10 March 2021

The implicit and recent differences between the meanings of follow” and subscribe”

James Cridland, writing on Podnews:

Apple Podcasts will no longer use the word subscribe” in a few weeks. Listeners will be invited to follow” their favourite podcasts instead. The new wording will be in iOS 14.5, which should be released later this month (and is available in beta). We expect Apple to communicate further with creators, and listeners, when this version of iOS is released.

For me it will feel weird for a few months, but in many ways, this change makes sense, as the word follow” sounds easier, less intimidating, and surely less of an obstacle than the word subscribe,” which sounds like it requires more engagement and effort from the user. When you subscribe to a newsletter, a service, or a magazine, you may have to enter your email, sign up, log in, and sometimes even have to pay, whereas a podcast subscription is usually one click away, and usually free.

Spotify already uses the word follow” for podcasts, and if I wonder what impact this change of vocabulary will have on RSS readers — do you subscribe to a feed or do you follow a feed? — I have no doubt that the other podcast platforms and podcast players still using the word subscribe” will eventually adopt follow” too.

If follow” implies easy and free, and subscribe” implies more commitment and maybe the involvement of a payment, I wonder if subscriber-only podcasts like Dithering will keep using the word subscribe” (maybe this is another thing we will see on Apple Podcasts?), and if Twitter’s upcoming feature Super Follow — essentially a subscription service — will end up being called Twitter Subscribe” to avoid confusion.


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