If you've ever listened to a podcast, you've probably heard a host ask you to leave a review on Apple Podcasts in their end credits. Now, that script might flip to "leave a review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify."
Spotify announced today that it's implementing a five-star rating system, similar to Apple's, in an attempt to improve podcast discovery. The company said this feature will roll out in the coming days in nearly all markets where podcasts are on Spotify.
Spotify told TechCrunch that unlike Apple, this feature will only support star ratings at this time -- you cannot yet write a written review of a show.
Spotify wrote in a blog post that its intention is to "give listeners an opportunity to support their favorite podcast shows and enable a two-way feedback loop between creator and listener." But, after seeking out five-star Apple reviews since the advent of the podcasting medium, podcasters are wary about how much star ratings actually help them promote their shows.
It's a well-documented myth in podcasting that getting lots of ratings and reviews in your first few weeks after launch can improve your chances of getting listed on Apple Podcasts' coveted "New and Noteworthy" chart, which could jump-start your show's growth. Besides, professional podcasters have pointed out that Apple itself says that ratings and reviews don't influence charting.
Far too many podcasters (and an embarrassing number of podcast consultants) still think ratings and reviews on Apple Podcasts influence rankings. They don't. They never have. And if you don't believe me, perhaps you'll believe... Apple?https://t.co/ZpmwYWbNeZ pic.twitter.com/TskiHpOFIR
— Evo Terra is boosted! 💉🧉🌵 (@evoterra) October 27, 2021
A representative from Spotify told TechCrunch, "Ratings are a great way for prospective listeners to quickly gauge a show’s quality, but at this point (as we're in early days for this feature), a show's rating is not factored into podcast charts or personalized recommendations."
So, this is a tool to show what fans think of a podcast, but as of now, not something that can help shows get on Spotify's charts or curated lists.
Anchor, the podcast creation platform that Spotify bought in 2019, offered suggestions in a blog post about how podcasters can encourage listeners to leave a rating. “Do you like this show? Let us know by leaving us a rating on our Spotify show page," one example says.
"As a creator, I can see this feels like a marketing move," said Eric Silver, head of Creative at Multitude Productions, an independent podcasting collective. "I don't tell people to rate and review on Apple Podcasts at all because I know it doesn't do anything other than make me feel good."
It's a similar marketing tactic to Spotify Wrapped, which trended across social media earlier this month -- it's fun to share your music and podcast listening habits with your friends, but at the same time, it's a big PR success for Spotify.
Even though Spotify's new rating system won't impact distribution, Silver says that he will probably encourage listeners to rate Multitude shows on Spotify, at least for a few weeks. Spotify recently surpassed Apple Podcasts in U.S. podcast listenership -- so if a large portion of potential audience members are going to see that rating right when they navigate to your show's page, it makes sense to ask fans to rate your show.
YouTube, TikTok and other creative platforms show potential audience members, right off the bat, how many followers you have. But you don't know how many downloads and subscribers a podcast has unless the podcaster tells you. Even though ratings and reviews are an indication of popularity, this differentiates the podcasting industry from other more algorithmically driven media, like video.
"Theoretically, the algorithm is supposed to help you. But isn't this the tech conversation of our age?" said Silver. "It's so complicated. It's not just like, 'Well, I wish there was an algorithm so there's more discovery,' but then the opposite is when you have an issue like YouTube and TikTok."
Creators on platforms like YouTube and TikTok are incentivized to make content that they think the algorithm likes, perhaps more so than what they think their audience will like. But even in media, that's less algorithm-dependent; like podcasting and even Twitch streaming, there are still inherent biases. Earlier this year, when Twitch payout data was leaked, it was revealed that the highest-paid woman streamer, Pokimane, is only the 39th highest paid on Twitch. Podcasting isn't known for its diversity either.
Even though Spotify isn't using podcast ratings for algorithmic recommendations yet, it could be part of a larger plan to make it easier to find podcasts. Spotify acquired Podz earlier this year to try to promote podcast discoverability.
In the short term, this is a clever move from Spotify to get podcasters to tell their audiences to go on Spotify, since they will need to make their show look good through ratings. This isn't inherently a bad thing, but as Spotify and Apple compete for the greater share of the podcasting ecosystem, creators can feel like their livelihoods are caught in the middle of a larger tech race.