General

Growing Player FM in 2017 and beyond: Gold Plan is coming

Player FM has continued to grow since its initial launch as a website in 2012. The app set out to do a lot of things differently from traditional podcatchers – a new kind of interface, an independent catalogue, sync between web and native. With over 2 million Android installs, a 4.5-star rating, and a ton of iterations, we’ve demonstrated these things were possible with just a couple of developers, but there’s still much more to do, and turn an app into a sustainable business.

In an ideal world, you’d slap on a price tag of few bucks and watch the cash roll in, but that’s not how apps work in 2017, nor how it worked when the app launched in 2013. Too many free options, they may not be the best available, but are “good enough” to bury newly launched paid apps into the netherworld of app store discovery. Furthermore, a one-time payment makes little sense for a product that relies on server resources 24-7 and aims to provide helpful human support, ongoing.

We will be introducing revenues with a recurring Gold plan subscription and limited advertising for free users.

Gold Plan

While we’re grateful to users have offered to donate to the app, it’s hard to build an app at scale purely from donations, especially one-time donations. For this reason, we are building a subscription-based Gold plan at $9.99/year [1]. It’s still a way for engaged users to support ongoing development, but will also work as a genuine premium experience.

We want to build a real premium experience with this, and we have a wide array of features in mind which would be too niche or costly to produce as part of the free version. Whether people will pay for this, we will find out, but one thing we do know is many people are happy to use the app daily in the absence of these features. That bodes well for the Gold plan, as it’s only viable to charge users who are happy, returning, users of the free app.

It’s still an important goal to keep producing a great free app. This is pertinent to the original goal of making podcasts easier and more accessible to a wide audience, and serves as the backbone for any in-app subscription model. The Gold plan will not be taking features away from the free app. It will be introducing new features. There are many genuine (i.e. “not contrived”) enhancements possible which aren’t present in the free version of the app, we hear about them every day. Some of these will become Gold features, some will become new free features, and the free version of the app will continue to be supported and improved upon.

“Cut to the chase, what are the Gold features?”

We’ll be sharing our plans for these in the beta community in coming months and building them out. Custom, cloud-sync’d, playlists will be first out the gate. This is a way to build a list of episodes in any order and optionally keep it offline. It may also be made public. Building and viewing these lists will be supported on both web and Android.

Also in the initial Gold plan will be local file management. This has been another often-requested feature, the ability to import media from the file system and manage and play it in the app. It’s convenient for people to keep their media within the one app, and will support the advanced audio controls – volume boost, silence skip, etc – for personal media.

The app’s most requested feature is full play position and play history sync, and this will also be delivered as part of the Gold plan later this year. Also in Gold plan will be the ability to import private/premium feeds. Both of these are examples of features which would be prohibitively expensive to operate for millions of free users – they entail significant storage and processing costs – but they are feasible for paid subscriptions. A lot more along those lines will be possible in the future.

Gold Plan will soft-launch as an early beta in a few weeks and we’ll be posting individual feature ideas and previews for feedback in the beta community.

Ads

We’ll also be experimenting with some advertising. Yes, ads can obviously be a terrible experience if not done carefully, and we’ll do what is possible to avoid annoyance or get in the way of the app’s main functions. The sad reality is that these kinds of ads don’t pay anywhere near as much, but we’d sooner delete the app from existence than make an app that spams users senselessly. Needless to say, we wouldn’t introduce ads without a way to turn them off, which Gold plan will make possible.

Player FM aims to make podcasting fun, intuitive, and personal. This next chapter should help us take more steps in that direction.

  1. The Gold plan was previously planned, but with limited subscriptions. We eventually decided that was too restricted, and put it on hold.

Player FM 3.5 for Android: Enhanced search, discovery, series settings, and more

Constantly updating and improving the app has always been our goal, in accordance with your feedback and ideas. Thanks to all who have left suggestions and special thanks to the beta community for ongoing discussions about how to keep bringing the awesome. We’re pleased to announce a major version bump from v3.1 to v3.5, and here’s a rundown of features.

