Audible’s unPodcast effort?

27 Comments

Audible, the company known for offering downloadable books is now getting into the tracking business. A report in Wall Street Journal says that the company will charge 3 cents a show to track information such as how many people download the podcast, and how long do they actually listen to the downloaded shows. It will also charge 5 cents a show to prevent people from emailing the podcasts, the company says in its press release. There is only one caveat – all podcasts will have to use the Audible .aa format.

What you really have is a company of questionable relevance – it is no Apple – trying to hijack a popular trend, and basically impose their own properitary standards on the podcast phenomenon. And as if trying to thumb the noses of podcasters, the company has come up with their own moniker. Wordcast. One of the reasons podcasts have gained in popularity is because they use more maleable and open standards aka MP3 and are easy to create, and easily portable, regardless of the device. If they were serious about their plans, the first step should have been putting .aa in open source and secondly making sure the technology they have developed works with mp3 formatted podcasts. I mean why should thousands of people change their habits to line the coffers of Audible?

Dave Winer correctly points out, “By design, podcasting took a poison pill at the very beginning of its life that made it impossible for the corporate types to subvert it without fundamentally changing what it is. That’s why I was sure that Audible wasn’t doing podcasting.”

Dave is not the one to mince words. Jeff Jarvis says, “I do agree with him and Doc that the virtue of the MP3 as the vehicle of choice for podcasts — like RSS — is that they are open and cannot be controlled….That’s my problem with the Audible system. It’s both closed and expensive.”

The bottomline is that we don’t need subversion from Audible when we have options like the one from Fruitcast. (Clarification: I meant, Fruitcast’s desire to work with the current widely adopted standard – the mp3!) Personally I think the only corporate involvement we need in podcasting is encouragement by large broadband providers such as Comcast, SBC and Verizon. They should be telling consumers podcasts are good for them – big sized downloads almost always create demand for more bandwidth.

Update: Here is a response from Mitch Ratcliffe, the blog consultant for Audible. He gallantly defends his clients. He goes after the dissenters with a verbal baseball bat. My arguments still stand – his piece not only not convinced me that this might be good for the larger media companies offering “downloadable” radio. Not for the grass roots that have made pod-casting what it is. Mitch does say that the fees include bandwidth and hosting costs etc. One point, I never claimed that I write about SME innovators. I write about innovation period.

27 Comments

John Handelaar

I hasten to add that “Mitch has told me…” means “Mitch has told me and anyone else listening through the medium of public posts and comments”, just in case I’d given the idea that we were talking directly.

John Handelaar

I’ll post this here since Mitch’s post a) has a comment form which will let me spend time filling it out but b) refuses to accept comments.

Two things arise.

One is that as things stand, and according to Audible.com itself, I can’t use Audible material on any device (which didn’t come with the stuff preloaded in firmware like, say, my old Jornada PDA) without downloading additional software.

If I were producing audio for an audience, I’d be hoping – nay, assuming – that they’d sorted this out before bothering me with ‘Wordcasts’. ‘Cos otherwise it fails my trusty acid test of ‘would I do this?’. No, I wouldn’t, any more than I’d download a new browser to look at some guy’s website.

Secondly, Mitch has told me – several times now – that the AudibleReady format “has been published since last year”. Yet his only link is to some crufty press release claiming its immediate availability.

As far as I’m concerned, it ain’t published until I can read it. Where is it? Audible.com has no link… not even on the site map.

I’m happy to be told where it is, just as I’d be quite happy enough to be assured that listeners would under no circumstances have to download some plugin or app to listen to my audio. Both may be true.

I’m still pissed off about his dumbass comment form though.

Wil

Hmm.. I think I will learn more towards Mitch’s argument (though it might sound like he’s trying to do damage control).. as he has vehemently defended most of the things that’s being thrown at him convincingly.. With the rest not providing substantive facts but providing firepower in the form of Feel..and personal bias.

Mitch Ratcliffe

So, Om, if I can convince Audible to get “more open,” it is a good thing?

The problem with a system of tracking, though, is that you have to have a collection point where data is audited. That’s primarily what the idea of service, like Wordcast, is intended to address—then there is the adjunct ability to place ads in programs dynamically, which is designed into this, too.

Mitch

Om Malik

bill, you bring up good points. i guess, if not mp3 then something which is more open. i agree – we need to develop a more open system of tracking and all.

Bill

Om, you say “the first step should have been putting .aa in open source and secondly making sure the technology they have developed works with mp3 formatted podcasts.”

How are they going to make their technology work with MP3 when than format can’t support state and callbacks?

Then you say “And as if trying to thumb the noses of podcasters, the company has come up with their own moniker. Wordcast.” Oddly enough, you recommend a pseudo-alternative, “Fruitcast”, without disparaging their choice of names.

I can understand the reluctance to support non-MP3 efforts, but it seems clear that MP3 can’t handle the operations Audible proposes. The alternatives are to develop an open-source format that will handle tracking (will take a long time) or simply say you don’t need what the Audible system provides. But there’s no need to make the company look evil.

Mitch Ratcliffe

Oh, I forgot about Fruitcast. So, if they aren’t where Audible is today, what barriers to reaching Audible’s position today remain and what is the likelihood Fruitcast can overcome them? I’ve gone into detail on my blog about how MP3 is limited by its initial design with regards tracking, especially in portable devices. Please, enlighten me as to how Fruitcast is comparable to the Audible offering.

