"This American Life" Tries a Paid iPhone App

“This American Life,” the well-loved personal narrative public radio show, today released a paid iPhone application for on-demand access to its nearly 15-year-old archive. It’s a good fit; the show’s demographic ostensibly overlaps quite well with iPhone owners, and its podcast often tops the iTunes charts. The price of Ira Glass’ dulcet monotones in your pocket? $2.99.

Given its programming is largely paid for by those (everlasting) local fundraising drives, public radio is in a bit of a pickle when it comes to centralized web distribution. TAL, for its part, offers free downloads of its most recent episode for seven days, then charges 99 cents for library downloads via iTunes or offers free streams on its web site. In the past, host Ira Glass has reportedly indicated that the show delivers up to 500,000 episode downloads a week at a cost of more than $100,000.

How to address that online audience in a way that’s monetizable? Charge a fee. That’s a new strategy for the non-profit Public Radio Exchange technology arm, which built the TAL app in conjunction with Chicago Public Radio, and has seen success with its free Public Radio Player (formerly Tuner) app, which provides streaming access to public radio archives. It’s been been downloaded some 2.5 million times.

Clearly, the value of the TAL app is not just a few bucks but also relationships with loyal listeners. The app includes a complete searchable library of the show, behind-the-scenes content, alerts and live show streams.

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