Hey Audible! What about podcasters? Hey Apple! Where are you?

There is significant controversy over Audible’s announcement last week of their new AudibleWordcast and the fact that it’s one more file format scheme. There is a ton of mostly negative buzz from users and the cognoscenti. But it was Mitch Ratcliffe’s acting-in-his-consultant-to-Audible capacity in a blog post (BTW, read the comments if you read his post) that made me sit up and take notice. Responding to Mitch’s post were Dave Winer, and Doc Searls (also Doc here and here).

Unfortunately Mitch took the time to piss-in-their-Wheaties instead of engaging in an honest debate. He starts off his post talking about Bill Gates and it made me wonder if Mitch, like Bill, thinks Dave, Doc, Om and others are communists since we’re not all embracing Audible’s scheme?

As a podcaster with a nice critical mass of listeners, I’m currently more interested in just doing the show as a fun hobby. Would that change? Maybe if it became so popular that storage and bandwidth got out of hand and I had to make the podcast self-supporting. Would I take advertising? I’m not sure though it would be hard to walk away from significant monthly sums if my little show became popular.

I’m a firm believer in value-for-value. If I do work for you, you pay me. All humans work toward their incentives (food, shelter, love, recognition, work) and podcasters’ payoff for our effort is NOT always expressed by podcasting-value in exchange for monetary-value. Incentives for podcasting vary widely by individual (some for the love of podcasting, some for a crusade, others for community, others for money) so there needs to be some sort of payoff for people’s effort and energy devoted to podcasting.

All Audible addressed was money and is focused on what I perceive is their primary audience: content/copyright holders like publishers.

The Essence of the Audible Issue
They didn’t address podcasters needs in their announcement. The controversy being played out isn’t over value-to-value exchange, but rather is over .mp3 vs. the new Audible .aa format and the supposed robust service they’re offering to podcasters enabling them to make money from their podcasts. This is clearly all about being Audible being the conduit for advertisers to tap in to this new podcasting phenomena and has *nothing* to do with podcasters themselves. I don’t believe they’re offering enough value for podcasters to turn our heads toward Audible.

Is it a good thing for podcasting to have yet another file format and is it even necessary to facilitate measurement and auditing? Is Audible even in the best position to perform this middle-man type service? Or is what Audible has launched, like I believe, completely unnecessary as there are already ways to measure and track podcast listening?

The supposed benefits of .aa is measurement and tracking and the ability to monetize podcasts. But as I said in my post about Apple and what they know about YOU whenever you re-synch your iPod to iTunes, I believe that measuring and tracking is occurring and monetization can happen without resorting to yet another, completely unnecessary file format.

As a capitalist first and foremost, I realize that there needs to be aligned incentives in any market…but especially one exploding like podcasting while traditional radio dies and advertisers scramble to throw their money in to the places where people are focusing their attention.

  • Incentives for podcasters include the ability to freely and openly create and deliver podcasts. The mp3 format delivers a free and unfettered delivery to all listeners regardless of device and its easy to deliver as one file format does it all. Some (and I believe an increasing number) of podcasters would enjoy being paid for podcasting while many would absolutely refuse advertising in any form. But if the money comes, some (or many) podcasters will follow so monetary incentives are a good thing and yes, there needs to be measurement.

a) Storage and bandwidth are becoming less and less of an issue…which Audible used as additional justification for using their new service and which I think is bogus.

For $6.95 per month, my host (Blue Host) offers 10GB’s of storage and 250GB’s of bandwidth per month. At an average of 20MB’s per mp3 podcast (that’s a rough average estimate), that would allow 12,500 shows to be downloaded each month and few podcasters have that level of subscriber base (and there are free options like Ourmedia and cheap ones like Libsyn). So there’s little incentive to use Audible for that service.

b) What if I wanted Audible to donate my funds to a worthy cause? Or provide a value conduit of some other kind (like visibility or promotion) for the podcaster?

  • Incentives for advertisers (and Audible’s scheme) is to measure podcast attention and pay for the access to that attention…and they REALLY want to get in the podcasting game…but as I pointed out in my Apple post, this is already possible without Audible (though not yet offered).
  • Incentives for copyright holders (e.g., book publishers) is to find a way to tie a purchase to a listener and to measure the listening. Did they skip the ad or did they listen to it? Again, this is already in place and is something Apple has yet to implement.
  • Audible must be SCARED TO DEATH that free podcasts are killing their business and are DESPERATE to get in the podcasting game — but doing so with a new file format is a really bad idea since they’re offering little else to podcasters that isn’t either bogus (storage and bandwidth) or nebulous (For example, where is their matrix that shows the number of shows and how much I as a podcaster would make on each subscriber? If I have 300 subscribers does that mean I get $1 each? $3? $5? Or $.10?)

I now have 35 hours worth of incredibly compelling content on my iPod from major media outlets and indie podcasters, with shows that cover the gamut of science, technology and even health. While it’s cool to listen to books on my iPod (usually many hours for each), I find that I’d much rather consume bite-sized content in the time I have to pay attention to podcasts instead of stretching my listening out over many, many days. Podcasts fit that perfectly and audio books do not.

