During its live-streamed event today, Spotify officially confirmed its plans to launch paid podcast subscriptions on its platform. As a first step, the company will this spring begin beta testing a new feature in its Anchor podcast creation tool that will allow U.S. creators to publish paid podcast content aimed at their “most dedicated fans.” It also opened up signups for this and other new features, starting today.
Spotify had hinted at its plans for paid podcast content during its fourth-quarter earnings call earlier this month, when it said it was exploring ideas like paid podcast subscriptions and à la carte payments. But it didn’t detail when these new options would go live or how they would work.
At its online event today, Spotify more formally announced its plans to enter the market of paid podcasts, initially with a new service that would allow Anchor creators the ability to offer paid podcast subscriptions supported by their listeners.
This sort of idea is not new, to be clear. Already, some podcasters offer paid access to bonus material — for example, through a service like Stitcher Premium, which promises both an ad-free experience and bonus episodes. Some creators may even independently offer paid feeds through their own platforms.
But until now, a similar option was not available to Spotify creators.
Anchor co-founder Michael Mignano said the company believes paid bonus material can work well as a means of podcast monetization, in addition to ads.
“We have found that, through our research, it seems to work especially well for creators who have really engaged and dedicated audiences — regardless of the audience size,” he told TechCrunch in an interview following Spotify’s event. “We’ve also found that podcast listeners do tend to be open to financially supporting the shows they love,” he added.
The company was hesitant to detail some of the specifics of how paid subscriptions would work at launch, but did say that the model would involve a revenue share between creators and Anchor, where creators keep the majority of the earnings. Anchor will also allow creators to determine what price to charge their listeners for the paid experience and what that experience would include — like bonus episodes or interviews, or even ad-free content, if they prefer.
It will then use its understanding of what creators actually do with paid subscriptions to inform its product product launch and its “best practices” recommendations in the future.
We also understand the offering will be limited to those who use Anchor to record and publish across podcast platforms. However, it will more immediately benefit creators with a strong Spotify presence and a loyal listenership.
But Mignano points out that creators may be able to grow their paid subscriber base thanks to Spotify’s tools for podcast discovery.
“The problem is the system for doing this type of paid subscription so far in podcasts has been really disjointed,” he explained. “It hasn’t been a really seamless experience for the listener, and it hasn’t really been a great experience for the creator. We feel like that’s really held this model back and hindered creators’ reach and ability to gain paid subscribers,” he said.
In other words, users may be open to the idea of paid bonus material, but they don’t necessarily want to switch between apps to gain access, nor do they want to figure out how to get paid RSS feeds into some third-party podcast listening app.
Spotify, meanwhile, will try to make discovery easier. It will highlight the paid content alongside the free material on the podcast’s main page, for example. Plus, in the same way that Spotify today helps users discover new podcasts they may like to try, it will also point to paid subscription-based podcasts in the future as the new model rolls out further.
Anchor says it will initially open up the beta test in the U.S. to a small number of creators, but aims to expand access to more creators as soon as reasonably possible. The test, for the time being, will only focus on paid subscriptions, but Mignano told us the company may explore the à la carte model in the future.
Paid podcasts were only one of several new features Anchor announced today at the Spotify event.
The company also announced the launch of a WordPress partnership that makes it easier for bloggers to turn their posts into posts, either by reading the blog posts themselves or leveraging third-party text-to-speech technology Anchor provides.
Anchor will also expand beta testing of video podcasts, which so far have been tested by only a handful of creators, including Higher Learning from The Ringer.
And it will begin beta testing new, interactive features, like polls and Q&A, with a small number of creators in the months ahead.
These features could potentially overlap with paid subscriptions. For example, some podcast creators may choose to make their videos a paid feature, or perhaps other interactive features. It remains to be seen how they’re put to use.
But more broadly, features like polls and Q&As could help Spotify better differentiate an interactive podcast from a live audio program, like those popularized by the buzzy new app Clubhouse. The advantage of the latter is that it allows for audience participation in the “show,” rather than being a one-way street where hosts control the experience. But on the flip side, Clubhouse rooms can also have folks who drone on and on, or they can become boring, when not carefully managed.
Anchor says it doesn’t intend to charge creators for access to its tools, beyond taking a rev share on subscriptions.
“I think our vision with Anchor and Spotify has always been to really empower creators. In the Anchor suite of tools, we’ve never charged creators for any features because we believe that charging creators can often represent friction that stands in the way of them trying to actually make something and getting it out into the world,” Mignano said. “We want to enable creators to do whatever they want, as far as expressing themselves through these new tools,” he added.
