Apple’s X-Rated Music Store

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In the Podcast Value Chain Report, Digital Podcast highlighted the strong demand for erotica based podcasts and the lack of supply of such podcasts. The report showed that demand was 14 times higher than supply based on comparing category visits to podcast listings.

Today that pattern still holds, but Apple’s Music Store seems to be helping to highlight the demand for sex based podcasts and to fill the supply gap.

Right now, sixteen percent of Apple’s top 100 podcast subscriptions are labeled explicit. And a number of those are straight from the category of sexuality. Clearly, Apple has put itself in the position of distributing erotica, if not audio porn.

This does not seem to be sustainable. Apple is a company that has built a family and kid friendly brand. Apple is a strong player in the education market and has always pushed hard to be a player in the home market. And the iPod is no different. My 11 year old has a shuffle and I have lots of friends whose kids have iPods and the like.

And given the iTunes connection to the iPod – lots of kids use iTunes.
This has become a problem for these parents. Does a parent really want their kids to see iTunes listings for open source sex, fetish radio, sex talk, and trannycast?

While helping to drive podcast growth is clearly good for Apple’s iPod sales, putting itself in the listing approval role has de facto put Apple into the role the FCC plays on traditional radio. Apple will face enormous pressure to make their directory G and PG rated. And given the number of podcasts that would need to be reviewed, Apple will not be able to scale its directory.

I believe Apple made a mistake getting into the directory business and at some point it will be forced to retreat or get out. I expect retreat will be the likely outcome – a retreat to “safe” content coming from “safe” sources (i.e., traditional media) and potentially podcasts that can be stamped with some sort of trusted rating.

My advice to Apple is simple – bite the bullet to make your directory kid safe and give the users the option to add other directories to iTunes.
Many of the podcatchers that came before iTunes allowed users to import any directory that used OPML. This may seem self serving because directories like Digital Podcast will benefit, but I think more is at stake than the future of independent directories.

Big media is already putting Apple into the hot seat about the listing of explicit podcasts. If Apple doesn’t fix the problem, someone else will, like the religious and family values community pushing hard for Internet oversight by the FCC or some other “solution.”

Podcasting is a real breakthrough in human communication and free speech. It is potentially a breakthrough tool for human rights. It would be a shame to see podcasting censored because Apple tried to control who gets listed in iTunes.

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