Yesterday on The Joe Rogan Experience popular podcaster and occasional comedian Joe Rogan advised those who are “young” and “healthy” that they probably shouldn’t get the Covid vaccine. Rogan, who is not a scientist, but does do color commentary for the UFC, apparently doesn’t realize that vaccination isn’t just to protect an individual but to help protect the collective good. Yes, if you’re 21 and in good shape you’re at less risk to die from Covid than somebody who is older or heavier. You’re still just as likely to catch it, though, and transmit it to others, so if you care about people other than yourself it’s important for you to get vaccinated, too. Also even “young” and “healthy” people can suffer greatly from Covid, with symptoms often lingering for months after infection. Just because you’re college-aged and work out doesn’t mean you’re bullet proof from what this virus can do to you.
Rogan, of course, is a well-known contrarian. Sure, he was good on Newsradio 25 years ago, but today he’s mostly known for his hugely successful podcast and his willingness to share that massive platform with conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and far right figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes. Rogan might debate and disagree with some of his more controversial guests, but inviting them on grants them exposure they and their ideas don’t deserve, which is why some view Rogan’s show as an entry point into the alt-right. Rogan’s podcast has helped legitimize formerly fringe talking points that mainstream media in the past wouldn’t touch, so it’s not surprising he’d now spread bad information about the vaccine.
We’re not here to talk about Joe Rogan’s foolishness, though. Who and what he is are both well-established at this point, and he has no incentive to change, given how popular his show is and how much money it’s made him. This is a guy who still performed at an indoors, unmasked comedy show the week after being exposed to Covid. He’s not a responsible person, and it’s not a surprise that he would once again act irresponsibly on his podcast. Rogan is a problem, but the bigger problem here is the company that’s now financing him: the popular music streaming app Spotify. Why is Spotify paying this guy over $100 million to undermine one of the most urgent public health initiatives of our lifetimes?
Spotify is paying Rogan over nine figures for the exclusive rights to his podcast. This is the same Spotify that pays the bands whose music it’s built on mere thousandths of a cent for each stream. The most streamed song in Spotify history, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” has been streamed over 2.7 billion times since 2017, which has only netted the singer $6.6 million. A song that has a million streams—which would be considered platinum status if a single sold that many copies—might net a musician $5000. And here’s Rogan getting over $100 million for a podcast that helps spread conspiracy theories.
Yes, The Joe Rogan Experience is extremely popular. Yes, Rogan provides the app with more content than any musician possibly could, with new episodes coming out four times a week, and often running upwards of three hours each. And that’s before you consider the decade-plus archive of older episodes that migrated over to Spotify when the deal started. Of course, the vast majority of Spotify’s revenue comes from subscriptions, meaning how much time a subscriber actually listens to the service isn’t really a financial factor worth considering. So although Rogan provides Spotify with an absurdly large amount of content, it’s hard to see him being worth so much more to the app than the most popular and successful musicians of today—the artists whose work were crucial to building Spotify into the successful app that it is.
Locking down the exclusive rights to Rogan’s show was clearly an attempt to get his large listener base to subscribe to Spotify, if they didn’t already. It’s a two-way street, though; with his show now easily listenable on the most popular music streaming app, Rogan now has access to all the Spotify subscribers who didn’t already listen to him. Rogan downplaying the importance of the vaccine to his audience is bad, but now that audience features a large number of potential listeners who maybe wouldn’t bother to check him out if his show wasn’t on Spotify. Just as Rogan deserves blame for dangerous ideas like telling young people not to get vaccinated and for boosting the profile of people like Jones, McInnes and Yiannopoulos, so too does Spotify deserve blame for endorsing and promoting the show that airs those views and interviews.
The huge gap between what Spotify pays musicians and what it pays a controversy magnet like Rogan says a lot about the company’s values. Spotify might dominate the music streaming space, but it clearly doesn’t care much about the well-being of the artists who make that music. That’s been obvious for a while, though, even before Spotify CEO Daniel Ek basically told musicians to stop complaining and make more music if they were unhappy with what they were making from the app—to keep pumping out content like an assembly line so Spotify could make even more money off of them. In that light, Spotify’s love of Rogan makes perfect sense: he’s an always-surging pipeline of non-stop content, a human factory that’s constantly churning out more and more hours for Spotify to stream. What’s it to them if some of those hours might encourage people to not get the vaccine, or to introduce them to hateful beliefs that have no place in society? Spotify would rather give a known contrarian exorbitant sums to spread dangerous and misleading ideas during a time of crisis than to pay musicians and artists a fair split. It should be enough to make musicians and music fans rethink giving Spotify their work or money at all.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.