From the founders of Acast, Sesamy is setting out to ‘de-wall’ digital content

A new startup from the founders of Acast today announced a $3.4 million seed round of funding to “de-wall” digital content including ebooks, audiobooks, and news articles.

After recently severing ties with Acast, a popular podcasting platform they founded some eight years ago, Karl Rosander, Måns Ulvestam, and Markus Ahlstrand have turned their attentions to Sesamy, a company that wants to make waves in the digital content space via two core products.

Founded out of Sweden in 2021, Sesamy in its original guise was purely an online store where publishers of ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts could sell their wares as one-off purchases that can be consumed inside any app on any device. So if someone wants to read an ebook on a Pocketbook ereader, for example, rather than being locked into Amazon’s walled Kindle ecosystem, then that’s where Sesamy enters the fray. But it also allows people to easily export and read on Kindle or Kobo if they wish — it’s about giving the user flexibility.

Similarly, if a consumer want to buy an audiobook and listen to it through their favorite podcast app, then this is what Sesamy promises. Under the hood, Sesamy uses the same kind of DRM protection that other platforms use, ensuring that only the buyer is able to consume the content on a device or app linked to their Sesamy account.

Sesamy said that it already has partnerships in place with “every major publisher” in Sweden and Denmark.

Sesamy’s online store

Fast-forward to last month, and Sesamy unveiled the next step in its digital content roadmap: allowing news publishers to sell access to paywalled articles via one-off purchases.


In truth, this is a problem that numerous companies have attempted to solve: how to let people pay to read a paywalled article without committing to an entire subscription. There are long-established platforms such as Blendle, and newcomers such as Zette which offer pay-per-article integrations for digital publishers, but one of the core arguments against such services is that they effectively cannibalise a publisher’s potential subscription revenue. And so Sesamy has built what it calls a “SmartID” system that allows paywalled publishers to optimize single-purchase prices, and even prompt readers to sign up for a subscription to save money if it detects that they are already reading three or four articles a month from a publication.

The idea here is to closely align a publication’s subscription and pay-per-article offerings, aggregating large amounts of data to help the publication figure out the best price to charge based on the length of the article and what readers elsewhere have been paying, as well as other attributes such as whether an article is a major exclusive and how old it is — so the price can maybe be reduced after a few days or weeks.

“At Sesamy, our goal is a simple yet comprehensive one: to bring back open to the internet,” said Sesamy CEO Måns Ulvestam, who was also Acast’s CEO until 2017, in a statement. “This is why our paywall technology is transparent and flexible for both digital content creators and consumers alike; giving consumers the option to make single purchases of articles whilst ensuring subscription revenues are not cannibalised.”

For now, Sesamy has just a couple of SmartID partnerships in place with Swedish publications Breakit and Kvartal, who are now working to integrate Sesamy’s technology into their respective platforms. But with another $3.4 million in the bank, taking its total funding to $7.5 million since its inception, the company has aspirations to grow in international markets, with plans to extend to its paywall technology deeper into Europe, and eventually the U.S., though it hasn’t given any indication on its planned timescale.

Additionally, there could be scope to extend its current online store product to other markets, though it was non-committal on the specifics.

“We certainly remain keen to expand our B2C offering into suitable markets across Europe as and when the right opportunities present themselves,” a spokesperson said.

Sesamy’s seed investment was led by GP Bullhound, with participation from Co_Made, Tham Invest, Brofunds, Hållbar and the Sesamy founding team themselves.

From the founders of Acast, Sesamy is setting out to ‘de-wall’ digital content by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

When will India make up its mind about crypto?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, a podcast about the business of startups, where we unpack the numbers and nuance behind the headlines.

Alex and Grace are back to cover the biggest, and most interesting technology, startup, and markets news. Today was a fun day in that we didn’t start off with just bad news — what a change!

