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Podcasting News: Apple Buys and Closes Podcast App Swell, and more

It’s been a busy week in podcasting news: Apple buys and closes Swell; The podcast patent troll says it offered to dismiss lawsuit against Adam Carolla; The new Misfit Radio network debuts in the wake of the Mule Radio downsizing.

Apple Buys and Closes Swell

On Monday Liz Gannes of Re/Code broke the news that Apple is acquiring the Swell podcast app for $30 million. This is seen as good news for podcasting on two counts. First, it’s an indicator that Apple intends to replace or greatly improve its own flawed iOS Podcasts app. Second, it’s a vote of confidence in podcasting as a medium.

Right now the Podcasts app is a free download from Apple, but not part of the base iOS that ships with iPhones, iPads and iPods. Reports on the beta of the newest version of iOS say that the app will be included in the OS. That would likely introduce thousands more listeners to podcasting by making them that much more accessible.

Swell is podcast listening and discovery app for iOS, often dubbed “the Pandora of radio.” NPR and American Public Media are both partners with Swell’s parent company Concept.io, and programming from both networks is highlighted in the app. Last year entrepreneur and investor Jason Calacanis made news when he announced an investment of $250,000 in the company.

Yesterday Swell became no longer available for download, and the website only offers a message saying,

Thank you for using Swell over the past year. We wanted to let you know that the Swell service is no longer available. We’ve been inspired by the opportunity to create quality products that positively impact users’ lives, and we are grateful to all our listeners. Thank you everyone for your support!

On the app itself, navigating to Top Charts results in a similar message saying that Swell is no longer available. Searches for any content come back with no results.

Of course, the problem with this strategy is the potential loss of current Swell users, who may migrate to other apps. However, Apple’s calculation may be that it’s a small price to pay in exchange for offering a much improved listening experience to all iOS listeners. The question is: can Apple integrate Swell quickly enough for the anticipated fall release of iOS 8?

Podcast Patent Troll Says It Offered To Drop Carolla Lawsuit

In a curious turn of events, Ars Technica reports that the podcast patent troll, Personal Audio, is saying that it has offered to drop its patent infringement lawsuit against Adam Carolla. The only problem is, according to a statement from the company [PDF], Carolla has rejected that offer.

Personal Audio says that it dismissed other similar suits against podcast companies Togi Net and How Stuff Works. It is still pursuing suits against NBC, CBS and ABC, but over their episodic video content.

In the statement, Brad Liddle, CEO of Personal Audio, LLC takes jabs at Carolla, saying,
“We are quite surprised that Carolla has turned down the offer that was accepted by his
peers. Perhaps this is because he feels he can simply get his fans to fund his future, and
now unnecessary, legal expenses. Or perhaps it relates to how he uses the case as material
for his show."

However, reality is not quite so clear-cut, since Personal Audio could choose to refile the lawsuit at a later date, or choose to pursue another podcaster at any time.

In its sharpest cut against Carolla, Personal Audio says that it is dismissing the suit because it discovered that he and other podcasters were not making enough to make it worthwhile “to litigate over the smaller amounts of money at issue.”

I am not surprised at this, since podcasting is a young industry. Of course, “smaller amounts of money” is relative–it shouldn’t suprise anyone that the major TV networks have significantly more resources than a 5 year-old podcast network. The sheer cost of mounting a patent infringement lawsuit would necessitate being able to collect tens of millions in royalties. While I don’t doubt that the targeted podcast companies are lucrative, they are essentially small businesses simply not on the scale of an NBC or CBS.

On the surface it might appear that podcasting has dodged bullet, since there seems to be a clear message that Personal Audio doesn’t intend to go after any more podcasters any time soon. However, the ball is still in that company’s court. Its strategy could change depending on how its suits against the TV networks turn out.

Carolla has not made any statements about the suit or his company’s decision to continue its defense. Based on his earlier statements, he is likely invested in seeing the podcasting patent weakened or invalidated, which would truly clear the way, rather than just leave the medium still under the looming threat of a future patent lawsuit.

At the same time the Electronic Frontier Foundation is still challenging Personal Audio’s patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office. That process is ongoing.

New Misfit Radio Network Debuts In the Wake of Mule Radio Downsizing

It’s the cycle of life: from death comes new life.

In June Mule Radio Syndicate honcho Mike Monteiro announced that his podcast network would be greatly downsizing. He revealed the plan in a post at Medium titled, “Everything dies. Sometimes they die well.”

One podcast left without a network was The Shakes. A co-host of that show, Jeremy Fuksa, announced a new network to fill the void, Misfit Radio, which launched on July 1.

He posted his own piece to Medium, explaining why he decided to start his own podcast network.

“We could have certainly continued to produce episodes of The Shakes independently and that would have been that,” he wrote. “The one thing that made me want to start a network and rally a group of shows together was the one thing I found at Mule Radio that would never be true as an independent: community.”

He said that he wants to bring together, “shows and voices that were a bit off the beaten path or unknown to many of podcasting’s more ardent fans.”

Fuksa makes a good point that easily gets left out when discussion focuses on issues like publicity and monetization. A good podcast network–like a good independent record label–can appeal to listeners based upon its taste in the shows that it welcomes into the fold. An important aspect of this, as Fuksa observes, is that the artists joined together in the network benefit by being in good company. It’s something that’s difficult to quantify, but is nevertheless real.


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