Anchor on free podcasting

Nir Zicherman has a post on Medium about how podcast hosting should be free. Nir is the co-founder of Anchor, a company with $14 million in venture-capital funding. Nir writes:

Back in the day, you would have had to pay to store your photos online. But that outdated business model has virtually disappeared thanks to platforms like Google Photos, Instagram, Imgur, and others. At Anchor, we believe the notion of charging creators to host their content online is antiquated and unfair. And above all else, it serves as a barrier that prevents the podcasting ecosystem from growing and becoming more diverse, because it limits it to only those voices who can afford to pay.

I think Nir misses something important in his post. Many podcasts do not need to be directly monetized with ads, network memberships, or even listener donations. I never want ads on my short-form podcast Timetable, for example. I record Timetable because I enjoy it and because it helps people understand what we’re trying to do with, which in turn indirect benefits the platform. I want my own podcast at my own domain name so that I’m not dependent on a company that may or may not be around in a few years.

(Also, it’s misleading to say that it only costs Anchor $1/year to host a podcast. That might cover hosting, but it skips over all the other business costs including engineering, marketing, and support.)

Anchor seems to be going for the YouTube model. They want a huge number of people to use their platform. But the concentration of so much media in one place is one of the problems with today’s web. Massive social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have too much power over writers, photographers, and video creators. We do not want that for podcasts. podcast hosting isn’t free. It’s $10/month. But for that price you get not just a podcast feed but also a full hosted blog with support for microblog posts or longer essays, photo blogging, custom themes and CSS, posting from a bunch of third-party apps and our iOS microcasting app Wavelength, and most importantly everything at your own domain name so you own the content. The competition for isn’t Anchor; it’s Squarespace and WordPress.

Some things are worth paying for. I share Nir’s goal that podcasting should be more accessible and more affordable to more people, but it’s dangerous to give one company too much control over podcasting. Anchor’s business model demands scale. It’s still unclear how that will play out.

Manton Reece @manton