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The Podcast Platform Wars of 2020—It’s the UX, Stupid!


‘Tis the season for thinkpieces speculating what the future holds in 2020 and beyond.

And one of the top predictions in this blog post from Pacific Content is that Apple Podcasts will continue to lose market share to disruptors like Spotify.


A variety of podcast market pundits (many of whom have a dog in this fight, I might add) speculate on the various factors that they believe will elevate this platform or that platform to the top. If you listen to these talking heads, they’ll tell you that everything from exclusive content to micro-payments to generational preferences will determine the winner.


I’m not saying these factors won’t have an effect. I’m saying that they’re all staring right past the most obvious factor in play.


With all due apologies to James Carville, “It’s the User Experience, stupid.”


Apple gave us the term “podcast.” They’ve been playing with home field advantage for more than a decade in this space. Their app comes pre-installed on every iPhone, which is still, without a doubt, the most prevalent, most accessible, most novice-friendly smartphone on the market.


And after years of squandering their advantage, Apple is finally facing the reality that it might lose majority market share in podcasting for the first time in history. But it’s not exclusive content or micro-payments or Millennials that will save them.


It’s the User Experience!


To be fair, podcasts have made great strides in accessibility to users who are less tech savvy, and that’s part of the reason we’re seeing explosive growth in podcast listenership.

But all-in-all, Apple’s podcast user interface is still outlandishly clunky and confusing. Its options for podcast discovery are laughably inadequate. And, for all intents and purposes, the Apple Podcasts app is still treated as a second-class citizen in the app caste system.


If I sound frustrated, it’s because I really want Apple Podcasts to get its you-know-what together. Ultimately, it’s still the most accessible platform for new users because it comes pre-installed on their phones.


And accessibility to new users is mission critical if we are going to continue to grow podcast listenership—not to mention the viability of podcasting business models.


So yes, I will sit here and roll my eyes at anyone who suggests that exclusive content is the battlefront on which the war for podcast platform supremacy will be won or lost. The podcast world is not hard-up for content. There’s three-quarters-of-a-million shows out there and climbing!


All Apple has to do to staunch the bleeding and even regain some lost market share is fix its stupid app. Put some thought into the way shows, seasons and episodes are organized, and make navigating them the least bit intuitive. Invest the slightest effort into a Netflix-style discovery algorithm so I can, from the palm of my hand, find new shows that actually interest me.


And above all else, get your User Experience up-to-spec. It’s almost 2020, for Pete’s sake!

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