  • Stocks are up around the world, and cryptos have rallied in the last week. The positive price movement in crypto-land, however, doesn’t appear to be lighting a fire underneath the NFT market, for example.
  • Robots! Yes, our robotics-themed event — Free! And online! — is this week, which means that I have robots on the brain. That made the Syrius round all the more interesting. It appears that ecommerce will remain a key driver of robotic innovation for some time to come.
  • Podcast deals are still happening, kinda. Acast is buying Podchaser, which may or may not mean a lot to you. What does matter in this deal is that Spotify wasn’t involved. That’s a change!
  • Quick Hits: India may ban crypto, at least if its leading bankers get there way, Missfresh’s implosion got a small lifeline, and Modsy is no more — and the way that it is going out leaves quite a lot to be desired.

Equity drops every Monday at 7 a.m. PDT and Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

Acast acquires podcast database Podchaser

Acast, the Swedish tech company that helps businesses and individuals publish and monetize podcasts, has announced plans to acquire podcast database Podchaser. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded out of Stockholm in 2014, Acast is a prominent brand in the podcast technology space, serving as a host and distribution platform that allows outlets including The Guardian and The Economist to publish their podcasts to pretty much any app, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Acast also allows podcasters to dynamically insert advertisements into their shows.

The company has raised some $126 million in its eight year history, while it has at least two previous acquisitions to its name, including RadioPublic which it bought last year.

Podchaser, for its part, was founded out of Oklahoma in 2016, and closed a $4 million series A round of funding last year.  Podchaser is like an IMDb for podcasts, allowing users to search for everything and anything to do with podcasts, including reading and posting reviews and filtering by category.

Billion-dollar industry

Podcasting is set to become a $4 billion industry by 2024 in the U.S. alone, according to a recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, representing almost a threefold increase on the advertising revenue generated last year. These numbers are important when assessing why Acast is buying Podchaser.

While Podchaser will continue as a separate brand and business once the acquisition closes, Acast said that it plans a “deep integration” of Podchaser’s data, giving its customers “authoritative, structured metadata.” Indeed, while Podchaser is a consumer-focused platform in terms of how it aids discoverability, it’s also a utility for advertisers and marketers, as it allows them to find the most suitable podcasts to sell their wares to. Targeted advertising will play an important part of the fast-growing podcasting industry, and it’s why Acast is bringing Podchaser under its wing.

Acast is also quick to position itself as a champion of open podcasting, in contrast to some of the other giants of the podcasting world such as Spotify — a company that is continuing to invest heavily in the podcasting medium. While Spotify and its ilk are creating what many argue are walled podcasting gardens replete with exclusive shows and minimal data insights, Acast touts its platform-agnostic ethos — one that gives advertisers deep insights into activities across the podcasting spectrum.

“Together we will unlock the vast opportunity that we know exists for open podcasting to not just have parity with the data held by closed, paywalled platforms, but to leap forward and surpass them,” Acast CEO Ross Adams said in a press release.

Apple Podcasts gains storage clean-up tools, support for annual subscriptions, and a new distribution system

As the battle for podcaster talent and distribution heats up among providers, Apple this morning announced the launch of several new features for its Apple Podcasts service arriving alongside the latest software updates for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Key among these are features for managing podcast storage across devices, tools to enable annual podcast subscriptions, and the newly announced Apple Podcasts Delegated Delivery system — a feature that will soon allow creators to more easily distribute their podcasts directly to Apple Podcasts from third-party hosting providers.

Apple says this latter addition will save creators time and energy as they’ll be able to authorize their hosting provider to deliver both their free and premium podcast episodes to Apple Podcasts using the provider’s own dashboard. But it also gives Apple a means of competing with services like Spotify’s Anchor, which now provides tools for creation, hosting, and distribution across all major listening apps.

Starting this fall, a select number of hosting providers will support the Delegated Delivery system, including Acast, ART19, Blubrry, Buzzsprout, Libsyn, Omny Studio, and Apple says these providers represent around 80% of listening for premium content on Apple Podcasts, and more services will be added over time.

