If you've ever seen or heard me talk about the Listener Acquisition Flow at Podcast Movement, Podfest or on my show, you know that I've long struggled with the word "subscribe" in podcasting.
I started considering it a few years ago when watching the Infinite Dial by Edison Research and Triton and I was reminded of it again last week when watching the 2021 event, too.
"Subscribe" IS a problem in podcasting and despite shouty OG podcasters saying it's not, times have changed and it really is a small problem with big connotations.
Since podcasting "started" back in the mid-noughties, the world has changed.
No longer are magazines and newspapers the only things that we subscribe to. Instead, Amazon Prime, Netflix plus any one of a thousand subscription boxes and once-boxed-up software platforms now exist on a monthly or annual subscription basis and take our money in a recurring pattern.
And they all focus on us owning a subscription.
When we throw into the mix that podcasters generally aren't great marketers (that's ok, by the way), the word "Subscribe" is thrown around way too often in a ploy to get prospective listeners to listen to more of our show.
Setting aside that that approach just doesn't work very well in marketing your show (for more on that, you really should check out the Listener Acquisition Flow), for the casual listener (the very people who will help podcasting to grow) the word "subscribe" alludes to having to pay for a podcast in 2021.
As I said earlier, some OG podcasters have had a bit of a cry about this, saying things like "No one has ever asked me if you have to pay to listen!" (to paraphrase) and while I understand that, it's also representative of podcasting's bigger issues: podcasting isn't yours anymore, OG, it's for everyone and it has moved on - move with it or stagnate, that's your choice, but the "good old days" are done.
If podcasting is to thrive it has to be more accessible and thankfully, Apple has made a small but significant change to help new people to understand that "subscribing" isn't about paying.
By changing the "Subscribe" button in Apple Podcasts to say "Follow", instead, just like Spotify.
What does this mean for you as a podcaster?
To answer that, we need to actually look at the prospective listener, for whom a barrier has been lifted: regardless of whether you think the word "subscribe" implies payment is required or not, ambiguity no longer exists and in marketing, the absence of ambiguity leads to positive results.
People know what to do when ambiguity disappears. Life becomes easier because there's zero education required to show people that that "Subscribe" means something different in podcasting than in Netflix, Amazon and other recurring worlds.
"Subscribe" really only exists, anyway, in podcasting because that's the nomenclature associated with RSS feeds - it's an old overhang from a time when podcasting was for the geeks like me and not for the on-demand generation who just want what they want.
Another huge problem for the prospective listener has been removed, too, though: the burden of staying up to date.
In my Listener Acquisition Flow talk I posit that a listener is different to a fan: a listener is someone who dips into your show and listens now and then; a fan is someone who won't miss an episode even if their ears are on fire.
We all want fans, but the majority of our listeners are just that - listeners.
They probably don't listen to every podcast episode that we put out (sorry) and in fact, when I ran some research before launching The Podcast Accelerator, my own listeners told me that the reason they unsubscribe from podcasts is because they get overwhelmed by episodes that they miss.
I do the same. If I'm "subscribed" to a show and on a drive to work I fancy listening to a podcast, seeing a huge back catalog that I've missed puts this weird pressure on me to revisit every episode.
So, instead I find a new show that I can dip into, knowing that I'll probably not "Subscribe", I'll just listen right here and now.
It's odd, I know, but it happens.
The word "follow", whilst only a subtle shift, is gargantuan in its psychological effect - it lifts a burden and a weight from the listener, in my view, wherein the pressure to stay up to date is removed in favour of a more casual following of a creator at the listener's leisure.
The final interesting thing about this change is how incremental it is.
As someone who builds software for podcasters, I know how a platform can change and, through seemingly tiny changes, become something brand new with the passage of time.
Podcasting is and has done that.
This change from Apple is something that I feel is long overdue and that Spotify arguably got right early.
How do you feel about it?
Your next steps
I teach podcasting a lot, and usually for free. So, here's what I'd recommend you do next:
P.S. you can start engaging with your listeners using AWeber. It's free, no credit card required: https://www.MarkAsquith.com/AWeber