See it in a glance with unified search results

1000+ topics, 100,000+ series, and over 5 million playable episodes are now searchable from the same, universal, result screen! Using the new series carousels and topics dial, get what you’re looking for right away. In addition, you’ll get a row of results matching your own subscriptions, so it’s a quick way to jump to your favorite show.

Save time with autocomplete and search history

An initial tap on the search field will now show you a dropdown list of recent searches and the results will update as you type.

Explore over 100,000 series with the new Discover and Catalogue design

There’s a podcast or 10 for every occasion, making discovery a key challenge for any podcast app. Player FM has from day one focused on the discovery problem, providing an independent, open-source catalogue covering hundreds of niche topics. The Discover tab has been redesigned to make browsing a pleasure, whether you to find shows to subscribe to or episodes to play right now. As with the new search screen, you’ll see a unified screen per topic – explore related topics, series, and episodes in the one place. It’s the simplest and cleanest navigation model since the app launched.

Play Later is now in the cloud

Just like your subscriptions and favorites, your Play Later list is now saved in the cloud and also available on the web app at player.fm, so no need to worry about syncing your favorite Play Later episodes even when switching devices. That episode you save on your web browser at work will be downloaded on your next phone sync, ready for your trip home!

Binge all day with flexible download order

So you’ve just heard about this hot new show and you simply have to hear all episodes before sunset! Player already lets you set a custom download limit for this series to make sure you get a bunch of recent items. But you probably want to start from the start if it’s a “serial” storyline, a multi-part documentary, or a lecture series. In that case, the usual “get latest N episodes” setting won’t work for you. With Player FM 3.5, you can now optimise any series for binging with flexible downloading order. Set your new obsession to download “oldest unplayed” and cancel your weekend plans.

Be the first to hear it with custom notification settings

Now that you’re all caught up on that bingeworthy show, you’ll be super-excited to know when the next episode comes out. You now have the control to be notified for any series when is a new episode lands. This saves you time asking “is it there yet” and brings the content to you fast. Set this from the individual series screen and you can manage all your notifications from Settings.

Play it fast – or slow – every time

Player FM already has advanced audio to let you listen exactly how you want, with speed control, silence skipping, and intelligent volume boost shipping since v3.0. With today’s upgrade, you can now customise these settings per series. If your favorite podcaster happens to need a new microphone, add the noise reduction filter every time. If you’re a language learner, you could slow down foreign shows to 0.5x.

New languages

Discovery doesn’t stop at niche topics. Player FM is always adding new langauges to its catalogue and with this release, the entire app has been localised to Korean, Portuguese and Chinese. They join English, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, German, and Japanese as languages which are fully supported by the apps and its catalogue and docs.

Below are some of the changes we’ve released since Player FM 3.0 in case you missed it…

  • Mini-player redesign.
  • Make your subscriptions public so others can see them on web and in the app and who knows? You’ll gain followers with the same interests as yours.
  • Sort your Play Later list by series and publish date.
  • Be aware of series with errors. A transparent fetch model indicates you when a series is failing to fetch or has been “closed” or “replaced”.
  • Check absolute dates in episode shownotes.
  • Be in control with your phone’s storage as the downloads screen now shows storage used and available play time.
  • Many new channels added and populated with interesting shows. You might want to check some of these out: https://player.fm/featured/filmmaking, https://player.fm/featured/comedian-interviews & https://player.fm/featured/the-blacklist

Be the first to receive future updates by becoming a Beta Tester and follow Player FM on Twitter and Facebook for further updates, tricks, and recommendations.

Player FM v3.1 revamps podcasting experience

We’ve been listening to a lot of user feedback here and here, so after major features were introduced in v3.0, we worked on a design update based on feature requests by fellow podcast junkies.

Night and AMOLED power-saving display themes

A lot of us listen to podcasts at night. Enable the ‘Night’ theme mode under Display settings to reduce glare so looking at the screen in a dark room is easier on the eyes. There’s also the AMOLED power-saving ‘Black’ theme that helps AMOLED device owners prolong their battery life – less pixels to paint means more shows to play. You can also switch display themes by tapping on your logo/avatar in the side menu.

