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Apollo+, The Fiction Podcast App: Is It The Netflix For Podcasts?

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Among podcast listening apps, Apollo is a big deal. Granted, when it first launched, the bar was very low for apps specializing in fiction podcasts. There weren’t any. Apollo exceeded expectations by building relationships with independent podcasters and networks, tagging and indexing podcasts to show a wide range of entertainment, and promoting fiction podcasts in creator showcases. Now they’ve upped the ante with Apollo+, a subscription service.

Once upon a time, the phrase “Netflix for podcasts” would get thrown around like balloons at a birthday picnic. Both creators and audiences wanted a reasonable subscription rate, payment for creators, and an interface that connects audiences with the shows they want. Since then, the podcast garden has sprouted hundreds of directories and listening apps. Netflix has grown into a major player in the entertainment game. Many have tried to make a one-stop-shop for podcast creators and consumers. Now we have an imbalance between open podcasting and walled-garden content. Fiction podcasts aren’t reaping as much of the benefits of podcast growth as Society & Culture podcasts. For people who want an entertaining, fictional audio escape, is Apollo+ the Netflix for podcasts?

Apollo: Searching For Entertaining Podcast Content With Variety and Focus.

Other podcast listening apps have fiction podcasts, but these shows tend to get drowned out by everything else. Apollo’s indexing system shows you how varied this genre is. Apple Podcasts has Fiction; then Sci-Fi, Comedy Fiction and Drama are sub-genres of Fiction. Comedy also has its own category. Apollo’s navigation system, however, shows how multifaceted fiction podcasts are.

Apollo's opening screen shows a carousel of featured audio drama and fiction podcasts, and options such as Genres, Playlists, and Apollo+.

The two main information channels are Genres and Playlists. Genres are story categories like Adventure, Romance, or Western. You can browse within a genre in sub-categories: new, featured, or “See All.”

Screenshot of some of Apollo's many genre categories.

Playlists have their own logic. They can be one show, or a theme. A couple of playlists work with the newsletter The End, for audiences that prefer completed shows or the energy of a season finale.

Apollo's playlists are curated by mood, show type, and many other options.

There’s a lot of potential for cross-marketing with Apollo’s playlist system, like how Overcast works with She Podcasts and Podcasts In Color to create lists that amplify marginalized podcasters. It’ll be interesting to see how Apollo’s playlists grow over time.

How is Apollo Good for Audio Drama Creators?

In a word, specificity. People use the app because they want fiction. They’re not competing with podcasts that have absolutely nothing to do with yours (i.e., The Daily, Joe Rogan) for a finite amount of “featured” space.

How Is Apollo Good for Podcast Audiences?

The curated lists and tagging system help folks get more of what they want. When the show you want is surrounded by similar shows, it’s satisfying to hit the follow button on everything. For example, in Apple Podcasts, Dark Air with Terry Carnation starring Rainn Wilson is in the Comedy section. It’s surrounded by other Audioboom or celebrity shows. On Apollo, it’s in the same scroll with Midnight Burger and Our Fair City, probably a better fit for Dark Air fans than It’s Happening with Snooki & Joey.

Apollo’s app has more ways to communicate with the Apollo team. You can send them feedback in writing, take a survey, or schedule a 15-minute Zoom call.

Apollo makes it easy for people who love audio drama and fiction podcasts to communicate with their team.

All in all, this is a good app. The Apollo+ subscription service makes it better.

What is Apollo+?

Apollo+ is “ad-free listening, premium content previously found only on individual Patreon and Supporting Cast services, and early access to new shows and features,” for over 40 podcasts. This isn’t the first or only exclusive audio drama streaming service. The Fable & Folly network has an app for their shows, too. Audio drama creators can apply to be part of Apollo+, and the curation process ensures a variety of quality content.

Pricing starts at $9.99 per month or $89.99 per year, which gets you three months free.

The benefits for the audience are clear for shows that usually have dynamically inserted ads. For shows that crowdfund, it’s less so, unless they create bonus content. For example, Wooden Overcoats‘ Apollo+ feed includes bonus shows, previously only available to crowdfunding backers.

Screenshot of Apollo+ feed for Wooden Overcoats, including premium content.

It appears that Wooden Overcoats’ Bruno Mattress ads, a sterling example of how to make podcast ads enjoyable for your audience, aren’t in the feed, but I haven’t scoured it all that thoroughly yet.

Apollo+ makes the benefits for audio drama creators transparent. They’re paid 70% of the show’s revenue, while 30% goes for platform improvements and operating expenses. Their FAQ says, “The more listeners enjoy a creator’s show on Apollo+, the more that creator will earn.” Obviously, if you have more seasons and episodes, you have more inventory. But what happens when all of Kaizar Bharmal’s superfans show up to play that one episode of Splash over and over again?

Plus, your show gets the prestige of association with other Apollo+ shows.

Why Isn’t Apollo+ The Best Thing Since Fermented Grains?

Like any other podcast listening app, Apollo isn’t perfect. Users can’t browse by tag. Browsing by genre is not always productive. For example, when I browsed through Adventure and clicked “Select All,” this view only displayed podcasts without the “New” or “Featured” tags. It looks like slim pickings. Episodes tagged with Featured or New don’t appear in “see all.” In the few days I’ve been writing this article, the app told me to update it, so they’re working on improving it.

Genres show what kind of story audiences can expect. But, the indexing system doesn’t account for how the podcast interacts with the audience or how the creator produces it. Some potentially helpful genre distinctions would be sleep stories and RPG podcasts. People who listen while driving would appreciate it. Unwilling insomniacs probably would prefer Sleepy Ships to The Sleepercast.

Apollo has two different storytelling podcasts by Erik Braa. if you were trying to find a good story podcast while driving at night, could you tell these two apart, easily?
Apollo has two different storytelling podcasts by Erik Braa. If you were trying to find a good story podcast while driving at night, could you tell these two apart, easily?

Role-playing or actual play podcasts include dice rolls and a difference between the game’s players and characters in a story. For some. that’s a moment of excitement; for others, it’s an interruption that takes them out of the narrative. RPGs have a playlist, but these categories are really popular. Why not give RPG and sleep podcasts their own genres?

It’s great that audio drama or fiction podcasts don’t have to compete with Serial or Joe Rogan. But, does putting audio drama or fiction podcasts in their own app make them seem more top-shelf or an odd lot? The world may never know.

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Is Apollo+ the Netflix for Podcasts?

Luminary tried. Audible is trying. If we wanted a podcast app that could compete with video streaming services, one kind of podcast alone won’t do it. There isn’t enough inventory. Apollo+ is *a* Netflix for podcasts. Like Netflix, it has its pros and cons. Netflix has been at its best when it innovates while respecting the medium and the audience (with experiences like Bandersnatch or movies like The Power of the Dog) and screws up when it doesn’t (Rust). Apollo can continue to innovate and respect the medium, creators and audience. Walled garden podcasting is terrible when it locks users, data and content into a closed system. When it highlights podcasts that would otherwise get buried, and attracts new people to podcast consumption, it’s great.

If you really care about movies and television, you probably have more than one streaming service. Chefs have more than one favorite restaurant, writers enjoy many bookstores. Anyone who cares about podcasting should have Apollo+. It helps you make good choices about creative, exciting audio experiences.

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