for its artists. If it could do the same for its podcasters, there’s no doubt many creators would prefer its platform over others. Spotify For Artists has been very important for many artists’ success due to the possibility to see exactly what kind of music their audience connect to.
Podcasters have to do a lot more work to get a clue of where their audience actually come from, and what they engage with. When content creators negotiate with sponsors, their biggest asset is to be able to inform them of exactly who their audience consist of. Instead, they have to guess because they have limited access to the data.
It’s very difficult to overstate the importance of data for creators, and the one providing Google Analytics-quality of analysis will not go unnoticed.
(To the podcasters satisfaction, Spotify has actually started working on this with Spotify For Podcaster, which if it lives up to its expectation will likely prove to be very impactful.)
3. Audio-music integration
This is a tough cookie to crack, and perhaps the most important one. Music and audio need to coexist together, without suffocating each other. Too much music, and there’s no tapping in to the massive audio market. Too much audio, and Spotify risks losing its current users, its edge and its core identity.
Today, the balance very much leans in music’s favor. Many don’t even know that Spotify has podcasts, and it’s no wonder, Spotify really can’t risk compromising its music service in any way in order to make podcasts prevalent.
One very interesting solution is the stand-alone podcast app, first brought to my imagination by the amazing designer Spencer Camp. That would allow for Spotify to not trade-off its simple and un-cluttered UI, while fully developing the different capabilities of the different territories.
In a live Q&A session from 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that the benefits of having a stand-alone messaging app far outweighed the friction of asking its users to install a new app. The user experience was simply much better in a two-app solution.
It’s definitely an enormous step to create a totally new application for people to install, but it may prove essential for capturing the full value of the audio experience.
Spotify isn’t the most social platform out there, especially not on the mobile application where there are virtually no social features. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it’s unclear how social a streaming service actually wants to be. Netflix CPO Neil Hunt has claimed its users don’t want any advanced social features, while others crave functions like Stories for Spotify.
Still, there are some social functions. When Spotify entered its 6+ year-long relationship with Facebook, users gained the option to sign up to Spotify using their Facebook account, and on the desktop version, music listening suddenly became a social experience. Having the option to share what you’re listening to, and see what your friends are listening to makes it a much more engaging platform to use for a lot of people.
No podcasting platform has anything even similar to this. Facebook doesn’t have to be the solution here, but there’s really no reason why podcasting platforms has to be entirely excluded from being social. For many, their podcasting platform is like the secret app that no one else has insight to, ever. People who like it that way should be able keep it like this, but today it’s the only option for people.
When it comes to maintaining communication between creators and users, different types of platforms have different ways of doing it. For example, Apple’s Podcaster basically offers no functions, while Youtube utilizes comments quite extensively. Comments may not be the answer for podcasts since an absolute majority of podcast listeners listen on mobile, but new solutions should always be thought about.
In the meantime, Spotify already has some really neat and sleek ways for creators to communicate with their audience, which could directly be utilized with regards to podcasting. Consider:
a) Artist’s Pick → Podcaster’s Pick; let podcasters write something to their fans.
b) Artist’s Playlist → Podcaster’s playlist; let podcasters show fans their own inspirations and what they’re currently listening to.
c) Concerts → Events; let creators add dates for events that they’re doing.
d) Merch → Merch; let creators sell merchandise like artists do.
5. Signing up or not
One of the biggest reasons Spotify is currently much better positioned to become the new podcasting platform than the other music services is its free tier version. Podcasts are currently free to listen to on most podcasting platforms, and most people like it that way.
Whether Spotify offers its podcasts in a stand alone app, or in its current app, they need to, at least initially, be free for everyone. Otherwise, moving users from other podcasting platforms is going to prove to be much more difficult.
The question of whether users should be required to sign up or not is tricky. If you require users to sign up, you can provide much better data to your creators and yourself. But since other podcasting platforms do not require users to sign up, you’re creating friction instead of making things easier.
Perhaps the best way around this would be to utilize the Youtube-model of not being required to sign up, but getting full capabilities if you do.
There seems to be some disagreement to which degree radio actually is fading away. Some say it is far inferior in comparison to new audio shows and will be dead in 10 years. Others say it has probably lost its former importance but will still continue to be a vital part of many people’s lives, at least as long as cars exist.
Could Spotify become the first music streaming service that allows live streaming of a large selection of already established radio stations around the world? Or does it try to create its own radio station like “Beats 1”?
In any case, it’s safe to say that if radio wants to stay relevant, it needs some serious innovation. Now that listeners have the option to choose any song or audio show they want, whenever they want, radio both needs to find new content that fits its medium while also updating the medium in itself.
Since radio is one of those rarities that still hasn’t moved online, there’s a lot of opportunity for the one trying to make that transition happen. Spotify is better fitted than anyone to do that.
Audiobooks is by far the fastest growing area in the book publishing industry, offering the same advantages that podcasts do over video; no hands, no eyes. The Amazon-acquired market leaders Audible already starting working in this area some 20 years ago, but since growth is showing no signs of slowing down, the opportunity to enter the market is still very much present.
Audiobooks could be substantially further down the road for Spotify due to the different business model of the book publishing industry, and the actual format of audiobooks. But if we imagine a scenario where users can choose a different subscription-option to gain access to audiobooks on Spotify, it could provide its playlisting and data features in this area too.
If we’re talking about building the future audio platform, we have to at least discuss audiobooks. It’s one of the first and most important areas of the audio business.
8. Other solutions
As the early Spotify investor Fredrik Cassel described in a Medium story; in hindsight, attracting top tech talent has proved much more important than achieving individual tech solutions for Spotify. Since these solutions become outmoded quicker than you think, you have to be able to constantly stay ahead of the curve with new ones.
In our modern economy, “human capital” is becoming an increasingly decisive asset. To be able to come up with the new innovations in audio, Spotify needs to make a real effort to attract the best people in the industry so that the important innovations needed become consistently recurring indirect consequences.
If Spotify waits too long with making a genuine push into audio, that talent is going to end up somewhere else, along with the innovations.