New ‘Download-only’ switch in Side Menu

We know that when you’re out and on 3G/4G, that you wanted a way to view & listen to just saved episodes while still being online. Save data by switching to a ‘downloaded-only’ view from the side menu so only episodes you’ve downloaded will be played. (Before, you can also make this happen automatically via Playback Settings.) A new “Downloaded only” indicator will be present on the top of the screen when this setting is active to remind you.

Sort Series Order and Custom Left/Right Swipe Actions

We heard you! After some time, our podcast list does get unwieldy – now you can sort your subscriptions series in grid view with options such as newest-first and alphabetical order, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. We’ve also received a number of comments on the default swipe actions so we made it so you can choose whether to swipe left or right to mark the episode as played or add it to the Play Later list. Now, you get to choose!

Player Updates

Adding to a polished Material Design interface, a new round-arrow design for the player forward and back buttons has been introduced that features the actual time value – so you always know you can go back 30 seconds to repeat or go forward 60 seconds. Also, you can now tap the time on the mini-player to toggle between played time and remaining time. On the full-player, tap on the right hand time-display to switch between total time and remaining time.

A Global podcasting app

We’re launching the app in the Japanese language, joining English, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian with more to follow. To coincide with this, we’ve revamped our Catalogue to add 25 featured topics (including Better Call Saul, Star Wars, Serial & Election 2016) as well curated shows for 30 countries including popular daily podcasts for Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, China and Japan.

We’re Listening

We sought to build an app to bring you the best podcast listening and discovery experience – we reached important benchmarks lately, having just reached over 1 million installs and given ‘Top Developer’ status on Play Store. Thank you for all of your patience and support but we’re pretty sure you have ideas too. Player FM v3.1 has just begun rollout and users should receive these features by the next day. Be the first to receive future updates by becoming a Beta Tester and let us know what feature you’d like to be added in the next update.

Player FM 3.0 is here: Video with Catalogue, Enhanced Audio, Related Series, International curation

It’s been 1.5 years since 2.0 launched and it’s time for another big update! Before we run down the new features, thank you to all the users who have taken time to leave reviews and spread the word to their friends. And a special thanks to the awesome beta community for putting with our crazy polls, experiments, and the occasional hand-drawn scrawl.

Video

Call them vodcasts, videopodcasts, or “a bit like that tube site but somehow in a podcast app” … videos have always been part of podcasting. Sometimes presented as companions to an audio podcast, other times a pure-play video series or a TV show reformatted for the world of video podcasting. Player FM now downloads and plays video, and we’ve added a couple of other features to help with this. The catalogue now features a video filter so you can pick any topic and see the latest video series and episodes available. You also have a new setting to decide if the full-screen player opens after you hit the play button. We reckon you’ll want it to open when playing a video, so that’s the default, but it’s up to you now.

Enhanced Audio

Player FM already has a variable-speed control, with the unusual capacity to work while streaming (not just on a downloaded episode). With 3.0, we have enhanced the playback experience in two dimensions. Firstly, you now have enhanced audio settings to automagically boost volume, skip silence, and reduce noise. The great thing about podcasts is they are recorded by so many different people in so many different environments, and not always audio engineered to perfection. With these new capabilities, you’ll be able to play your favorite shows without compromising on audio quality. Second – formats! While MP3 is the staple of audio podcasts, there are other formats out there, and you’ll now find the custom player is more broadly compatible with them.

All this continues to work on both streamed and downloaded episodes.

The advanced player control has been updated to accommodate these features as below, and you’ll also find the speed control and sleep timer easier to operate now. (No more sliders!)

Related series

Player FM is all about solving the hardest question in podcasting: “What should I listen to?”. A great source of inspiration is to figure out which shows are like the ones you are already digging. And so, Player FM 3.0 introduces Related Series. Open the series detail screen, tap on “Related”, and see a list of similar shows. (Note not all series have related series yet; it depends on how much metadata is available.)