The feature will be available at no additional cost to all creators through Apple Podcasts Connect and creators won’t need a membership to the Apple Podcasts Program to publish their free shows — only to publish premium content.

Apple notes additional details about the new system, including educational resources for creators, will be introduced closer to the service’s launch. In the meantime, creators can visit the Hosting Providers page on to stay tuned for further updates.

While the new distribution technology is top among today’s announcements, another new tool will be welcomed by longtime Apple Podcasts’ users — particularly those impacted by the app’s more recent bugs.

Because Apple Podcasts is able to download shows to listeners’ devices, the app can end up consuming a lot of device storage. On iPhones in particular, this can lead to users running out of room for other essential activities — like taking photos or installing new apps and games. This issue was then further complicated by the buggy iOS 14.5 and macOS 11.3 releases, which caused unwanted, older episodes of shows to be downloaded, eating up even more storage.

Image Credits: Apple

With the launch of iOS 15.5, iPadOS 15.5, and macOS 12.4, Apple is launching new tools to solve the problem of more easily removing a show’s accumulated downloads, potentially freeing up gigs of storage on users’ devices’ as a result.

From the Settings app on iPhone and iPad, users will be able to navigate to Podcasts, then tap on “Automatically Downloaded” to choose how many episodes of shows are downloaded and saved to the device. The menu will allow listeners to choose to download a certain number of recent episodes, like the latest 3, 5 or 10; or users can choose to download all episodes published recently, like in the last 7, 14, or 30 days. Or they can select “All New Episodes” or none by choosing the “Off” option. The latter makes Apple Podcasts function as a streaming-only app, which works for most people who live in areas with reliable cellular connectivity or access to Wi-Fi.

By default, brand-new Apple Podcasts users will have the last 5 episodes kept for all episodic shows and all episodes kept for serial shows, the company says. Otherwise, the default will be to keep all new episodes if nothing else is configured.

What’s more is when a user selects their preference, the app will then prompt them to remove the automatically downloaded episodes on the device that now no longer meet the newly selected criteria. That means this feature actually works as a bulk clean-up tool for removing a large number of downloads from the device storage. Before, this was a tedious, manual process that could be tackled in different ways. Users could mark shows as played while having the “Remove Played Downloads” setting turned on, or they could manually remove the downloads for a show or individual episodes one by one.

These new preferences can also be customized at the show level, not just system-wide, for a more personalized experience.

This new functionality will also be integrated into the iPhone’s recommendations related to cleaning up device storage. From iPhone Storage (under Settings –> General), users will be prompted to keep only the last 5 episodes and delete older shows if podcast episodes take up more than 15% of their device storage.

The selected settings carry over to Mac, as well, which gives desktop users the ability to make decisions related to their Mac storage. That means this is the first time listeners can automatically delete old episodes across their devices.

Image Credits: Apple

Finally, Apple says it’s introducing the option for podcast creators to present annual subscription plans for their premium podcasts alongside their monthly options. These appear when a user taps “Subscribe” or “Try Free” on a show or channel with a subscription. Of note, the annual subscription will now be selected as the default. And, when the annual cost is lower than if the listener paid monthly, the annual plan’s savings will be displayed to the user.

Creators are able to set up their annual subscriptions at price points they choose as they do their monthly subscriptions in Apple Podcasts Connect.

The subscriptions and new storage features are rolling out with iOS 15.5, iPadOS 15.5, and macOS 12.4. Delegated Delivery will arrive on supported podcast hosting providers later this fall. 

Other updates to the app in iOS 15.4 include the ability to browse shows by season and filter episodes by status, which will make it easier to find the one users want to play.

The changes follow a Podcasts app update that introduced a new design but also a number of usability issues that drove users to third-party podcast apps, including to Apple Podcasts competitor Spotify, which has been heavily investing in the podcast ecosystem. Those departures could limit Apple’s ability to market podcast subscriptions to users, where Apple takes 15%-30% of subscription revenue, similar to the App Store.