Twitter Spaces arrives on Android ahead of Clubhouse – TechCrunch
Twitter announced today it’s opening up its live audio chat rooms, known as Twitter Spaces, to users on Android. Previously, the experience was only open to select users on iOS following the product’s private beta launch in late December 2020. The company says that Android users will only be able to join and talk in Spaces for the time being, but won’t yet be able to start their own.
That added functionality is expected to ship “soon,” Twitter says, without offering an exact timeframe.
The company has been working quickly to iterate on Twitter Spaces in the months since its beta debut, and has been fairly transparent about its roadmap.
Last month, the team developing Twitter Spaces hosted a Space where users were invited to offer feedback, ask questions, and learn about what Twitter had in the works for the product in both the near-term and further down the road. During this live chat, Twitter confirmed that Spaces would arrive on Android in March.
It also promised a fix to how it displays listeners, which has since rolled out.
Other Spaces features are being shared in public as they’re designed and prototyped, including things like titles and descriptions, scheduling options, support for co-hosts and moderators, guest lists, and more. Twitter has also updated the preview card that appears in the timeline and relabeled its “captions” feature to be more accurate, from an accessibility standpoint.
The time frame of some of its new developments — like Android and scheduling options — were being promised in a matter of weeks, not months.
This fast pace has now led Twitter to beat its rival Clubhouse — the app currently leading the “social audio” market — to offer support for Android. Today, Clubhouse remains iOS-only in addition to being invite-only.
It’s also indicative of the resources Twitter is putting into this new product, which was first announced publicly just in November. Clearly, Twitter believes social audio is a market it needs to win.
The company also sees the broader potential for Spaces as being a key part of a larger creator platform now in the works. During its Investor Day last week, Twitter spoke of tying together its new products like Spaces, Newsletters along with a “Super Follow” paid subscription, for example.
It’s now also testing a Twitter “Shopping Card” that would allow users to tweets posts that link directly to product pages via a “Shop” button — a feature that would seem to fall under this new creator focus, as well.
But now, a separate beta app won’t be required — when live Spaces are available, they’ll appear at the top of the Twitter timeline for Android users to join.
West Tenth’s app encourages women to start home businesses, not join MLMs – TechCrunch
A new digital marketplace called West Tenth, now backed by $1.5 million in seed funding, wants to give women a platform to start and grow their home-based businesses. Through its mobile app, women can promote their business to others in the local community, then field inquiries and requests through the app’s integrated messaging platform, as well as finalize transactions through in-app payments.
The startup was co-founded by Lyn Johnson and Sara Sparhawk, who met when they both worked in finance. Johnson remained in finance, but Sparhawk later moved on to work at Amazon.
Johnson explains that her experience led her to better understand the economic inequality of women in the U.S., where they only own 32 cents to every dollar in financial assets than men own. A large driver of this is that women leave the workforce, often to raise children, which results in years where they don’t have earnings.
“We’re really good as a society at supporting women on the way of out of the workforce to care for their kids, but really terrible at supporting them on the way back in,” Johnson says. “Women know this, and as an alternative to employment that just seems to fail them, they’re starting businesses in droves.”
With West Tenth, the goal is to encourage this sort of entrepreneurship — and more broadly, to help women understand that the many of the talents they’ve developed at home are, in fact, potential businesses.
This includes opportunities like home-based bakers and cooks, photographers, home organizers or designers, home florists, baby sleep consultants, party planning and event services, crafting classes, fitness training, homemade goods, and more.
The company notes that the app isn’t necessarily closed to men, but the current market for U.S. home businesses favors women as they’re more often the partner who chooses to leave work to raise children. However, there are some men on its platform.
Though today many of these entrepreneurs market their home businesses on Facebook, they’re missing opportunities to reach customers if they’re not heavily involved in local groups and responding to requests for recommendations. West Tenth instead centralizes local businesses in one place to make discovery easier.
In the app, customers can browse and shop local businesses, filtering by category via buttons at the top of the screen. The results are sorted by distance and offer photos, description, and the starting price for the goods or services offered. Through integrated messaging, users can reach out directly for a quote or more information. Customers can also complete their purchases through the app’s Stripe payments integration. West Tenth takes a 9.5% commission on these sales.
Another key aspect to West Tenth is its education component, The Foundry.
Through a $100 per quarter subscription membership (or $350 per year), business owners will be able to attend bi-monthly events, including classes focused on the fundamentals of setting up home-based businesses, marketing, customer acquisition, and other topics. These classes will also be available à la carte at around $30 apiece, for those who want to pay per session.
