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Apple Podcasts switches from “Subscribe” to “Follow”

March 11, 2021


Melissa Guller


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Big update, podcasters:

In March 2021, Apple is releasing a small but significant update to Apple Podcasts when iOS 14.5 rolls out later this month.

Instead of a button that says “Subscribe,” your podcast will instead have a button that says “Follow.”

Here’s why they’re switching, how it will affect your podcast, and what I recommend doing moving forward.

Why Apple is changing from ‘subscribe’ to ‘follow’

The word “subscribe” makes a lot of people think “payment.” So this is Apple’s attempt to help clarify that tuning in to podcasts is free, particularly for new listeners.

In fact, Tom Edison (Edison Research) reported that 47% of people who have never listened to podcasts think that ‘subscribing’ to a podcast will cost money. So the biggest reason for the shift is to cut down on any confusion that podcasting might require listeners to pay.

And they aren’t the only app to change. Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, and Audible already use “follow.” Google Podcasts, Overcast, and a few others do still use “subscribe,” but it’ll be interesting to see if Apple’s move has a ripple effect.

When I was talking with some Podcast Launch Accelerator students this week, we had a really interesting discussion about this change. The word “follow” is definitely more in line with social media accounts, so you could say, “Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Apple Podcasts at Wit & Wire” all in one breath. But we’re torn on if that’s a good thing.

We also talked about ‘following’ feeling easier to do than ‘subscribing,’ or something that we’d be quicker to do for more shows. So maybe this term update could help us in the long run if listeners start getting used to following more of their favorite podcasts the way we easily follow tons of new people on Instagram. (Hat tip to Jae from In Omnia Pod.)

Will Apple start allowing podcasters to monetize natively in-app?

I could see Apple taking this one step further down the road, where the term ‘subscribe’ (or similar) might actually imply payment. In the last year, so many apps have followed Twitch’s lead to introduce micro-revenue streams to support creators in-app:

  • Instagram Live Badges: A new way to tip creators in-app with “hearts” starting as low as $1.99. (Rolled out to a small number of accounts currently.)
  • YouTube Channel Memberships: Viewers can support your channel through small monthly payments in exchange for additional perks. (Min. 1000 subscribers to use this feature)

I don’t think we’ll see this in-app ability from Apple anytime soon, but within a year or two? Only time will tell.

Will Apple start showing podcast follower counts?

Ugh, I hope not.

One of the things I love about podcasting is that you can’t see how many subscribers (ahem, followers) any show has.

I love this because it levels the playing field and gives new shows the chance to shine on the merit of their great content.

I hope Apple continues to keep the follower count private, but we’ll have to wait and see.

How quickly is this change going into effect?

This update is coming in iOS 14.5, which is scheduled for March 2021.

What do I need to do for my own podcast?

Once the change goes into effect, we’ll all need to adjust our language. I expect people to still say “subscribe” for years to come, but you’ll risk alienating new podcast listeners.

And in this case, I’m not just talking about people who are new to your show. I’m thinking about people who don’t listen to any podcasts today, and yours could be their first. By using the word ‘subscribe,’ you could confuse them about an action they aren’t able to take.

Here are a few places you might want to audit for your own podcast:

  • Your podcast CTAs: In your outro, you most likely ask people to subscribe to your podcast. Moving forward, you’ll want to ask them to ‘follow’ your podcast.
  • Your website: Is there anywhere you ask people to subscribe to your show? (I know I do.) I recommend going through the major pages of your website, like your about page or your main podcast landing page.
  • Your marketing language: In any upcoming social media posts or emails, you’ll want to make sure you start using the right ‘follow’ terms.

I don’t think you need to go back and edit old episodes. I think better to focus on what you do starting today and moving forward.

What do you think of this big change? Let me know over on Instagram @witandwire.

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