Spotify Drops Paywall for Gimlet Shows as It Struggles With Podcasts and Audiobooks

Gimlet Media is a podcast network behind fan favorite shows including Reply All and Science Vs that are hosted solely on Spotify.
Gimlet Media is a podcast network behind fan favorite shows including Reply All and Science Vs that are hosted solely on Spotify.

After spending years and hundreds of millions of dollars in building up an in-house suite of paywalled podcasts on its streaming service, Spotify is now re-evaluating that exclusivity and has revealed to employees that Gimlet Media podcasts will start being licensed to other platforms.

Gimlet Media is the podcast network behind several popular podcasts, including Science Vs and the discontinued Reply All, which were hosted solely on Spotify. However, according to a report from Semafor, Spotify is looking to change its exclusivity rules for Gimlet podcasts in the coming weeks. Spotify hoped to draw in subscribers to its platform with a host of exclusive podcasts—a desire best exemplified by its $100 million deal with Joe Rogan—and acquired Gimlet Media for $230 million in 2019 to forge ahead into the talk radio space. The company has struggled to achieve the same dominance with podcasts and audiobooks as it has with music, though, and now it appears the desire for exclusivity has waned, with the company reevaluating the stranglehold it has on some of its properties.

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“Given our position as the leading global podcast platform, we are expanding our windowing strategies to increase the audiences and ad sales potential of our shows,” a Spotify spokesperson told Semafor. “In this case, we’re pursuing broad distribution for some of our original podcasts like Science Vs. This will be done on a case by case basis and over time.”

As Engadget notes, the decision to broaden the horizon of Spotify’s podcasts could bring the company some more leverage for ad sales. If a podcast is only available on Spotify, the show’s audience is limited to those with access to the platform. It’s possible that Spotify is hoping that licensing its podcasts to other platforms like Apple Podcasts, for example, could increase shows’ listenership, thereby allowing Spotify to sell ads at a higher price.

Podcasts aren’t Spotify’s only talk offerings with an unclear future. The Verge reported Monday that Spotify has lost its executive in charge of audiobooks, Nir Zicherman, who joined the company in 2019 to lead its recorded books initiative. Likewise, Spotify announced earlier this month that it was killing Spotify Live, its Clubhouse copycat that served as a live radio offering.

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