Why Podcasts Don’t Use VBR MP3s

Marco Arment, creator of the podcasting app I use on my iPhone, Overcast, explains why podcasts don’t use VBR MP3s, even though they’re more space-efficient and sound better:

AVFoundation, the low-level audio/video framework in iOS and macOS, does not accurately seek within VBR MP3s, making VBR impractical to use for long files such as podcasts. Jumping to a timestamp in an hour-long VBR podcast can result in an error of over a minute, without the listener even knowing because the displayed timecode shows the expected time.

I’ve been using time-jumping links on YouTube videos for years. It’s really handy.

Like this clip of George Carlin naming the seven words you can’t say on television (circa the mid ’70s). Here is a link starting from the beginning, and here is a link jumping right to him saying the words.

It’s too bad podcasts don’t support this. I splice in sound effects and little easter eggs throughout my podcasts all the time. It would be great to have direct links to them instead of having to remember the timestamps.

If you hand over the keys, you hand over the money, control, and responsibility.

Over the weekend The New York Times published a piece, Podcasts Surge, but Producers Fear Apple Isn’t Listening.

Marco Arment, a prominent iOS developer and podcaster, responded:

And if that ill-informed New York Times article is correct in broad strokes, which is a big “if” given how much it got wrong about Apple’s role in podcasting, big podcasters want Apple to add more behavioral data and creepy tracking to the Apple Podcasts app, then share the data with them. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

By the way, while I often get pitched on garbage podcast-listening-behavioral-data integrations, I’m never adding such tracking to Overcast. Never. The biggest reason I made a free, mass-market podcast app was so I could take stands like this.

Big podcasters also apparently want Apple to insert itself as a financial intermediary to allow payment for podcasts within Apple’s app. We’ve seen how that goes. Trust me, podcasters, you don’t want that.

It would not only add rules, restrictions, delays, and big commissions, but it would increase Apple’s dominant role in podcasts, push out diversity, give Apple far more control than before, and potentially destroy one of the web’s last open media ecosystems.

I agree with Arment. Be careful what you wish for.

You don’t hear these complaints from less popular, underdog podcasters, like me. I’ve been producing my (sometimes) Weekly Exhaust podcast for over a year with my co-host Bryan, and it’s hard work, but that’s how it goes. Anything worth doing takes hard work. It takes me having to figure out how to market and advertise my podcast to get exposure.

If I hand that responsibility over to Apple I also hand over money that could go in my pocket. I also hand over my relationship with my listeners. I don’t want to do that.