Mitch Ratcliffe

“on the issue of taking me to task, and party line stuff – dream on dude. the party line here is pretty simple: a standard that has been adopted and used for everyone.”

Hmm. So, we’re frozen in time with a single standard that will never change? If Audible helps move the needle on measurement that won’t be a good thing. My point is that you are categorically denying the value of anything outside the MP3 space because it is a “standard,” like, say “Windows is a standard,” which, as I am sure a student of the history of technology as astute as yourself knows, is foolhardy?

“on the issue of who this thing helps the small publishers and not the big media, here is a suggestion: make the standard open, not properitary…”

The AudibleReady format was published last year, as I have repeatedly pointed out. That was a step in the right direction and with some positive reinforcement we may get Audible to do much more.

I’m still trying to figure out how you rationalize accusing me of deploying a verbal baseball bat when you began by calling Audible’s product a ‘subversion’ of podcasting. Could we just agree that we both recognize the writing with some wit or, shall we say, “edge?” attracts more readers?

Regarding Sam’s comments, I haven’t the foggiest idea what he means by my being a consistent naysayer about podcasting. Besides having podcasts of my own and helping build a platform to assist podcasters in making some money, if they choose, I built ON24 back when streaming was the tech of the moment to facilitate users’ mixing their own financial newscasts. Sam’s deeply misinformed about my sentiments.

As for DRM, if a file can be freely redistributed, as Audible provides in Wordcast, what are you talking about, Sam? You’re perfectly free to decide not to download copy-protected stuff, but what we’re doing is giving the producer a choice. As I pointed out on my blog, this actually will help publishers see that DRM is the wrong choice in many cases. At the same time the functionality of “DRM” could be used to provide secure audio sharing amongst friends and co-workers. One of the reasons corporations have shied from audio sharing is the lack of security under SarBox and just for competitive reasons; a system like Audible’s could facilitate listening to corporate material with equal ease as one subscribes to a podcast.

Sam Abuelsamid

Frankly I am inclined to disregard anything that Mitch Ratcliffe has to say about podcasting. I heard him on Web Talk Radio a few times in late 2004 and early 2005. He was consistenly a naysayer about the whole concept of independant podcasters and the idea that people might want to make podcasts jsut for the fun of it. He has always been of the philosophy that if you can’t make a living off or better yet get rich, then it has no value. Clearly he doesn’t get it and neither does Audible. Not long after this I unsubscribed to web talk radio and haven’t looked back. I currently listen to radio less than 15 minutes a week but I subscribe to about 70 podcasts of various genres. Guess what I don’t miss the radio. I do donate to some of the podcaststs that I particularly like, and I wouldn’t even think of paying audible for the privilege of listening to podcasts. More importantly I refuse to take podcasts or any other media with any form of DRM.

Om Malik

Mitch, first of all, i apologize for the name mis-spell. i made the correction.

on rest of your comment, you are basically jumping to conclusions. Apples-to-apples comparison is something you came-up with. I think Fruitcast is working with the existing parameters defined by the podcasting community, and I am pretty certain they will eventually get to where the are.

on the issue of taking me to task, and party line stuff – dream on dude. the party line here is pretty simple: a standard that has been adopted and used for everyone.

on the issue of who this thing helps the small publishers and not the big media, here is a suggestion: make the standard open, not properitary…

Mitch Ratcliffe

Om—My name is spelled with a “t.” In addition to being a “blog consultant,”whatever you think that is, I contributed to the design and development of the Wordcast service. Please be accurate, okay?

How, may I ask, is calling Audible’s service a “subversion,” as you did, not “going after [someone] with a verbal baseball bat”? A little less hyperbole injected into this discussion would help, especially since the nut of your argument is that I started the hyperbole.

Whether you write about small and medium size innovators or innovators, how is adding new functionality not innovating? Can you explain this or does simply calling Audible Wordcast a “subversion” of podcasting suffice?

You made an apples-to-apples comparison between Audible Wordcast and what Fruitcast does, which is flatly inaccurate. A hosted podcasting service with built-in auditing and ad insertion is different than a service that appends ads to podcasts, as I explained on my response to your posting and others.

Can you explain how the service is going to be bad for small podcasters as compared to just good for big media? What if it serves both, which it is designed to do and must be based on the imperative that Audible actually return something to its investors?

Cheers.

Vinu

“Facts don’t change people’s behavior.
Emotion changes people’s behavior.”

Just happened to read these lines from Seth’s Blog today before reading this article and I thought – man, this makes too much of sense!

My Personal take – podcasts took off because of quality! Everybody who was making one made it because it made sense and there was a genuine nature to share. But with ‘everyone’ diving in (which is good btw), those who are in it just for the money – are wondering if its worth the time and effort! And hence they need the FACTS and stats.

But guess what, you have to depend on EMOTIONS this time! just getting the facts is not going to make people keep coming to your blog or podcast. If you start talking junk, People are going to stop listening to you. You don’t need audible for that! Nor do u need Apple or Microsoft! listening is lot different from reading blogs and seeing pics on Flickr.

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