Subscription Confusion, Resolved

well that clears things up

A quick note today about a small change with great import. Two weeks ago in this space, I warned about “subscription confusion,” with Spotify and Apple both said to be introducing a paid tier to their podcast offerings. My concern for you, dear podcasting friends, was about the clarity of your language. Most things that we subscribe to, except for podcasts from 2004-2020, cost money. By asking listeners to subscribe to our podcasts, we court confusion and potentially deter listening to (free) content. This is a thing I have been saying for a while, notably in my keynote at Podcast Movement in 2018.

Well, now we can resolve all of that confusion. James Cridland reported today in Podnews that one of the “small” changes Apple will introduce in its upcoming iOS 14.5 release will be the removal of the word “Subscribe” in Apple Podcasts. It will instead be replaced by “Follow,” which is already the norm on Spotify.

This is going to cause a lot of consternation, but ultimately, it is a Very Good Thing. For well over a decade, subscribe meant something very specific in podcasting: click here to get future shows downloaded automatically. YouTube changed that expectation (there are no downloads) and converted the connotation of subscribe into “be notified when new content is published,” which is not quite the same thing. This is also what happens when you follow a show on Spotify—it doesn’t trigger a download, but notifies you that there is new content available from a favorite producer. And today, most modern podcast apps default to this behavior—a notification, not a download. All of this has led to the download becoming a somewhat better proxy for a listen, another Very Good Thing. Subscriptions that automatically trigger unlistened-to downloads are exactly like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear, except there is also no proof of the forest. It’s a proxy of a proxy.

But today, we can put all of that nihilism behind us. As I mentioned in my quote in Podnews, the top three platforms for consuming podcasts are Apple, Spotify, and YouTube (in no specific order) and now none of them use subscribe in the classical podcasting sense (and two of them won’t use subscribe at all—unless your wallet is opening.) We can stare into the void. It stares back at us. It smiles, and tells us, simply, what we need to hear:

“Stop using the word ‘Subscribe’ in your call to action immediately.”

Back at the end of the week with some Infinite Dial insights.



Photo Credit by Juan Eduardo Vera - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,