May 21, 2020 - 7:00am

This week Spotify announced a deal with one of the world’s most popular podcasters, Joe Rogan, for a reported fee of more than $100 million. In return, he will make his show The Joe Rogan Experience exclusive to Spotify and move his entire back catalogue onto the platform.

But while this deal has guaranteed Rogan a big pay day, it is, as Matt Stoller writes, a worrying sign for the future of independent podcasting.

In his weekly ‘BIG’ newsletter about the politics of monopolies, Stoller warns that the deal is part of a broader push for Spotify to monopolise the podcast market, which would limit competition and reduce the number of authentic voices in the podcasting world:

To explain Spotify’s strategy, I analogized the current podcast market to the web in the mid-2000s. As the web used to be, today podcasting is an open market, with advertising, podcasting, and distribution mostly separated from one another. Distribution happens through an open standard called RSS, and there’s very little behavioral ad targeting. I’m asked on fun weird podcasts all the time; podcasting feels like the web prior to the roll-up of power by Google and Facebook, with a lot of new voices, some very successful and most marginal, but quite authentic.

So what is Spotify trying to do?

First, Spotify is gaining power over podcast distribution by forcing customers to use its app to listen to must-have content, by either buying production directly or striking exclusive deals, as it did with Rogan. This is a tying or bundling strategy. Once Spotify has a gatekeeping power over distribution, it can eliminate the open standard rival RSS, and control which podcasts get access to listeners. The final stage is monetization through data collection and ad targeting. Once Spotify has gatekeeping power over distribution and a large ad targeting business, it will also be able to control who can monetize podcasts, because advertisers will increasingly just want to hit specific audience members, as opposed to advertise on specific shows.

- Matt Stoller, BIG