Ahead of this update, Apple last month introduced three new Apple Podcasts Collections — Darkside, tbh, and Popped — which focus on true crime, culture, and entertainment and are available in the U.S. and Canada. It also recently added support for uploaded MP3 files for subscriber audio in addition to WAV and FLAC, tools for getting help with launching subscriptions with Jump-Start, and new analytics around listening and followers in Apple Podcasts Connect.


Acast expands its support for paid podcasts with Acast+

After partnering with Patreon last year to support patron-only podcasts, Acast has developed a full suite of subscription tools called Acast+.

The company has experimented with paywalled podcasts beyond Patreon in the past, but Acast+ appears to be its most comprehensive offering yet. Podcasters who run ads from Acast will be able to introduce a variety of other paid options, such as ad-free streams, exclusive episodes and early access to content.

Listeners will be able to access this content from the podcast players of their choice, including Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

In exchange, Acast will take a cut of subscription revenue — Vice President of Product Matt MacDonald described this as “part of the overall package of using Acast,” with podcasters benefiting from having the full monetization experience managed within Acast. That means they can upload and manage access to all their content from a single system (rather than having separate paid and free feeds) while also getting the “full revenue picture” of both their advertising income and subscription income.

MacDonald said it’s also crucial that Acast is supporting subscription access across podcast players, rather than creating a listening app or destination of its own.

“”That’s a really clear distinction,” he said. “We want to make sure the podcaster’s listeners are their listeners. We’re just giving them a financial tool to help them build a relationship with the listeners that are supporting their show.”

Acast co-founder Johan Billgren also noted that podcasters can customize the experience down to the names of the subscription tiers and even what subscribers are called. He also said that after the launch of Acast+, the company will continue working with Patreon.

“We want to give the most options to the creator,” Billgren said. “They are in charge of their relationship, and if Patreon is the best option for them, we want to give them that option.”


Image Credits: Acast

More broadly, he suggested that Acast+ reflects “a big shift” as podcasts go from from being “completely free and ad-funded” to a pursuing a broader range of business models.

“I think that the financial relationship is an expression of the overall relationship,” MacDonald added. (Listener relationship-building was also a theme in Acast’s acquisition of RadioPublic last month.) But certainly the financial side is important: “There are a number of times that I’ve heard podcasters say, ‘If I could make just a little bit more money, I could squeak out another episode.’ We’re giving them the financial pathways to do that.”

Acast+ is currently in beta testing and accepting signups from interested podcasters.

Acast acquires podcasting startup RadioPublic

Podcast advertising company Acast is announcing that it has acquired RadioPublic, the startup that spun out of public radio marketplace PRX in 2016.

At first, RadioPublic’s main product was a mobile app for podcast listening, and it still supports the app. But co-founder and Chief Product Officer Matt MacDonald said that over time, the team’s focus shifted to products for podcasters, specifically its Listener Relationship Management Platform, which includes an embeddable web player, custom websites called Podsites and more.

“We had a whole roadmap of things we wanted to build, but we recognized that at our scale, we could be better served by partnering up with bigger organizations,” MacDonald said.

And ultimately, they decided Acast made sense as not just a partner, but an owner. Acast’s business still revolves around podcast advertising, but it’s also expanded with new tools like the Acast Open hosting platform, and it says it now hosts 20,000 podcasts, collectively reaching 300 million monthly listeners.

“The acquisition of RadioPublic is fundamentally a partnership of values,” said Acast’s chief business and strategy officer Leandro Saucedo in a statement. “We both firmly believe in the open ecosystem of podcasting and have a shared commitment to aid listener discovery and support all creators. We’re impressed by what RadioPublic has achieved and we believe that now — as podcasting is gaining more momentum than ever before — is the ideal time to bring RadioPublic’s talented team and company missions into the Acast fold.”

