Audible’s unPodcast effort?

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.

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