Spotify and Anchor have always had an odd relationship. The former has styled itself as a prestige brand, with podcast exclusives from the Obamas and The Sussexes. The latter hasn’t changed much; Anchor remained an entry-level free tool. At the 2023 Stream On event, Spotify announced that Anchor is now Spotify for Podcasters. Why did Spotify re-brand Anchor, what does this mean for independent podcasters, and why did they announce the change to Anchor at Stream On instead of Podcast Movement?
Why Did Spotify Re-Brand Anchor?
Spotify acquired Anchor in 2019, and kept it an entry-level free, minimalist tool. Users weren’t able to generate their own RSS feeds until 2021. The sponsorship opportunities Spotify offered to Anchor podcasters seemed to be simply existing as ad space for Anchor. Spotify did little, if anything, to promote their Anchor podcasts. They didn’t even extend the same respect to podcast listeners that they did to music subscribers. Spotify Premium meant ad-free music listening, but not ad-free podcast listening. Competition in the podcast zeitgeist has been reserved for celebrity shows. Anchor could be, for Spotify, what minor league baseball is for the major leagues. But, Spotify hasn’t given a hand up to Anchor podcasters. Apple has started a promotion request process, and offers resources for creators. Spotify could try to find The Next Big Thing In Podcasting in their own Anchor customer base, but it’s not evident.
Spotify’s goal, like any other business, is to get more customers and keep them using the service. Anchor has been a way for Spotify to gain and retain customers, but not much more.
Over time, the brand name “Anchor” has become synonymous with piracy and abandoned shows. Anchor has been long overdue for a re-brand. Rather than provide meaningful support to Anchor podcasters, Spotify is changing the name and absorbing the service.
What Does This Mean for Independent Podcasters?
Spotify announced a new partnership with Patreon, to “enable creators to expand their creative business through direct payments from fans, and allow fans to listen to their Patreon content on Spotify.” This is good news: as of this writing, Patreon’s private RSS feeds wouldn’t work in the Spotify app.
It’s great for both parties; Spotify gains content and doesn’t have to provide crowdfunding tools. Meanwhile, Patreon gets some positive press, despite the recent federal court ruling that “Patreon Inc. must face a proposed class action alleging it shared information about users’ video-watching habits with Facebook in violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act.” Win for everybody.
Has Anchor’s Interface Changed?
Past that, not much has changed. What did was only visible in the US for the first week, despite Spotify’s “truly global audience.” I corresponded with podcast producer Mike McDowall of Remarkable Stories, who said, “I use Anchor and the Spotify takeover has brought no changes for users of the Anchor app. Not so far. In fact, there’s no mention of Spotify at all. Logging in via a browser, I can see a small ‘by Spotify’ subscript below the word ‘Anchor’, but that’s it. So far, no change to functionality and nothing about Patreon. It is early days, of course.”
I asked Mike about Anchor’s interaction features that Spotify has bragged about, such as Q&As. he said, “The Q&A stuff has been available via the Spotify platform for a while now. We tried asking a couple of questions to spur audience engagement… I think people tend to interact with podcasters via social media channels rather than the platforms.”
Why Did Spotify Announce Anchor’s Rebrand at Stream On, not Podcast Movement?
Unless you think about podcasts for 50 hours a week (i.e., you’re me), it’s obvious. Stream On is Spotify’s annual brand conference. Despite happening at the same time as Podcast Movement Evolutions, and being major sponsors, Spotify wanted the home-field advantage for this announcement. It wasn’t an announcement focused solely on innovations for podcasters, either. This was their big Q1 2023 announcement about company-wide activity, in music, audiobooks, podcasts and video, just about seven weeks before Spotify’s next (estimated) earnings report.
Ashley Carman wrote about the Stream On event at length in her SoundBite newsletter for Bloomberg. She summarized, “This was the context yesterday when Spotify made its pitch to musicians and their teams: what if you could control more of TikTok?”
Carman said, “the Spotify app is becoming ‘alive’ with a new homepage that’ll surface auto-playing, vertically-scrolling videos to encourage listeners to jump into a song, podcast or audiobook. Thirty-second, musician-uploaded clips will surface on artist and album pages to offer additional context about themselves and their releases. And soon, more podcasters will be able to upload video versions of their show more easily.”
Essentially, the user experience mimics the scroll of other social media apps, allowing for an endless browsing feed. The slot machine maneuver of doomscrolling will be Spotify’s new interface.
Why Is Spotify Turning Into TikTok?
In February, investment advisors The Motley Fool reported, “Spotify finished 2022 with 10 million more active users than it guided for back in October. Nearly a half-billion people around the world streamed songs on Spotify in the fourth quarter…The company also posted strong profit margins, and management said it will rein in investments in areas like podcasts, focusing on becoming more efficient.” Spotify and Anchor had to change to improve their profit margin.
This brings in, as Ashley Carman reported, Discovery Mode, “which offers rights holders the option to accept lower royalty rates in exchange for an algorithmic boost for their tracks across radio and autoplay experiences.”
Essentially, artists are more likely to show up in that endless doomscroll, if they agree to a pay cut. Bret Schafer reported (again, for The Motley Fool), “a larger advertising business should lead to better overall profit margins at Spotify, making ad-supported revenue a key metric for investors to track over the next few years.” Meaning, podcasts.
Spotify For Podcasters: It Needs You More Than You Need Them.
Remember, Spotify Premium subscribers listen to music ad-free. Podcasts, however, have advertising regardless. Spotify promises podcasters a piece of that advertising pie, to make them want advertising. The Verge reported most of the Anchor podcasters who have signed up made maybe $15 or $17 for every thousand listeners. One of the hosts of the How Long Gone podcast, Jason Stewart, said, “even if you’re making a dollar a day off of it, or whatever, at the beginning, it’s nice to just see that,” adding, “It’s kind of like gambling or something like that.”
Spotify’s reaction to trends and market volatility has made them decide to imitate TikTok. Enduring stories shouldn’t imitate trends or lean on addictive behaviors to make a meaningful impact. Your podcast deserves better than gambling.