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Apple's paid podcast subscriptions to join redesigned podcast app

Apple's "newly designed" podcast app will allow listeners to pay their favorite podcasters to unlock new content, ad-free listening, early access or other perks.

A collage of podcast series' main images.

Apple's podcast app has millions of podcasts available. 

Apple; screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple will add paid podcast subscriptions within its dedicated podcast app, which it's also redesigned with new image-forward pages for every show and episode and with channels to help discover new titles, the company said Tuesday. The news came at Apple's event revealing new iPad tablets, iMac computers and more. 

The podcast subscription option "enables you to unlock new content as well as additional benefits like ad free listening, early access and much more -- so now you can help your favorite podcasters build their business and fuel their creativity," Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

Apple podcast subscriptions will launch in 170 regions and countries in May. The redesigned podcast app will be part of Apple's next update to its mobile operating system, iOS 14.5, which is set to roll out starting next week. 

For years, Apple dominated podcasts, even down to the name of the format -- it derived from Apple's iPod. But in recent years, Apple has largely neglected taking epochal leaps in its role in podcasting, even in the midst of a surge of interest in nonmusical audio in the last few years. Nearly a decade has passed since Apple divorced podcasts from its iTunes software into its standalone app, perhaps its last major change until now. 

In the meantime, a surge of interest in podcasts has propelled new competitors, especially streaming service Spotify, to swarm onto Apple's podcast turf. Spotify's pursuit of becoming a top destination for non-music audio like podcasts has helped boost it to more than 345 million listeners globally.

The move also takes on Patreon, a startup valued at $4 billion that helps creators of all stripes set up recurring subscriptions. Patreon is a popular platform for podcasters to set up paid rewards for their most loyal fans. 

Apple will take a 30% commission from a podcast subscription's price every billing cycle in the first year of that individual's membership; after the first year, the commission falls to 15%. That's the same fee structure Apple already has in place for apps selling any digital goods or services -- think game gems and streaming-service subscriptions -- with an in-app purchase on an iPhone or iPad. 

But the 30% commission compares with lower fees on Patreon, which range from 5% to 12% depending on the level of service, plus smaller fees for credit-card processing, transferring earnings to a bank or converting foreign currencies. 

Correction, April 23: An earlier version of this story misstated Patreon's valuation. It is $4 billion. 

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