In addition, attendees will hear from guest speakers who have experience in the home-based business market, and they’ll be able join mastermind networking groups to exchange ideas with their peers.
This system of combining education and networking with business ownership could potentially help more women become home-based business entrepreneurs instead of joining multi-level marketing (MLM) companies, as is common.
“When we started this, we recognized that MLMs are one of the few kind of industries that’s focused on this demographic of women who’ve left the workforce — which is a huge, untapped talent pool in the U.S.,” notes Johnson. “But they’re really predatory. Only the top 1% of sellers distributors really make money and the rest lose money. And they lose their social capital, as well. What we’re really interested in doing is becoming an alternative to MLMs in many respects,” she adds.
Not surprisingly, MLMs aren’t allowed on the West Tenth platform.
The startup, which completed Kansas City TechStars last summer, has now raised $1.5 million in seed funding to get its platform off the ground. The round was led by Better Ventures along with Stand Together Ventures Lab, Kapital Partners,The Community Fund, Backstage Capital, Wedbush Ventures, and Gaingels.
The funds will be used to develop the product and grow its user base. In time, West Tenth aims to build out product features to better highlight local businesses. This includes shopping elements that will let you see what friends are buying and video demonstrations, among other things.
Since 2019, West Tenth has grown its footprint from just 20 businesses on the app to now over 600, largely in suburban L.A. and Salt Lake City. It’s now aiming to target growth in Phoenix, Boise, and Northern California.
The timing for West Tenth’s expansion is coming on the tail end of the COVID-19 crisis, where things have only gotten worse for women’s traditional employment.
School and daycare closures combined with job losses that greatly impacted women’s roles have now driven more women out of the workforce compared with men. And according to McKinsey, women accounted for nearly 56% of workforce exits since the start of the pandemic, despite making up just 48% of the workforce. This COVID-driven “shecession,” as some have dubbed it, is also disproportionately impacting women of color, studies have found.
“We’ve seen 5 million women exit the workforce — some because they were laid off or furloughed, and a huge chunk because they’re opting out because the caregiving responsibilities just became overwhelming,” says Johnson.
“The thing is when women leave the workforce for caregiving reasons — for some reason we really discount that and we make it even harder for them to return to work. So I think over the next 18 to 24 months, we’ll see a big surge in economic activity in the home with women trying to bring in additional sources of income by running a business from the home,” she says.
The West Tenth app is available on both iOS and Android.
Flipboard expands its local coverage to more than 1,000 cities and towns – TechCrunch
News aggregator Flipboard‘s local coverage is making what product lead Brian Gottesman described as a “quantum leap,” expanding from 60 topics (a.k.a. cities, towns and communities that you can follow) to more than 1,000.
While Flipboard has allowed users to follow stories focused on major cities like New York for years, it launched a broader initiative around local news at the beginning of last year. The company says it’s now bringing together news coverage in locations across the United States and Canada, including all 210 Designated Market Areas tracked by Nielsen.
This comes as local newspapers continue to struggle and shut down, creating what are known as news deserts. But Flipboard’s data quality analyst Marty Rose said that its local news sections don’t just rely on traditional newspapers — they can aggregate stories from travel blogs, publications aimed at diverse audiences, TV stations, regional/national publications that do stories of local interest and more.
“Our aggregation could create a local paper where in communities they don’t exist,” Gottesman added.
Flipboard is now tying these local topics to GPS locations, as well. Users will be asked to share their location with the app (Gottesman noted that to protect user privacy, Flipboard is only using “coarse precision” and doesn’t retain user location data), then presented with a list of nearby cities and local topics of interest that they can follow. This will allow them to keep up on everything from local political news to COVID-19 updates, weather forecasts and dining recommendations.
“This is such a key part of informing our users,” Gottesman said. “They need to know if there’s a natural disaster in their area … they need to know if there’s a new place to go and get vaccines. Their community is more important than ever.”
Conversely, Rose said that by building relationships with local news organizations, Flipboard could also “elevate” their coverage to non-local sections when it might be relevant to a broader audience.
Asked how publishers’ subscription strategies and paywalls might affect the stories that appear in these local topics, Rose acknowledged, “Some local publications do have paywalls. It’s entirely up to them, we have no problem with that whatsoever … We provide the headlines and if the user clicks through and they’re presented with some kind of paywall, it’s unfortunate for them, but it’s not really our call.”
At the same time, he said that local TV coverage isn’t paywalled, and that a growing number of local blogs and digital publications are relying on more of a donation or membership model: “I really hope that they stick around and we can push those a bit more.”
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