🔵 Spotify is learning hard lessons about podcasting
It turns out this isn't an easy win after all
Hi there -
As Spotify pushed to become an audio platform, rather than a music one, podcasting was the first move it made in a bid to broaden its horizons.
Since then, I’d argue it has had fairly mixed results. The Joe Rogan deal, whilst controversial, certainly made for a positive development among investors with share prices rising accordingly.
Beyond that, it seems the company has struggled to make things stack up. I can’t lie: as a music industry person who viewed this whole move as the company thinking this would be an easier space to turn a dollar in, there’s some schadenfreude in that.
Today, Spotify has axed its Pulitzer Prize-winning podcast, Stolen, as well as the popular Heavyweight. Its reasoning appears to be that these shows simply carry too great an overhead to make them worthwhile, irrespective of the awards and praise they generate.
Broadly, it feels like things don’t add up here. Spotify cited positive ad revenues in its last financial update, but among those made redundant yesterday is Dave Byrne, who joined the company from TikTok to lead global advertising platform integrity.
Ad revenues have slumped more generally, that much is true. However Spotify has reported the most positive results to date of late, and yet it is still cutting back on staff and jettisoning shows that have received huge praise.
It won’t help that a former Spotify exec working in its podcasting division, Lydia Polgreen, has stepped forward to make some pretty blunt comments:
"There were a million ways a company with Spotify's resources could have figured out to make this kind of work sustainable and it did not do that," she added. "Instead it lit money on fire by handing it to the Sussexes and other celebrities with nothing to say."
Perhaps Spotify is learning that the alternative revenues it thought might help broaden its base and lessen its reliance on music has, in fact, proven far harder to conquer. At the same time, it also appears the entire way it has approached this has not been great.
For those of us in the music space, this feels like something to have in mind. Spotify’s podcasting ambitions are not working out. Its audiobook play has baffled most.
The bottom line? Perhaps Spotify is just a music platform after all - and if we hold that to be true, maybe it is time for the company to focus on becoming a better music company. There are innumerable ways it could step up - let’s hope it now starts to examine that space a little more closely.
Have a great evening,
🎶 listening to “Blood Red” by Slower. Doom metal supergroup covering Slayer at much slower tempos? Why did no one do this sooner? I’m sold - take my money!
📺 watching “Gurriers | Full Set | Live at Other Voices 2023”. I’ve written about Gurriers before, who IMO are most definitely a band to keep an eye on. This set shows them at their best; well worth checking out. Oh and US readers: they’ve just announced they’re playing SXSW next year too.
🤖 playing with Gemini, Google’s new AI aiming to take on GPT4. It now powers Bard, so you can try it out there. First impressions? Still not quite as good as GPT4 (IMO) but far, far better than Bard was previously.
Stories from the Music Industry:
The associations prefer the existing method, which uses an algorithm to calculate sales including retailers that do not report data to the company. “With less than 5% of independent physical retailers currently reporting directly to Luminate, the data collected will be a grossly inaccurate representation on the sales of physical products, and therefore the overall size and strength of the industry,” said the two bodies in a joint statement.
👆🏻Hot take: I covered this story last week, and my position remains the same. This does not feel fair, and the UK has no issues with the system it uses. Why can’t the US take the same approach?
Robert Kyncl: The EU shouldn’t miss the opportunity to include meaningful transparency and record-keeping obligations in the AI Act
Our position on AI is simple. If artists and songwriters want to lean into it, they should benefit from their participation. If they want to be protected, that should be their right too. Our company is eager to partner with AI firms building ground-breaking applications based around artist and songwriter consent and free-market compensation.
👆🏻Hot take: I am definitely favouring this kind of simple, clear approach to AI principles over the kind of long-winded demands being delivered by others at this point.
BeatBread reports that songs by its funded artists and indie labels have been streamed over 10bn times in 2023
BeatBread, which launched in late 2020, says it has provided over 1,000 advances to artists and independent labels across six continents, ranging from USD $1,000 to over $4.5 million. The Utah-headquartered firm offers advances on existing catalogs and new and unreleased music, offering growth capital for working artists and songwriters. Repayment occurs from a share of an artist’s streaming and airplay revenues, over a period determined by the artist.
