Luminary ‘retooling’ after podcasters request removal from service

Last month, a New York Times piece heralded the arrival of Luminary. The story focused on the startup’s healthy funding (almost $100 million) and its “subscription-based business model that it hopes will push the medium into a new phase of growth.” You’d be hard-pressed to find better circumstances under which to launch your startup.

A month and a half later, Luminary is live, and most of that good will seems to have evaporated. A number of prominent podcast hosts have requested that their shows be pulled from the “Netflix of podcasts.”

The $8 a month premium service has added shows to its walled-off network without the permission of creators. There are several TechCrunch shows up there, including Original Content, Mixtape, Equity and several now defunct titles. My personal podcast somehow made it on there, as well.

In some ways, it’s not entirely dissimilar from the way services like iTunes provide podcasts, but many have complained about a key issue with how shows are served up. The service clarified on Twitter today that it’s not re-hosting files as initially suspected. “Luminary is not caching any audio content for any open feed podcast,” it writes. “The Luminary audio link is simply a reference link that is marking audio metadata as the file is called through our proxy.”

The company says it’s using this method to save download/streaming time, but routing traffic through their own proxy servers is a good way to deprive creators of important metrics they use to attract sponsors. Others have complained that the service clips out links to fundraising campaigns in the body of the show notes.

Popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience is among the growing number of shows that have been pulled from the service. “There was not a license agreement or permission for Luminary to have The Joe Rogan Experience on their platform,” a rep for the show told Nieman Lab.

After being pulled, the show’s artwork was replaced with a bold white on black lettering reading “This content is unavailable at this time. Learn why.” That explanation can be found in the show description, which reads,

The Joe Rogan Experience is not available on the Luminary service at this time. At Luminary, we’re investing in technology to improve podcast listening for fans like you so we built a free app that welcomes hundreds of thousands of public RSS feed podcasts. This publisher has chosen not to take advantage of this free distribution. Head to our homepage for other great podcasts we recommend. Thank you for choosing to listen with us.

That’s a bad look from Luminary. A simple “The Joe Rogan Experience is not available on the Luminary service at this time” would have sufficed here. Instead the service chose to grind its axe on the page of a show that never asked to be there in the first place. As a new startup in the space, Luminary would be well suited to listen to podcasters, as it hopes to draw in more talent for original content.

A statement that has since been offered to TechCrunch strikes a more consolatory tone:

Luminary appreciates the feedback we’ve received today about how our technology works. We’ve heard you and want to explain what we have done in response. To be absolutely clear: Luminary has never hosted or cached audio content for any open RSS feed podcast. We used a pass-through approach purely because we believed it would improve performance and speed for our users when listening to public feed audio files, particularly from smaller hosts.

We now see that this approach caused some confusion. We have spoken with multiple hosting providers who suggested changes we could make to clarify that public feed audio is not being hosted or cached by Luminary, and ensure that hosts receive the data to which they are accustomed. We have already implemented those changes for iOS, Android, and our web player.

No specifics have been given for the changes, but there are likely to be some more growing pains as the company navigates its service around the medium’s highest-profile creators.