Where is Apple?
The last question I have is — if Apple does have the ability to measure and quantify downloads, listening *and* skipping as I said in this post — then where are they? Why have they not gone-to-market with a measurable/auditable service for content creators? I think I know the answer, which is that Apple absolutely needs to tread carefully where publishers, record companies, movie studios are concerned. If they go too boldly in to becoming the hub of distribution, playing and quantification, then *all* of these content-centric industries will immediately see the disruption Apple could create on all of these industries simultaneously…and they’d work to crush Apple.

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6 Comments

  1. Mitch Ratcliffe on November 14, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    Steve—This is excellent feedback and I’ll make sure it is heard. Couple things: One reason Apple can’t do what Audible can across such a large number of devices is that Apple competes with all those player manufacturers. Yes, there is no intent to displace MP3, just to create new business opportunities for people who decide to pursue revenue from podcasting.

    Finally, a clarification: I was not acting in my capacity as consultant to Audible when I was blogging about Wordcast, I was working as a consultant to Audible when they first started thinking about podcasting and hired me to help design and develop the product or service.



  2. Tim on November 14, 2005 at 2:53 pm

    Hey Steve. You can’t have it both ways; if you want “value-for-value”, you will have to put up with DRM whoever you choose to use to sell your content. Selling unlocked mp3’s will generate less revenue do to unrestricted sharing of the files themselves. The good news for us podcasters is Audible has legitimized the marketplace for independent podcasters to sell their wares. Others like Yahoo!, Google and perhaps even Apple will follow with their own schemes, but I will bet you every one of them uses some form of DRM. If you don’t like this, then just ask for donations and, from the comments made by public radio people I spoke with at the Podcast Expo this weekend, count on 10% or so to actually contribute.



  3. Steve Borsch on November 14, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    Mitch — You’re absolutely right about the cross-device issue…but with 87%-ish market share it might be a somewhat moot point for now (until more share is gained by others).

    On the “acting in a consultant capacity” is a strike-through and I shouldn’t have put that in there without the facts. Sorry.



  4. Steve Borsch on November 14, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    Tim — My entire post didn’t talk about DRM, it was about yet another file format which is why I said, “The controversy being played out isn’t over value-to-value exchange, but rather is over .mp3 vs. the new Audible .aa format and the supposed robust service they’re offering to podcasters enabling them to make money from their podcasts.”

    The reason my bride hasn’t made her multiple-hundreds-of-dollar-ebooks (PDF’s) available for download isn’t that she can’t add DRM, it’s that the support costs for those users that, say, burn it on a CD and take it home to view (i.e., fair use) end up being locked out of it. DRM works just fine and is necessary to lock content, but it’s the real-world use that’s the problem.

    Here’s a great example…

    There are two incredibly successful, young, tech savvy smart guys at my workplace who both own iPods. They wrestle with multiple machine authorizations, how to move their music from machine-to-machine and iPod-to-iPod (all perfectly legal, legitimate and authorized by Apple), but they constantly ping me for help.

    “How do I do ____?” comes up again-and-again. They go online to Apple’s site to read up on how to do this stuff and then forget how to later on and have to go study up again on it. These are not Joe Sixpack-non-techie guys. They’re incredibly savvy.

    Most of my bride’s customers are not. Her support for DRM-enabled files would be huge (she password-protects the PDF’s so that content cannot be extracted and images harvested for other use…which spawns dozens of calls after the release of each new ebook). The reason she publishes on CD-ROM? Because her staff makes the PDF’s absolutely HUGE so that it is an obstacle to distributing them (would have to be placed on an FTP site or YouSendIt.com, burned on a CD-R, etc.). Her customer base isn’t likely to do any of the above. If the PDF’s were DRM’ed and made available for immediate purchase and download, there would be the aforementioned issues requiring support.

    So when she and I talk about her podcasting and how to monetize it she realizes that — under the current method of podcasting distribution — there isn’t a way to protect and monetize a podcast. You sell it once and it’s up and on the internet freely distributed.

    Do I have the perfect answer? Nope. Just that podcasters will have issues with yet another format. It’s not an issue for guys like you that can spit out both AAC and mp3 formatted files, but now you have to keep track of both (and imagine how splintered this is going to be if there are four or more places to download podcasts! Audible has a DRM/file format and reporting; Apple has theirs; Yahoo theirs; Google theirs. Yikes). Imagine doing three, four, or five formats (add Audible, Yahoo and Google if they all do some sort of podcasting adventure) and you can see the issues.

    Again, my post was about the format to enable Audible’s service, not DRM.



  5. Tim on November 15, 2005 at 7:26 am

    Sorry, Steve; you are correct. I’m afraid I read your post with all the objections from podcasters at the Expo fresh in my mind. The consensus there seemed to be anti-DRM, but I can’t think of another way to enable both monetization and better tracking of podcast listening the way the Audible format does. That said, I will most likely not use their service because of the uneconomic publishing model. What I like about what Audible is doing is getting something out in the marketplace, which will catalyze others to offer similar solutions. The more options we have, the better. My money is on Apple to deliver something that makes sense for us in this space longer term.



  6. Art on January 12, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    You state specifically that “there are already ways to measure and track podcast listening”.

    Are you referring to ways of monitoring downloads, or actually measuring usage of the files that have been downloaded, such as arbitron will be attempting to accomplish with their Personal People Meter devices?

    If actual listening habits are possible to be tracked (such as to what point each person listens to within the file, or simply whether they actually listen to it, not just download), I’d like to hear about it.

    I’m new to the whole podcasting scene and am working on a project about it for an internship.

    Thanks! 🙂



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