To support quick access to this feature, as well as series descriptions, the series screen has been updated. With a smaller header, you now have more room to explore its episodes from the get-go.

Localisation

Following the recent Spanish release, Player FM will now support users in German, Italian, and Russian. These are more than app translations, but fully-curated local catalogues. In addition, a new “Countries” feature is available to highlight a variety of podcasts from each country.

More languages and countries are coming – let us know if you’d like to help contribute or give us feedback on the translations.

Quick access from Discover

Discover is the place where you get fresh recommendations on your favorite topics. But it’s also a front door to the catalogue. The earlier catalogue button has now been updated to jump straight into popular, trending, videos, and countries sections.

Go get Player FM 3.0

We’ve been enjoying these features in beta for a while now and we can’t wait for you to enjoy them too. Player FM 3.0 has begun rollout now and should reach all users in the next day. If you can’t wait, opt into the beta and get it right now.

Player FM 2.8.2 gets more space to explore

What else to listen to?

We want you to find out more podcast shows that you will like.

That is why we rolled out v2.8.2 with more space to explore podcasts to listen to and follow. From the Discover window – just click ‘More in Catalogue’ and you can choose from Popular, Trending and Latest to discover new podcast shows. You can also access Catalogue by clicking on the three bars on the upper right.

So is it downloading?

We’ve also updated the Downloads screen to help you monitor progress and browse downloaded as well as queued episodes. So you never have to ask.

We’re currently working on a lot of updates to the service, based on your feedback and some things we’ve wanted to do with the app that we think would improve your listening experience.

Live life on the fast lane and be a beta tester.

Player FM 2.8.1 Gets a Download Button plus more

It’s time! Player FM now has the most awaited download button. While Play Later performs a similar function by keeping latest playlist items offline, the new download button is more familiar to users of traditional podcast apps.

The download button also adds several advantages over adding to Play Later, namely the ability to “just download now” even on 3G and battery, and the ability to keep episodes permanently on the device without worrying about auto-cleanup. Play Later is still recommended for most users to keep episodes offline, because of exactly those points – it helps you manage bandwidth and power by only downloading when your settings say so; and it cleans up to keep a fixed amount of stored episodes. But for full control, you now have a download button and a corresponding delete button for any downloaded episode.

Swiping

We’ve added a new feature which is swiping. Enable it in Display Settings to use Play Later and Mark as Played with ease. It’s still an early feature, so you’ll need to enable it in Display Settings for now. You can still use the overflow menu for all episode options too.

Additional Bug fixes

Be the first to receive future updates by becoming a Beta Tester.

All new web navigation bar

Player FM’s toolbar has been updated with a top-row navigation bar to use the web app more efficiently. The first categories are your starred topics (if logged in) followed by the main topics.

Also, on the right most part of the web’s toolbar you will find “ALL TOPICS”. Clicking it will launch an overlay to browse all topics, podcasts by country, what’s trending and popular and lastly networks.

We hope that this helps you navigate easily within the web app and make it easier for you to locate your favorite podcasts.

Player FM version 2.7 Hits Google Play Store

Player FM 2.7 is now in the store with some user-interface updates that should make listening to your favorite podcast shows more enjoyable. Thanks for your feedback and suggestions that helped us to build these features and polish them for release.

Widget Personalization: Resizable, Customisable, Material Homescreen Widget

You can now resize (limited to 4×1, 3×1, 2×1, 1×1) the Player FM widget on your android homescreen.

When you add the widget, there’s now a customisation dialog with the option to choose between light (the new material theme) or dark theme (the original, Holo-inspired, style), and between semi-transparent dark background or round corners with inset thumbnails. A lot of detail here, but we know how much widget installers like to customise their home-screens! Plus there’s a lot of themes out there demanding different kinds of widgets.

Episode Listings update

Episode listings have been redesigned with a cleaner look – a bigger font without losing the amount of content being shown. Play buttons now indicate downloaded state – solid red for downloaded episodes and open gray for those that will stream from the cloud. There’s also a new overflow menu, making it easy to mark as played, share, and so on.

