Apple unwrapped its latest bid to boost content revenue: The tech giant announced that it will roll out subscriptions for Apple Podcasts with select partners starting next month. It’s also launching an enhanced version of the Apple Podcasts app with the latest version of its iOS 14.5 operating system.
It’s the “biggest change to Apple Podcasts since its debut,” CEO Tim Cook said on the livestream for Apple’s “Spring Loaded” virtual product launch event Tuesday. The company first launched podcast support in 2005, when it added the ability to download and listen to podcasts into iTunes.
Pricing for each podcast subscription is set by creators (billed monthly by default) as are perks included with each plan — which may include no ads, exclusive bonus content, and early or exclusive access to new series.
As is the case under its current App Store policies, Apple will keep 30% of podcast-subscription fees in the first year and 15% in subsequent years. Podcast creators and publishers also can offer annual billing options, as well as free trials and sample episodes.
Initial partners for Apple’s podcast subscriptions include NPR, Tenderfoot TV, Radiotopia from PRX, Luminary, QCode, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Athletic, Sony Music Entertainment, Lemonada Media, You Had Me at Black, Der Spiegel and Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg’s Pushkin Industries. The podcast subscription option will roll out in 170 regions and countries in May.
The Apple Podcasters Program, which includes tools needed to offer premium subscriptions on Apple Podcasts, will cost $19.99 per year.
The company noted that Apple Podcasts will continue to offer a wealth of free podcasts — currently, its lineup includes more than 2 million free shows.
“Apple Podcasts Subscriptions will provide another opportunity for listeners to support their favorite podcasters at NPR and our member stations in our mission to create a more informed public,” John Lansing, president/CEO of NPR, said in a statement.
Some of Apple’s partners announced pricing. Luminary on Apple Podcasts will cost $5.99 per month (the same as through the Luminary app) or $34.99 per year. The Washington Post will charge $2.99 per month for its full suite of podcasts without ads; TenderfootPlus+ will cost $4.99 monthly for ad-free listening, early access and exclusive bonus content; QCode Plus ($2.99 per month) will offer 12 original shows with no ads and bonus material. And PRX will charge $4.99 per month for access to ad-free episodes on each of four new podcast channels: “Radiotopia Uninterrupted,” “Pod Squad Uninterrupted,” “Snap Judgment Uninterrupted” and “The Moth Uninterrupted.”
Alongside podcast subscriptions, Apple is rolling out a redesigned Apple Podcasts app, which will provide a landing page for each podcast title, as well as new channels (groups of shows curated by creators) and recommendations for users. That will make “listening to podcasts easier and more enjoyable than ever before,” Cook said.
The redesigned Apple Podcasts app, available with iOS 14.5, also features an enhanced search tab that provides access to Top Charts and categories and a new “Smart Play” button that automatically starts episodic shows from the latest episode and starts serialized shows from the beginning of each series.
Also at the “Spring Loaded” event, Apple announced an upgraded version of the Apple TV 4K set-top; faster, 5G-enabled versions of the iPad Pro tablet; a new line of multicolored iMacs; and AirTags, small wireless devices that use Apple’s Find My Network app to let customers track down objects (like Tile).
Apple’s plans to monetize podcasts through paid subscriptions reflect the ongoing rise of the medium’s popularity. About 80 million Americans (28% of the U.S. population 12 and older) are now weekly podcast listeners, up 17% over 2020, per Triton Digital/Edison Research’s latest research.
The move adds a new wrinkle to the competitive dynamics for the podcast industry. Earlier this year, Spotify similarly announced that it would begin testing the ability for podcasters to earn revenue through paid subscriptions for exclusive content.
The Apple Podcasts subscription options will join the company’s collection of other content offerings, which include Apple TV Plus, Apple Music, Apple Arcade and Apple News Plus. For the year-end 2020 quarter, revenue in Apple’s Services segment — which also includes the App Store and Apple Pay — zipped up 24%, to a record $15.8 billion.
For now, it’s not clear how — or whether — the podcast subscriptions may be incorporated into the Apple One bundles. Launched last fall, Apple One packages provide discounts from regular monthly à la carte pricing.