By Sara Jane Hess and David Grabowski

What's the matter, fellow human beings? In 2021 it will continue to a. . . Begin. It's happening right now. It is here. It's also a great time to check out some podcasts – a golden age of podcast holing, truly. To help you overcome the avalanche of audible offers, we've decided to publish some suggestions and an update on the competition between Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

You may be wondering who we are. We are the SPI Podcasts Team: Sara Jane Hess (Senior Producer) and David Grabowski (Producer). We manage all of Pat's shows and are working on some exciting things at SPI that we can't tell you about just yet (but we'll promise if we can!).

Let's start with four podcasts that we think you should try on for size.

Add these podcasts to your queue!

How to be a better person (TED)

Inspired by the TED Ideas blog of the same name, How to Be a Better Human is like doing a little half an hour of self-improvement every week. Each episode is not called "Just Another Self-Improvement Podcast" and features a conversation between host / comedian Chris Duffy and previous TED speakers or special guests that covers important topics such as emotional support, nurturing resilience, and challenging conventional wisdom. The show is only three episodes deep (it launched in January) but we highly recommend subscribing to it so you can catch the next episode drop.

Recommended episode: "How to Challenge Conventional Wisdom – and Change Every Industry (with Franklin Leonard)"

Check in (Condé Nast)

Let's face it: this is a really challenging time to be healthy. That's why podcasts like Condé Nast Check In are more important than ever. What's especially cool about the show is the types of health and wellness issues it covers – personal, specific, and sometimes seemingly bizarre. Presenter Carolyn Kylstra (editor-in-chief of SELF magazine) consults experts to answer real questions from ordinary people, from healthy drinking habits to the shame a caller feels about their CPAP machine. As stated in the description of the show, "no subject is prohibited" and that makes for a pretty compelling listening.

Recommended episode: "End the Doom Scroll"

Business Movers (Wonderful)

The Leviathan Wondery podcast network has carved out a niche for itself as an “audio first” company. Many of his shows are as impressive as a podcast can get – musical cues and sound effects add to the drama of each episode. Business Movers is no different. If you're looking for the most dramatic version of great stories like Walt Disney's opening of Disney World or the epic failure of New Coke, you've found your business. Listen to these episodes in stereo – they're sure to be gripping.

Featured episode: "Walt Disney: Building a Better Theme Park | Secrets and Spies "

Rabbit Hole (The New York Times)

We all know the internet is changing everything, but how deeply do most of us think about what that means? Kevin Roose (Times tech columnist) follows the breadcrumbs so we can investigate this question under the guise of entertainment, and Rabbit Hole is the result. The show has eight episodes and begins with a three-part section about Caleb, a young man who is drawn into the YouTube vortex. But there is hope too – a conversation with women trying to change YouTube, a one-on-one with famous YouTuber PewDiePie, and a timely exploration of the world of QAnon and the direction of the internet. Sometimes you listen to a podcast for conversation and sometimes you listen to it to get informed. The former is like a donut while the latter is like a salad. Eat your salad.

Recommended episode: "START HERE"

Start at the beginning and follow the episodes in the … rabbit hole.

Apple Podcasts versus Spotify – the competition is increasing

It's hard to believe that almost sixteen years ago Apple made podcasts easily accessible by integrating with iTunes 4.9. At the time, Steve Jobs said, "Podcasting is the next generation of radio, and users can now subscribe to over three thousand free podcasts and have each new episode automatically streamed over the Internet to their computer and iPod." Three thousand podcasts sound downright gorgeous at this point. The number of shows on Apple Podcasts was over 1.68 million in December 2020. If Jobs was touting podcasting as the next big thing, you'd think Apple would have invested heavily in the medium and become the lead champion of all things podcasts. But Apple had other priorities and its podcasting efforts stagnated.

Enter Spotify.

Spotify launched the first podcast on its platform in 2015, with a view to exclusive content. Since then, it has expanded its catalog of exclusive and well-known shows through strategic partnerships with brands and big names such as Barack and Michelle Obama, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and of course Joe Rogan. It seems like a new announcement comes out every other week that Spotify has closed a deal or drawn another celebrity into battle (like the exclusive partnership with Ava DuVernay in January) while Apple was mostly mom.

Most recently, Spotify quietly released a new range of audiobooks featuring a series of classic novels read by well-known celebrities. The titles include Frankenstein, narrated by David Dobrik; The Awakening, told by Hillary Swank; Story about the life of Frederick Douglass, told by Forrest Whitaker; as well as Jane Eyre, Conviction, Great Expectations, and more. Spotify also launched an accompanying podcast called "Sitting with the Classics," which breaks down the story and themes of one of the novels in each episode. We are sure that with many other non-copyright books there will be many more episodes.

In the meantime, it looks like Apple is finally taking steps in the podcasting space, with its own supposed podcasting subscription to compete with Spotify. Last week we took a look at Apple-exclusive content with the release of Time to Walk, an “audio walking experience” available only to Apple Watch for Fitness + subscribers. According to Apple, each weekly podcast episode “is shaped by the guest's personal, life-shaping moments, and includes lessons, meaningful memories, thoughts on purpose and gratitude, moments of ease, and other thought-provoking topics recorded while walking outdoors or while walking were in places that matter to them. “To date, Time to Walk has had five episodes with guests including country star Dolly Parton, NBA player Draymond Green, musician Shawn Mendes, Emmy award winner Uzo Aduba, and writer Ibram X. Kendi.

In the future, we expect Apple-exclusive podcasts that support Apple TV + offerings. This seems like a no-brainer, especially given that HBO has already paved the way. It should be exciting to see what else Apple has up its sleeve. We hope they move faster in the future.

Spotify received a patent in January that allows it to use recordings of Spotify users' speech and background noise to recommend personalized audio experiences to them. This will inevitably set red flags for privacy-sensitive consumers, but we'll have to wait and see what Spotify does with it.

However, expect podcasts on Spotify and Apple to keep growing, getting more creative, and bringing in better-known voices. There is much more ahead of us.

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