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Some former Spotify exclusives are quickly gaining traction on other platforms. Others are landing with a thud.
It’s been roughly four months since Spotify confirmed it would widen distribution of some of its exclusive podcasts to other players. A number of Spotify Originals, including Gimlet and Parcast shows, were selected for wide release:
- Science Vs and a slate of true crime and mystery / thriller podcasts including Unexplained Mysteries, Serial Killers, and Conspiracy Theories are now being widely distributed.
- The Gimlet interview podcast Heavyweight — which is debuting a new season this fall — is rereleasing its old episodes on a weekly basis on other platforms, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Stolen has had its archives opened up.
- Three shows with big names attached to them — Stuck with Damon Young, Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, and Anything Goes with Emma Chamberlain — are now offered on other platforms.
- And the archives of canceled Parcast podcasts like Haunted Places: Ghost Stories, Cults, Female Criminals, Medical Murders, Crimes of Passion, and Sarah Turney’s Disappearances are now available outside of Spotify as well.
Spotify spokesperson Mariana Duran confirmed to Hot Pod that all of these shows are now being distributed widely.
How have these former Spotify exclusives performed now that they’ve been released out into the wild? Turns out it’s pretty hit or miss.
Armchair Expert, the interview podcast hosted by Shepard and Monica Padman, already had a large following and phenomenal success before Spotify took it exclusive in 2021. Yesterday, Armchair Expert announced on X that it was available on other platforms once again, capping off the occasion with a new episode featuring Kristen Bell. The launch was a success; Armchair Expert is currently No. 5 on Apple Podcasts’ rankings of its most popular podcasts, even outdoing its current rank as No. 22 in the US on Spotify’s own platform.
That’s in sharp contrast to how the expansion has gone for Chamberlain’s Anything Goes. The video version of the show is still exclusive to Spotify, where the podcast sits at No. 4 on Spotify’s charts; the audio version, however, lands at a very humble No. 201 spot on Apple Podcasts, according to Chartable. The disparity highlights the innate differences in both the audiences for the two shows and the factors that made them popular. Chamberlain’s roots as a YouTuber mean much of her fan base is accustomed to watching her video podcast — hence the audio version of her Anything Goes is barely registering on other platforms. Given that Chamberlain only infrequently posts on YouTube, her audience sees Spotify as the new destination for her videos.
One thing to note is that new hits are likely to get more traction on either chart. Apple Podcasts’ charts use a special algorithm that factors in follows and completion rates, which means Armchair’s high numbers may be artificially inflated by the fact it just debuted. Spotify’s formula is different but can lead to the same outcome, making it possible for brand-new shows to unseat The Joe Rogan Experience from its No. 1 slot. But only for a short while.
Despite this, Armchair Expert’s return to wide distribution is a success story not shared by other exclusives. It also suggests the show going exclusive may indeed have lost it a few listeners (and some ad revenue). While top fans may have signed up for Spotify solely to hear Armchair Expert, many simply found another podcast to listen to. The news of its return to other platforms was received warmly on r/ArmchairExpert. “I haven’t really listened to AE since they went exclusive because I just prefer Apple Podcasts as my app,” wrote one listener on Reddit.
Both Armchair Expert and Anything Goes are verifiable hits, and Spotify was smart to sign them. But as the company now seems to understand, very few podcasts are big enough by themselves to convince a fan to subscribe to a new platform — or even download a free app.
One criticism of Spotify’s exclusive strategy is that it buried many shows, including those under the Gimlet and Parcast umbrella. The audience for Parcast’s slate of true crime podcasts or Gimlet’s narrative series is much smaller than that of Chamberlain’s or Shepard’s talk shows and perhaps even less likely to follow them to a new platform. The Spotify Original Serial Killers ranks at a very respectable No. 24 on its own platform, but the show doesn’t even crack Apple Podcasts’ top 200 and only ranks a modest No. 85 in Apple’s category of true crime podcasts, even as it continues to release new episodes.
Another challenge that Serial Killers has that Armchair Expert doesn’t is that fans can pick from a long list of acceptable alternatives. Unless you’re a show like Crime Junkie or My Favorite Murder — both of which have devoted followings — the sheer number of true crime series means there’s far more competition for casual listeners. If a fan of shows like Crimes of Passion or Medical Murders didn’t want to switch to Spotify, they could easily find similar fare on other podcast players. They may get sucked into Wondery’s Morbid (which ranks No. 12 on Apple Podcasts and No. 18 on Spotify) or Serial Productions’ The Retrievals (which ranks No. 6 on Apple Podcasts and No. 15 on Spotify) or the thousands of other solid podcasts available for consumption.
It’s also possible many true crime fans don’t know about Spotify Original podcasts like Serial Killers or Unexplained Mysteries being available again on other podcast players. Spotify hasn’t exactly shouted the news from the rooftops. (It confirmed the news it was ending exclusivity for a number of Gimlet podcasts to Semafor in April, and Bloomberg reported Armchair Expert was going nonexclusive in June.) Spotify disclosed a longer list by email to Hot Pod yesterday. It makes sense — Spotify has no real incentive to actively recruit fans to other platforms. But as a consequence, it seems that the individual podcasts have had to get the word out on their own.
The challenge for Spotify moving forward is making sure all of its original podcasts — both the big hits and the niche shows — perform well across other platforms. Since downloads drive rankings, it’s unlikely an older show from Gimlet and Parcast’s slate will suddenly soar up the charts. While its big, star-driven hits will perform well everywhere, the company has to ensure its other shows don’t get lost in the shuffle.
Spotify’s well-hyped “next phase” of podcasting means it’s saying farewell to the era of exclusive shows. But as it embraces creators and aims to grow its audience on other channels, it’s likely found out that not every podcast can or even should be a “hit.” After all, mass appeal isn’t baked into podcasts. Podcasts are beloved by listeners — and advertisers — because they can drive niche audiences to stories they won’t hear elsewhere. Rather than Spotify and other podcast companies aiming to make every podcast a “hit” on the scale of Serial, a better goal may be to help every little weird podcast find its unique audience.