Links to Series and Episodes

Series and episodes now come with detailed links dialogs, which can help you share and download exactly what you want, as well as getting more . You can also use the links to download raw episode files and even share it with friends.

Discover is More Personalised and Better Organised

You can now follow your favorite topics and check out new shows every day with a smarter, more personalised and better organised Discover feature.

Auto-Detection of Downloaded Episode Duration

The new auto-detect feature allows you to see the length of downloaded episodes, in cases where the publisher omitted it.

Performance Improvements and Bug Fixes

Plaver FM version 2.7 include bug fixes and performance improvements aimed at making the app snappier and even more intuitive. In particular, you’ll find the play/pause button more responsive as we were able to defer some activities that were blocking it, such as logging.

Check out the Google Play Store and update the app to experience these brand-new features!

Be the first to receive future updates by becoming a Beta Tester.

Player FM on Amazon Appstore

I’m pleased to announce Player FM is now available on Amazon’s Appstore for Android. We decided to list on Amazon as we’d received requests from users who don’t have Play on their devices and, well, asking people to install APKs gets tired quickly! This includes owners of Kindle Fire and BlackBerry 10.

Additionally, being on Amazon means another way for people to discover the app when they type in “podcasts” to see what’s out there.

The app is functionally equivalent to the current version on Play and users can still connect to their Google account via a webview login. Early tests indicate it’s working fine, but don’t hesitate to let us know should you encounter any issues. It’s presently listed in English-speaking markets and will expand once we roll out international catalogues (coming soon!).

Feed Fetching Improvements

I’ve made several improvements to feed fetching lately, making podcasts update faster, more reliably, and more accurately. Read on for the details.

First and foremost, feeds are once again based on push notifications, meaning they will typically enter Player FM’s database within seconds of content providers hitting the Publish button. Or in the worst case, a few minutes later, capped at 15 minutes. Player FM’s new user-interface – soon landing with v2.0 – now supports pull-to-refresh, so this goes well together as you will frequently find fresh fodder when episodes are coming in every few seconds.

Second, the “plan B” polling solution is now more efficient, so if the aforementioned push process breaks down, feeds will still be updated within about 2 hours.

Third, if the publisher edits an already-published post, Player FM’s index will update with the new details. This was a pain point for some time, and at various times users mailed me about a missing episode or a title discrepancy. It took a while to fix mainly because there was a risk it would break caching, causing excessive bandwidth and battery use for mobile users. But it’s now been done, and efficiently.

Finally, no more duplicate episodes. Occasionally there were race conditions which caused the same feed to be indexed twice. This in itself was very rare, but the problem was that if it did happen, the duplicate would never be cleared. Now it should not happen at all, but even if the universe conspires for it to happen, the duplicate will be gone upon the next fetch a few hours later.

How feed fetching got slower and then faster

As further technical info, the performance of feed fetching regressed a couple of weeks ago. After some investigation, I found a couple of causes:

  • Push notifications from Superfeedr had failed because I made the site full-TSL (aka SSL, ie https://player.fm/* and http://player.fm no longer works). This point warrants a separate post later on, but suffice to say, it broke push notifications. I did actually have Superfeedr set up to push to the (valid) https address, but due to what appears weirdly to be a core Ruby library bug, it was not used and the original — now defunct — http URL was used instead. The http URLs do redirect to https, but the client wasn’t following redirects (it would not be common to follow redirects from a POST request anyway).
  • The “plan B” had its own problems due to a library that wasn’t thread-safe. It was causing background jobs (ie feed fetching) to fail out. Having pinpointed that library, I made a patch to use an alternative library instead and this is working smoothly now.
  • Lack of information. As a meta point, I didn’t have enough visibility on what was happening. I’ve now built some RESTful services to expose statistics and furthermore, services to verify how many episodes are being generated. If — in any given hour — that number falls short of a threshold, I get notified.