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but Acast says it will not affect RadioPublic operationally.

MacDonald and his co-founder/CTO Chris Quamme Rhoden are both joining Acast (CEO Jake Shapiro departed last fall to lead creator partnerships for Apple Podcasts), and although they’ll be working to integrate RadioPublic features into the Acast platform, MacDonald said the startup will continue to support its own products and mobile apps for “the foreseeable future.”

He added that as RadioPublic works with Acast, the team will remain focused on “strengthening and deepening that relationship, that bond, that affinity between the podcaster and the listener.” In his view, that’s where RadioPublic’s opportunity lies, even as big platforms like Spotify invest in podcasting.

“How do we enable you, as the creator, to control the relationship you have with your audience?” MacDonald said. “We believe that a podcast’s listeners are the podcast’s listeners. They are not the platform’s customers.”

Patreon and Acast partner for patron-only podcast distribution

Patreon and Acast are teaming up to make it easier for podcasters to publish episodes that are only available to the patrons financially supporting them on Patreon.

Most paywall solutions for podcasts are pretty clunky or limited. That’s why Acast launched technology last year that allows publishers to release paywalled episodes that listeners can access on any podcast app.

Patreon, meanwhile, already supports the creation of a patron-only RSS feed, and Brian Keller, the company’s director of creator success said that “exclusive content is the biggest and most effective benefit that [podcasters] can offer to their members.”

Still, he said that many of the podcasters on Patreon are asking for a better solution, which is where the Acast partnership comes in.

Through the integration, a podcaster can link to their Patreon account in their public podcast show notes. If someone clicks on the link and they aren’t already a patron, they can sign up. If they are a patron, their membership level will be authenticated and they’ll be directed to a listening experience allows them to subscribe, via the podcast app of their choice, to a feed that combines whatever patron-only content they should have access to, plus all the free content included in the public feed.

Patreon + Acast

Image Credits: Acast

So from the patron/listener experience, you should only need to sign up once, then you’ll can get your premium episodes without any extra work. The podcaster, meanwhile, can manage their public and private feeds from a single dashboard, while also getting access to detailed listener data from Acast.

Leandro Saucedo, Acast’s chief strategy and business officer, noted that the companies aren’t forcing any Patreon creators to go down this route. They can still distribute their podcasts with whatever platform or tool they were using before.

“With this partnership in place, we hope that usage will be high as possible, but we’re not forcing anybody into it,” Saucedo said.

At the same time, he suggested that there should be a seamless migration process for any podcasters making the switch to Acast, without requiring any listeners to subscribe to a new feed.

Patreon and Acast have already been beta testing this integration with select podcasts, including  Sleep With Me and 90 Day Gays.

“I love the Acast integration!” said Sleep With Me’s Drew Ackerman in a statement. “The analytics let me know that patrons are listening to the content and give me clear insight into exactly what and how they’re consuming it. It’s secure and easy for patrons to get set up, and the fact that there is only one link to share makes it simple for listeners to find the content and brings new patrons to our membership!”

Acast partners with JioSaavn, one of India’s largest streaming audio services

Acast, a podcast monetization and distribution platform, announced a new partnership with JioSaavn, one of the largest streaming audio services in India. The agreement mean JioSaavn will distribute content from Acast and have access to its technology for podcasters.

JioSaavn, which claims 104 million monthly active users, is the second-largest streaming audio service in India after Gaana, and holds about 24% market share, according to an OTT Audience Measurement Insights report.

Podcasts from Acast’s network will be added to JioSaavn’s streaming app over the next two months. Based in Sweden, Acast focuses on developing ways to help podcasters monetize, including subscription paywalls and dynamic ads. Publishers on Acast’s network include the Guardian, BBC, the Financial Times and PBS NewsHour.

JioSaavn launched original programming in 2016, including JioSaavn podcasts, which it says now has more than 200 hours of original content.

