Apple Podcast Subscriptions Explained

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A few months ago, Apple announced Apple Podcast subscriptions. While I only listen to podcasts on occasion, I was surprised to hear many of my friends complaining about this change. I quickly learned that far more people in my life listened to podcasts than I thought, and they weren’t happy that their free podcasts weren’t going to be free anymore.

I think adding subscriptions to the Podcasts app is a great idea. And after talking to people, I came to realize that most of them aren’t even sure how this feature works. They just hear that Apple is going to be taking more of their money and assume the tech giant has created some kind of Apple Music doppelgänger.

So today, I’m going to clear the air. I’m going to breakdown everything you need to know about Apple Podcast subscriptions, what it means for listeners as well as creators, and how these changes are likely to play out.

Let’s get into it!

What are Apple Podcast subscriptions?

Apple Podcast subscriptions are a new optional feature that podcasters can implement in the Apple Podcasts app. For example, if Jane Smith already has a podcast on the Podcasts app, she can start charging her listeners with this new feature to support her podcast.

But she doesn’t have to. In fact, I think the odds are pretty good that Jane and a lot of other creators aren’t going to start charging their subscribers anything. Apple has announced a few subscription models that podcasters can use, two of which don’t require the audience to pay anything. So for the most part, unless you’re looking at the most popular podcasts on the Podcasts app, I don’t think anything is going to change for most listeners.

In short: This new Podcasts feature will allow podcasters to charge a monthly fee to listen to their podcast. This will earn Apple more revenue, but it’ll also be a big step towards supporting creators and giving them more options. Overall, I believe it’s a huge net gain.

Apple Podcasts subscriptions were set to release in May 2021 but have since been pushed back to June 2021. This is due to some behind-the-scenes issues that Apple wants to resolve before launching this feature.

How do Apple Podcast subscriptions work?

Apple Podcast subscriptions work like pretty much any other subscription model these days. You sign up in the Podcasts app to subscribe to a podcast. Subscribing will unlock that podcaster’s content for whatever fee they choose.

Aside from that, podcast subscriptions are pretty simple! They come in three models, which I’ll explain below.


The first model is, of course, free! Podcasters are under no obligation to use Apple Podcast subscriptions. I suspect an extremely high percentage of podcasters are going to stick to this model. Especially if they already have a source of income, such as VODs of the podcast or sponsors.

If a podcaster chooses to keep posting their content for free, you won’t notice any changes with their content whatsoever once this feature launches.


The second model is Freemium. And yes, that is the word Apple decided to go with, which caught me by surprise. For those that don’t know, freemium is slang for apps and services that are free, but allow you to pay for unlockable features and content.

Apple Podcast subscriptions that use the Freemium model work just like this. You’ll still get the bulk of the podcast for free, though certain episodes and types of content might be locked behind a paywall.

That might mean that every other episode or that episodes with guests, etc., will require you to pay. I can also see some podcasters choosing to have podcasts locked behind a paywall for a while before making them free.

I think most of the small-medium podcasters who treat their podcast as a business will choose this model. It won’t disrupt the content that their listeners are used to and it’ll boost their revenue.

Lastly, there’s the Paid option. The Paid model locks all of a podcaster’s content behind a paywall. You won’t be able to listen to anything from them without subscribing first.

I don’t think very many podcasters are going to embrace this model, since it has the potential to dramatically reduce their listener base. For that reason, I can only see the largest podcasts switching to this model. The Joe Rogans and New York Times podcasts are still going to make a killing even if they alienate a large portion of their audience.

How Apple Podcast subscriptions will affect listeners

I think it’s interesting to examine the impact that Apple Podcast subscriptions are going to have on podcasters and their listeners. Let’s examine how this will change the experience for listeners.

As mentioned above, I seriously doubt that most podcasters are going to lock their content behind a paywall. Especially since the Patreon model is already so popular for content creators.

I think podcasts that already make a decent amount of cash from sponsors and other revenue sources (i.e., podcasters with a Patreon, sponsors, and YouTube channel) will most likely stick to the Free model.

Podcasters that treat their podcast as a more serious space for content creation, not just a side project, will probably use the Freemium model. That means special episodes for subscribers and the same episodes as always for everyone else.

And, as I also mentioned before, I think the big names are going to take advantage of their large pool of listeners to go for the Paid model. So if you listen to lots of big names and news outlets on the Podcasts app, get ready to open your wallet.

That said, I don’t think podcasters are going to be charging very much. I’ve seen some predictions as low as $0.50/month to subscribe to a podcast. So don’t get too worried about this change – you’re probably not going to be paying Netflix prices for podcasts anytime soon.

How it will affect podcasters

While listeners are a lot more vocal and negative about Apple Podcast subscriptions, it’s clear that this feature is going to have a much bigger impact on the podcasters themselves. And from what I can tell, it’s all good.

For the first time, podcasters are going to have a native way to generate revenue that doesn’t require sponsorships. You could potentially turn a podcast idea into a career following the same model that YouTubers do. Though probably with a bit less financial success.

Apple will be sending podcasters 70% of their subscription revenue and pocketing the other 30%. So if you make $1,000/month from your podcast subscriptions, you’ll see $700/month.

However, when a subscriber subscribes to your podcast for a year, you get 85% of their subscription paid to you. This is cumulative, so the person doesn’t have to be subscribed for a year straight. They just need to be subscribed for 12 months in total.

30% is pretty steep, but it’s about par for the course when it comes to these kinds of ventures. Overall, the savvy podcaster should be able to make this work with their current setup!

Use podcast channels to promote your podcasts

Another feature that Apple is launching alongside Apple Podcast subscriptions is channels. Channels are a new tool in the Podcasts app that allows you to group multiple podcast shows under the same group.

For example, if you have a podcast that covers true crime, another for short horror stories, and a third for true paranormal stories, you can group all of these podcast shows under a single channel.

This feature can be a great organizational tool for smaller channels that try to cover a variety of topics. Or, if you’re part of a clique of content creators who collaborate all the time anyway, it might be beneficial to your brand to create a channel with the other creators. This way, you all share in each other’s success.

Lastly, I think channels will be immensely helpful to outlets like BuzzFeed that host several different podcasts under different names. Publishers will be able to organize all of these different podcasts under a unified brand.

The one thing to note is that channels can only use one subscription model. You can’t have one podcast on the channel that uses the Free model while another uses the Paid model. You can use the Freemium model, however, which offers a bit more flexibility.

The ‘Apple Podcasts for Creators’ website

One more thing I wanted to mention in this post is the Apple Podcasts for Creators website. This is a new website that creators can use to manage their podcast with a greater level of control. It’s where you’ll find all of the tools and features mentioned throughout this post.

This website should be immensely helpful to podcasters, offering an easy way to brand, model, and publish your podcast.

There isn’t much more to say about it! If you’re a creator, check it out.

Apple Podcast subscriptions look like a win for everyone – including Apple

Apple is indeed positioned to make a killing off of Apple Podcast subscriptions, but I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone. However, this feature should also be a major boon for podcasters.

It’ll help alleviate the need for sponsorships, allow podcasts to operate independently of other content revenue streams, and increase the quality and variety of podcasts available. And for listeners, it probably won’t cost most of us more than $5 a month, if that.

Those are my thoughts on this new feature! I’d love to hear yours in the comments below. To read more news, tips, and insights into all things Apple, be sure to check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.

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