Instagram, but for Podcasts

Anchor CTO Nir Zicherman wrote on medium that You Should Never Pay For Podcast Hosting. I find this quite dishonest. Here’s why.

Anchor, let’s call them a “podcast startup”, is VC-backed, but ultimately wants to make money… probably by selling ads. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with that. Probably the majority of podcasts I listen to are ad-supported or ad-financed, and I find that makes for quite an honest and sustainable transaction.

So, why am I so antsy when it comes to Anchor?

Because they are going to inject themselves in between you as a podcaster and your audience, serving ads. While podcasts “hosted” on Anchor are real podcasts in the sense that they have an RSS feed and can be subscribed to in any podcast app, they push features like Voice messages and Applause. They also call themselves a podcast platform. I bet it’s not long before Anchor reminds you that “Anchor Podcasts” are “best experienced in the Anchor App”.

Jason Snell pointed out YouTube as an example of how something like that might look like (as well as its dangers). I’d go a step further and point to Facebook’s Instagram and Twitter, both at various stages of struggling with, or failing at making money from ads without annoying their users.
This is critical: Once your podcast host (= a relative straightforward website/filehost) becomes a platform with that kind of business model, you and your podcast have a big problem as soon as the monetization doesn’t quite work out as planned.

Everything that gives me pause about Anchor is amplified by the messaging. It is one thing to advertise what you think you’re good at, or point out a low price. But calling a straightforward hosting service an “outdated business model”, proclaiming that one’s “singular mission” is to “democratize audio”, right after not answering the question what your business model is, all with the goal of inflating a VC-financed bubble – that is just Grade A BS. The post is even oversimplified to the degree that Anchor’s team apparently doesn’t need a salary – lucky them. All of this to sell you on Anchor being free free FREE, compared to other beginner plans that are 10 whopping bucks and make you an actual independent podcaster? Get.a.grip.

Another thing puzzles me. Anchor emphasizes wanting to lower the barrier to podcasting as well as making it generally easy to start one. Alright, that’s applaudable. But this doesn’t lend itself well to content from experienced podcasters/producers – regardless of the fact that they’d be unwilling to sign away their content anyway (read “License Grant”).
With just a slight exaggeration to illustrate my point, despite the danger of sounding like a cranky old, and without meaning offense: A whole bunch of people’s first 10 podcast episodes, recorded with their iPhones may not be the best that podcasting has to offer – as well as the best for creating ad revenue.

All podcasters, from those with massive followings to those who are just starting out, will be able to make money off of their work.” – 🧐

Let me explicitly say that I am in total support of lowering barriers to entry wherever possible. I find joy in explaining first (or advanced) steps in some of my hobbies (photography, podcasting), and I think that the democratization of tools for creation in our digital age is a beautiful thing. So I don’t argue against the part where Anchor competes by offering simple tools for creating audio, or distribution.
But looking at Twitter right now, and how Instagram has influenced photography, I just have to hope that Anchor doesn’t catch on.