What Amazon’s Recent Bot Downloads Might Mean for Podcasting’s Future

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In early April 2022, Amazon Music released bots into the podcasting ether. The bots downloaded podcast catalogs by the thousands. No, it wasn’t a cruel prank, though some felt it was. It revealed Amazon as a significant player in podcasting’s future. And yeah, I’m going to tell you why. 

Pinecast tweeted about the Amazon bots first. Other hosting companies soon followed, promising to correct the stats. Amazon didn’t have much to say about it, except maybe “sorry, wrong button.” Nobody paid much attention except the affected podcasters. (sorry, the downloads didn’t count) 

Does Amazon Even Matter to Podcasting? 

Now, I mostly ignore my show’s stats, but since 2020, I get excited about anything Amazon does in the podcasting space. Because I think it’s brilliant and a little scary. And I don’t think market share matters when it comes to Amazon.

I am entirely entangled. “Add it to the Amazon cart,” is something I say to my son several times a week, usually followed by an exasperated sigh. (Currently, my cart’s total is $55.43) The sheer amount of data Amazon can collect from customers may rival Google or Facebook. Amazon knows my underwear size, ya’ll.  

And who hasn’t furiously searched for a product on Amazon while recording a podcast episode? I do it. I hear ya’ll do it. Alexa probably hears us do it. 

scientists building a robot

Amazon’s Amazing Ad Tech

Imagine you’re sitting in your living room in the USA. A tour guide leads you through Louvre’s gift shop. A colorful doodad catches your eye. You ask the guide to stop, pick it up then show it to you. He does. You want it.

You tap your screen and said doodad arrives two weeks later. It sounds like something from the future, but it’s been around for two years now.

On a crisp autumn day in 2020, this is the story I heard a guest tell on a podcast. Amazon Explore’s virtual experiences were testing some impressive innovations. And it was cool to think I could buy something in a shop in another country that easily.

Amazon’s Slow Burn

Until I heard that story on that podcast, I didn’t care about Amazon. Not one bit. They weren’t making sexy acquisitions like Spotify. Sure, Amazon bought Wondery. Good for them.  They bought Art19. Awesome. Then MGM, which you may not think of as a podcasting company, but MGM has a stake in Audio Up. Cool. 

But those acquisitions aren’t exciting on their own or together. Yet, in 2019 Amazon bought Sizmek Ad Server and Sizmek Dynamic Creative Optimization. Also known as Sizmek Ad Suite, which is essentially a fancy ad tech with many speedy servers.

Factor in the hiring Amazon is doing for its podcasting arm, and a rich story begins to take shape. No, they aren’t gobbling up podcasting companies willy-nilly. Amazon is ultra strategic and always has been. (You can check out its merger and acquisition list here

The Future of Advertising on Amazon Music

Now, imagine you’re playing your favorite podcast on Amazon Music. The host is talking about this fantastic air fryer they recently purchased on Amazon. You’ve been thinking about buying an air fryer, too. Now here’s your favorite, trusted podcast host sharing their air fryer experience from choosing one to using one….and yep, you’re buying it.

So, you tap your screen. (Because your Alexa is mean, and you don’t want to talk to her) That air fryer is on your doorstep two days later with one click.

For Amazon, Content Isn’t King. It’s Money

Now pretend you’re Amazon. You have 2,000,000+ monetizable catalogs of content at your disposal. Remember how we love to share products with our audience? What if Amazon could simply transcribe our audio, tag the products mentioned, and use their fancy technology to pop up a “Buy Now” button in the Amazon Music app? If I were Amazon that would be my end goal.

If I needed to test technology to transcribe and tag audio for “Buy Now” buttons, bots run amok is a genius cover. Or maybe we’re grabbing the entire catalog of top-rated shows to discover the formula for popular content? Or how podcasters use call-to-actions. We have a lot of bots. We can multi-task. 

What Does This Mean for Podcasters?

It’s time to start a conversation. Because while the Amazon Music bots incident could’ve been an accident, Amazon was doing something when the bots ran amok… That something looks to be a revolution in audio advertising. 

Amazon is developing the next generation of data-driven, dynamic, interactive advertising solutions while also providing an inventory for advertisers. And being a young industry with virtually no rules, no regulation, and no centralization leaves us in a potentially vulnerable position when giant corporations control the data, the inventory, and the technology. 

We, as a community, need to think through these questions, so our relationships with all platforms remain mutually beneficial. Because if you aren’t the customer, you might be the product. 

Will Amazon offer innovative affiliate programs and dynamic, interactive third-party sponsorship opportunities? Or will Amazon decide that access to their audience is payment enough for podcasters? 

Will Amazon see podcasters as partners or merchandise? Let’s not wait to find out.