Acast enables podcasters to go premium with portable paywalls

Stockholm-based podcast company Acast has announced the release of  Access, an innovative technology which allows any Acast podcaster to establish premium-style content, establish a subscription price for it, and fulfill the entire strategy within the listener’s preferred podcast listening app.

Here is how Acast summarizes the product description: “A product for publishers to distribute paywalled audio content via RSS feeds.”

The concept ties together two previously incompatible features of podcasting: RSS feeds (traditionally open and free distribution) and paywalled content (closed and for-pay). The technical innovation here is the development of two parallel RSS feeds, which Acast calls “public-RSS” (open) and “accessed RSS” (closed). Acast then describes the publishing and distribution process like this:

“The publisher then decides what parts of the content are exclusive and only available through the accessed-RSS, and what parts are in both feeds. Acast Access then checks the anonymized user data against the publisher´s API to determine which users are approved as either logged in or paying subscribers of the publisher. From the listener’s perspective, Acast Access is easy to use. It takes just two clicks to replace the public feed with the accessed version in their podcast app of choice.”

The innovation is quite interesting. Premium paid podcast content has traditionally been implemented in two ways:

Network-based premium subscription: Here, a podcast network that operates an app or website with dozens or hundreds of shows establishes a collection of original content, or bonus content, or ad-free versions of its podcasts, and gates it for subscription access.

Patronage: Here, podcasters develop audiences willing to support the ongoing production of a show with sustaining pledges, NPR-style, on a platform which transacts that relationship. Patreon is the leading such platform for podcasting.

Acast Access proposes to liberate the creation of a premium business from both those structures (or add it to the patronage model) by enabling the publishing of premium for-pay content, and distributing it in the familiar RSS format to podcatchers everywhere. The supporting listener can learn about the content, subscribe to the content, and listen to the content — all in that listeners preferred app.

This is a beta release, and the Financial Times is the testing launch partner. Alastair Mackie, head of audio, made this statement: “The Financial Times recently announced the milestone accomplishment of reaching one million paying readers and we’re continuing to look for ways to attract new audiences. We’ve been building out our various forms of audio and are always eager to experiment as we grow beyond a traditional print and online offering. The majority of our podcast listeners are not yet subscribers and Acast Access will help us to bring tremendous value to the audio realm, incentivizing conversion for those listeners.”

Brad Hill