In a press statement, Ishani Dasgupta, JioSaavn’s lead of podcast partnerships, said, “Podcasting is still largely nascent to consumers in the Indian market, with momentum growing quickly. The ability to grow and build new audiences, new shows and establish pathways for brands to access both is really just beginning for our 1.3 billion potential consumer market.”

Will podcast ad revenue bounce back after COVID-19?

There are early signs that media will be one of many industries to take a huge blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, with sharp declines in ad revenue and significant layoffs. Podcasting is unlikely to be an exception; Podtrac recently reported that downloads have fallen 10% since the beginning of March, while unique listeners fell by 20%.

A different picture emerged when I spoke to Ross Adams, CEO of podcast advertising company Acast, which works with both bedroom podcasters and large publishers like the BBC and PBS NewsHour.

Adams said listenership isn’t down — it’s just that audiences have changed when they’re listening and what they’re listening to, with Acast seeing its largest weekends ever in recent weeks. And plenty of people want to start new podcasts; signups for the Acast Open platform increased 49% month-over-month in March.

“What we’re seeing now is an opportunity for people to discover podcasting as a medium,” he said. “And once you discover it, you stick with it.”

Advertising may be a separate issue, with Adams admitting that the downturn is likely to affect “every business that has the majority of their revenue from ads.” But even then, he sees opportunity as marketing dollars move from traditional industries like radio and out-of-home advertising.

We also discussed Acast’s financials, the podcast discovery process and tips for new podcasters. Read a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, below.

TechCrunch: Let’s start with the good news. One of the prompts for this conversation is the fact that you guys announced some financial numbers — you doubled the revenue last year to $38 million. So first of all, congratulations.

Ross Adams: Thank you.

And secondly, there’s a lot of different factors at play and different conversations about podcasting breaking through in 2019. But when you look back, what do you see as the biggest factors that contributed to your growth?

Acast launches Acast Access to make paywalled podcasts available on any player

Podcast monetization company Acast is launching a new way for publishers to put their podcasts behind a paywall.

Until now, podcasts have not been well-suited to subscription paywalls, due to the fact that they’re distributed via RSS feeds that can be accessed by any podcast player. So instead we’ve seen workarounds like Substack building a web-based audio player and TechCrunch releasing all our podcasts free while putting transcripts behind the Extra Crunch paywall.

And then there’s Luminary, the subscription podcast app that’s faced serious backlash for including unaffiliated podcasts in a way that some podcasters suspect it was re-hosting their audio files. (The company says it wasn’t doing that.)

With Acast Access, on the other hand, publishers should be able to create versions of their podcasts that are only available to subscribers, but are still accessible from any app.

Chief Product Officer Johan Billgren said that Acast works with a publisher to create two different podcast feeds — the public feed, which is available to everyone for free, and the “accessed-RSS” feed, which should include all the public content but also extra episodes, episodes released early or episodes with additional bonus content inserted.

Acast Access infographic

Billgren demonstrated the listener process for me, showing how a subscriber could log onto a publisher’s site, visit the podcast page and then click a button that will allow them to subscribe to the paid version of the podcast, choosing the podcast app of their choice. Once you’ve subscribed, you should be able to download and play episodes anytime you want, without any additional login.

Behind the scenes, Billgren said Acast is checking anonymized user data against the publisher’s API to confirm that you really do have permission to access the feed. And apparently it can still cut you off after you cancel your subscription.

Initial Acast Access partners include the Financial Times and The Economist. While it makes sense to launch with larger publishers who can incorporate this into their existing subscription paywalls, Billgren said Acast will also be making this available to smaller partners in the comings months — they’ll be able to release podcasts behind Acast’s own subscription paywall. (The company has already been experimenting with paid content through its Acast+ app.)

“Basically, we want to reach the point where it’s a natural thing to say, ‘This is the public version [of a podcast], press the link to get access to the accessed version,'” he said.