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Spotify to launch podcast subscriptions without any creator 'tax,' report says

CNET logo CNET 4/23/2021 Joan E. Solsman
a close up of a screen of a cell phone: Angela Lang/CNET © Provided by CNET Angela Lang/CNET

Spotify next week will unveil its own podcast subscription program, which won't charge podcasters or take a commission off their subscriptions, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter. The news comes days after competitor Apple revealed its own podcast subscription option, one that carries a fee -- sometimes referred to as a "tax" -- of as much as 30% from the subscription price each month. 

The program will allow podcasters to set their own prices for the subscriptions, the report said, citing one of the unnamed sources. That person added that Spotify listeners who use its iOS app on an Apple device will be routed outside the app to a website to pay for a podcast subscription, which would circumvent Apple's in-app purchase system that takes a cut of the transaction's value.

Spotify didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Spotify is one of the largest, most outspoken critics of the power Apple wields thanks to the dominance of its App Store and the in-app purchase system there. Apple faces an antitrust investigation in Europe, largely triggered by Spotify's complaints of Apple's abuse of power. And Spotify's chief lawyer lashed out at Apple just this week as he testified before Congress. 

In the past, Spotify has argued that Apple's App Store prohibits buttons or links in an iOS app that move users to any other external ways to pay.

Over the past three years, Spotify itself has been on a podcasting binge. Having grown to the biggest music-streaming service worldwide, it targeted its next stage of growth in podcasts -- an area that Apple so dominates that the name of the format originally derived from Apple's iPod. But Spotify's pursuit to becoming a top destination for non-music audio has helped it continue to expand, most recently reporting more than 345 million listeners globally.

a close up of a screen of a cell phone © Angela Lang/CNET

Apple has largely neglected the podcast marketplace for years, until its announcement this week that it was launching own podcast subscription service at its spring event Tuesday. Paid subscriptions to podcasters in Apple's own standalone podcast app can unlock new content, ad-free listening, early access and other incentives. Apple's paid subscription service is set to be available in 170 countries in May.

Apple will take a 30% commission from a podcast subscription's price every billing cycle in the first year of every individual membership; after the first year, the commission falls to 15%. That's the same fee structure Apple already has in place for apps selling any digital goods or services -- think game gems and streaming-service subscriptions -- with an in-app purchase on an iPhone or iPad.

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