iTunes and sex podcasts: my long conversation with Apple

by Violet Blue on September 5, 2006

Today I woke up to an email from Apple, saying that they wanted to talk to me about keeping Open Source Sex — my podcast — in their iTunes directory. After a minute of phone tag, I had a half-hour conversation about sex podcasts, iTunes, their TOU and me. We made agreements to keep my podcast in their directory (and I got a lot of questions answered). In fact, I kind of grilled the director, in a friendly way. It’s all very intersting; read more after the jump.


* * * * * * *

In my post latex fetish, iTunes, nude contortion; another day in my inbox, I blogged a bit about the back-and-forth that Sex is Fun podcast has been having with their iTunes listings. As I mentioned, sex podcasts (and their removal from) iTunes is a topic that’s been making the rounds on the internet and in and out of my inbox. Also, many of you know that my podcast has been in the bull’s eye on this topic many times before.

At first, the conversation had my ire up; I was reacting to the mere suggestion of “make changes or we’ll pull you.” But I asked a lot of questions about why they want to do this now (I’m 44 episodes and have been in iTunes since the beginning of iTunes’ podcasting launch). And basically the director was telling me I needed to get all of the erotica (the much-loved “quickies”, where I read a single short erotic story) out of my feed to remain listed. But leave the sex ed, and the interviews, in. They want that. They told me I’d crossed a line with their TOU with my last podcast. And that really, I was only “getting away with it for a while”, when meanwhile other podcasts were not, at all, or ever.

But getting away with *what* is the interesting question here. I’ve been doing the exact same thing with my podcast from the start (exceptions: I added video slideshows last year and textcasting last week). But the content has remained the same; same intensity of erotica (same subjects and writers), same educational lectures, same irreverent fun interviews with sex ed people and porn stars. But according to my conversation today and their TOU, anything that looks or sounds erotic (I wrote this down during the conversation) is subject to removal a la their TOU policy.

I get that; iTunes is a business and a listing service, and it’s always fascinating for me to see how these big businesses straddle the lines of distribution in terms of democratic decision making (or not, as is usual with anything adult or explicit; with porn and erotica, democratic distribution does not and never need apply).

I don’t feel that iTunes is censoring me and I don’t feel like iTunes “owes me lunch” as a distributor of my content — if I was paying for iTunes to distribute for me, my feelings would be different. But “why now” is always a good question, and I don’t have an answer for that. They told me they’re trying to be more even-handed with their TOU policy and they are trying to be more consistent with their TOU enforcement.

The thing driven home repeatedly in the conversation was that they wanted to keep me in the directory. And everything was fine with what I’m doing except the erotica, which is mind-boggling to me, but even though I rejected the idea at first, I’m actually realizing that this could work really well for me as a sex educator and someone on a mission to spread sex-positivity and accurate sex information as far as I can.

I basically cut a deal. I’ll take the erotica out of my feed, and move it into another feed. My iTunes Open Source Sex will be nonfiction only, I will stay listed, and the URL of the erotica feed will be readily available (maybe I’ll embed it in the information field so it’s visible in the iTunes user interface). This removes iTunes’ responsibility in regards to my content breaking their TOU. It keeps me in iTunes — and to be honest, the heart of my mission is the accurate, nonjudgemental sex info so I’ll still be reaching ever-increasing numbers of new listeners. My choice is compromise, or lose the opportunity to educate iTunes users.

It’s a compromise I’m willing to make as a sex educator *and* as a podcaster, because for me, the two are like siamese twins. It’s a democratic dissemination of information in a society where you have to game the system (any system) to get even a shred of democracy to actually occur. It’s important to remember that I’m getting iTunes’ distribution for free, and — especially — that I have no advertisers nor do I make any money off my podcast. I *lose* money on my podcast (too often). Podcasting is a solo, total, complete labor of love for me. The only help I get with cost is that Libsyn hosts me for free because I link to them in every post (but I think even they want more now — that’s another post, though). If I was a different kind of podcaster — sponsored, trying to make money, ad revenue, corporate whoring — I’d be five kinds of freaked out about splitting off another feed or rearranging content. I’d be worried about losing listeners and subscribers; instead I am always amused when I have conversations with big mainstream podcasters and they talk about how hard they’re trying to get subscribers for ad revenue. I’m always super-glad I’m indy. I just don’t have to worry about it. If one listener cherry-picks an episode about bend-over-boyfreind and doesn’t feel bad about their fantasies for a minute, or a woman clicks once on a sexual health podcast and learns a better way to come that makes her feel normal, or one person doesn’t get injured from a harmful “novelty” sex toy, then I’m rich. And I’ll reinvest that feeling in my work.

That’s actually how I feel about all of this.

Technically, it’s going to be a bit of admin migrating some of my content. I’ll cook up interesting work arounds, I’m sure. I won’t lose listeners or subscribers — though my second feed will not be listed/hotlinked in the iTunes directory. Listeners who want both will just need to copy and paste the URL of the second feed into their iTunes program (or other podcatcher), and that’s it.

Another interesting thing to point out here that I learned in my conversation with iTunes today — and this is for podcasters — is that getting de-listed from iTunes does not mean that listeners can’t subscribe to, and receive, your podcast through iTunes. They can, and do. To make a hotlink so people can click on your feed and have it subscribed automatically through iTunes, take the URL of your feed — like

http://violetblue.libsyn.com/rss

and change it to

itpc://violetblue.libsyn.com/rss

Also, if you get delisted from iTunes you do *not* lose your subscribers. The iTunes store functions for podcasts as a convenient clickthrough to your actual, original podcast feed. In other words, if iTunes dumps you, they’ll all still be subscribed to you and getting your podcast in their *iTunes software* which is retreiving your podcast from your podcast host (like Libsyn). You just won’t be in the Apple-selected podcast database.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Email me. I have to go pack for Seattle now, and have some podcast reshuffling to do so I can get this off my plate by next week.

Violet Blue

The London Times named Violet Blue "One of the 40 bloggers who really count" and Self Magazine named TinyNibbles one of the “Best Sex Resources for Women.” Blue is an autodidact and pundit on sex and technology, hacking and security, porn for women, privacy and bleeding-edge tech culture. She is a journalist for ZDNet, CBS News, CNET; she's an educator, speaker, crisis counselor, volunteer NGO trainer, and the author and editor of over 40 award-winning books.

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