People are breaking up with Apple Podcasts

The plague of over-discoverability comes for our audio.

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Siri, play Olivia Rodrigo’s “deja vu.” —Kate

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every app will one day update itself into irrelevance. For Instagram, it started in 2016 when the app did away with the reverse-chronological feed and hit the tipping point last week when Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, announced it was “no longer a photo-sharing app or a square photo-sharing app.” Now I fear Apple Podcasts are also losing their way.

Last month, I started seeing the tweets all over my timeline lamenting that the Podcasts app that comes with every Apple product, driving roughly 28 million listeners, had become “borderline unusable” thanks to a recent update. 

“Nothing about it is set up in a clean or logical way,” Tyler McCall, editor-in-chief of Fashionista, elaborates to me over Twitter DM. 

I also reached Numlock News’s Walter Hickey over DM, and he explains that the app now defaults to serving listeners an “Apple-organized recommendation engine” rather than your basic RSS feed.

“It fundamentally misunderstands how people consume podcasts—sometimes as a binge, other times one by one—and has made it so you need to click well into their app in order to access your downloads,” he says.

Podcasts are the boom that keeps on booming. Between 2013 and 2017, the percentage of the U.S. population who claimed to listen to podcasts on a monthly basis doubled from 12 percent to 24. From 2018 to 2021, the number of available shows has more than tripled to two million. Podcast platforms and directories have also multiplied, and giants like Apple are now competing with places like Stitcher and Luminary, which offer premium services like ad-free listening and paywalled content from participating shows. Apple itself began offering premium subscriptions in May. 

It's not just the features, it's the bugs—the latter have been my main issue with Apple Podcasts. Certain episodes have refused to play or download, prompting Apple to release a notice on July 1 promising a software update, "which also includes enhancements to Library, in the coming weeks.”

Promises aside, this is all so annoyingly familiar. Every cool app inevitably decides to fuck its users the same way: I download the app, spend a year or so curating my feed until I get exactly what I want to see. But by then the app is prioritizing money over me, and suddenly bloats my feed with over-the-top discoverability that I never consented to and can only opt out of—if I’m even that lucky. 

Based on what I’m seeing on Twitter, Apple's issues are bad enough that users have begun defecting to places like Stitcher, preferring to pay directly for an experience they can control ... for now, at least.