👆🏻Hot take: I still feel BeatBread are the kind of company record labels - particularly the majors - should be worried about.
The UK’s Music Venue Trust sees the closure as a spark to redouble its efforts to persuade larger venues and the wider industry to offer more support to the grassroots circuit. It says that more than 120 smaller venues have closed this year, with another 84 ‘in crisis’. “In France all major live music events are required to pay 3.5% of each ticket sale into a fund to support grassroots artists and venues,” said MVT CEO Mark Davyd.
👆🏻Hot take: very sad to see another grassroots venue dying. I can’t help but relate all of this back to comments recently about how the whole ecosystem can/should be supported by the wealthier elements within it contributing somehow - such as the major live venue contribution mentioned above.
According to Levellr, people who’ve connected Spotify to their Discord profiles in the communities it runs average 22 streams a day while online in the latter service. 62% of the members of these servers have made that connection, which Levellr says adds up to 1.3m tracks streamed every day; around 40m a month; and 489m a year. The company has also extrapolated from that data to calculate that the average streams per year of music fans who’ve connected Spotify and Discord may be 131bn.
👆🏻Hot take: IMO this is actually a lot less about Discord and more about fan communities and how much they stream in proportion to the casual listeners. All that said, it’s great info to have, no doubt. I think I just question whether Discord is the fan community destination these days.
Stories from the Broader World of Tech:
Meta AI adds Reels support and ‘reimagine,’ a way to generate new AI images in group chats, and more
Alongside other AI updates announced today, Meta AI, the company’s generative AI experience, is gaining new capabilities starting today, including the ability to create new AI images when prompted as well as support for Reels, among other things. The former, a feature called “reimagine,” allows users in group chats to have more fun by recreating AI images with prompts, while the latter can turn to Reels as a resource as needed.
👆🏻Hot take: if I were Giphy I’d be getting worried right about now. Things like this and Pika are most definitely threatening that whole space in the same way as AI-generated music is threatening the sample market that Splice dominates.
Google is launching the model in a few ways right now: Bard is now powered by Gemini Pro, and Pixel 8 Pro users will get a few new features thanks to Gemini Nano. (Gemini Ultra is coming next year.) Developers and enterprise customers will be able to access Gemini Pro through Google Generative AI Studio or Vertex AI in Google Cloud starting on December 13th. Gemini is only available in English for now, with other languages evidently coming soon.
👆🏻Hot take: the real win here for Google will be how this can all integrate into its other platforms. It has more than most (Workspace, Docs, YouTube, Analytics etc) so in theory has an unprecedented means to really show what AI could do for most users.
In his letter to employees, Ek said that “we still have too many people dedicated to supporting work and even doing work around the work rather than contributing to opportunities with real impact.” The “impact” in question here does not mean accolades, or perhaps even audience. It means margin. Like we have seen at WNYC with La Brega and More Perfect and at APM with In the Dark, Spotify has decided that a show that requires too much time, manpower, and money to make is not worth it, no matter the acclaim.
👆🏻Hot take: I remain curious to see how much Spotify’s podcasting teams are hit by the latest layoffs. From the looks of this article, I’m not sure it looks positive.
Need something else to read? Here you go:
People are leaving big platforms for smaller online circles. It's the start of a new, healthier era of social media.
👆🏻Hot take: a great look at how social media use is changing - arguably for the better.
A look back at a few anecdotes that have not aged as well as the 1939 classic.
👆🏻Hot take: good grief. For some reason it is the “snow used was actually asbestos” one that really got me 😬
Who am I and who are Motive Unknown?
I’m Darren and I’m the MD of Motive Unknown. I started the company back in 2011. Since then we’ve grown to a team of 20, representing some 25 indie labels in the marketing strategy space, as well as working with artists directly.
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