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Linked: Spotify’s Rogan problem is a cautionary tale for other tech platforms

I’ve seen quite a few people on social media question why people are upset with Spotify over the Joe Rogan podcast versus what they see on Twitter, Facebook, and even something like Apple or Google podcasts. The thing I think they are missing is this:

“In February 2019, Spotify bought podcast production company Gimlet, which had a sizable stable of shows. Then it snapped up a couple more companies before making a high-profile acquisition of The Ringer, a podcast network founded by former ESPN sportswriter Bill Simmons. In May 2020, Spotify bought an exclusive license to past and future episodes of Joe Rogan’s show.”

You see, all of those other platforms are simply providing a place for user-generated content to be shared. We may or may not agree with the decisions they make around content moderation, but as a platform, they are allowed to try and moderate as they see fit. As users, we are allowed to agree or disagree and use or not use the platforms.

Spotify went a different route and actually became a media company. They don’t just provide a place for others to share their content, they actually own some of that content. So, Spotify subscribers are literally paying money to the company that owns the rights to the podcast and many are making the decision that they no longer want to do that. (I think the Neil Young media attention simply made people aware of this fact that hadn’t really thought about it before, because really who pays attention to all of these things?)

The article below points out that many of the platforms that exist today may find themselves in a similar situation and face a similar temptation. As shareholders start demanding more “growth” of a platform they are going to have a hard time providing that. There isn’t a large group of people clamoring to get Twitter or Facebook accounts that don’t currently have one. Eventually, they may be tempted to provide some kind of content exclusively on their platform. This pushes them into being publishing and media companies as opposed to tech companies. (We could argue that many of these platforms have started to dabble in being media companies but that haven’t quite taken the step that Spotify did and buy exclusive rights to podcasts.)

Publishing and media companies ARE responsible for what they create and will face user backlash if they publish something the users don’t like, on top of potential legal issues that may arise.

It may not seem like a big step to go from providing a platform for others to share content and doing moderation to actually publishing that content, but it very much is. It changes the relationship with your users and you may not always like how it changes.

Spotify is learning this right now. Whatever decision they make regarding Rogan is going to make some of their users angry enough to leave the service. That’s no way to be a growing tech company, but it is the norm for media companies. Which one are you?

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