How Apple will change everything about Podcasting, #3 — How, a long tail of podcasts on iTunes will make us stop thinking of “podcasts” as just Wayne’s World programming or radio-like genres


Wow. Look. You can already purchase this really swell 19 minute book-promotional “podcast” interview with Jack Welch for only 95¢ at your friendly iTunes Store.

If you look hard enough, there’s already plenty of “podcasting-like”
content on Apple iTunes. It’s content from Audible.com that is, in
turn, distributed via the iTunes platform. (Metaphorically speaking,
Audible.com apparently is
serving as a digital Ingram Book Co. for Apple, in this regard.)

For example, below you can find links to several professionally
produced podcastable products. The only problem is a pricing strategy
that guarantees failure. Terry Gross & Ira Glass at $4 per show may
work in the one-off book world, but would I subscribe to a year’s worth
of programs at that price. No way. Really, as I explained the other
day, Howard Stern is going to cost his listeners 58¢ a day, and they’ll have Sirius programming out the ying-yang thrown in as a bonus.

I feel reasonably confident predicting that its producers would
generate more revenue by charging 10¢ per Fresh Air download than by
charging $4 per download. But, then again, I’m no economist. I just
play one on the Internet.

How
Apple will change everything about Podcasting, #3 — A long tail of
podcasts on iTunes will make us stop thinking of “podcasts” as just
Wayne’s World programming or radio-like genres:

(Note #1: This is #3 in a series of posts I’ll be making during the
next few days regarding the impact — positive and negative — of
iTunes embracing — the iTunification — of podcasting. Here is a link to a page displaying all of the posts. Also, here is an RSS feed of posts in this series.)

(Note
#2: If they gave Oscars for buzzwords, Chris Anderson would easily
receive an Academy Award for biz-speak term of the year for “longtail”.
It’s a concept capturing the economic principles at work when a product
so obscure only the creator’s Mom would buy it, finds itself sold on
Amazon or eBay or iTunes. If you read about “longtail” on Chris’s weblog,
then I won’t have to explain it, thus allowing me to jump right into
what can happen when podcasting “content” is stocked on potentially
endless  shelves at the Apple’s iTunes warehouse.)

(Note
#3: For those who are e-mailing me who can’t figure out if I think
Apple is good or bad for podcasting, or good or bad for those who are
woking on startup or open source podcasting ventures and projects, be
patient. I’ll get to that, I promise. But the answers are “yes,” that’s
what I think.)

Except for e-mail and Google News, my
wife is not a big computer user. And while she puts up with listening
to me talk about blogging and podcasting, I think her agreeing nods are
more politeness than understanding. However, on Saturday, after reading
this story in the NY Times about students creating their own art museum tour guide “remixes” and posting the MP3s for download on this website, she had her podcasting epiphany moment: “What’s this mean for Acoustiguide?” she asked.

Most chatter (by me and hundreds others) during the early days of
podcasting has centered on the concept being “like radio” — but sort
of amateur Wayne’s World (as Steve Jobs called it) radio. I am the
first to celebrate the diversity of format, purpose and production
value of the RSS-enabled distribution of do-it-yourself audio files
(hey, I’m a regular listener of Dave Winer‘s
podcasts that merely are him talking (and ocassionally singing) while
having a cup of coffee in the morning). But trying to define podcasting
by format or genre or production value is like trying to describe what
a blank sheet of paper is supposed to look like before “content” is
added. That blank piece of paper could end up on a refrigerator or on
the wall of an art gallery. (I’ve been harping on this point for a while.)

I
believe if you want to understand the economic implications of
podcasting (audio files distributed via RSS enclosures) meeting up with
the dominate platform facilitating micropayments for audio files
(iTunes), you must set aside your notions that podcasting is about a
given format or genre.

Let me repeat one thing and make it perfectly clear before I continue:
I believe the chances of an amateur, do-it-yourself podcaster striking
it rich through podcasting — even if you’re lucky enough to get your
podcast on iTunes — is about as remote as your chances of playing in
the NBA.  I advise you to podcast for fun and passion or to
promote your business or to serve mankind. Or, for some extra cash on
the side, like selling stuff from your attic on eBay.

However, I also believe that the NBA will continue to hold drafts and
pay multimillion signing bonuses to a microscopic percentage of all
basketball players, and likewise, I believe there will be break-through
success stories (beyond the Adam Curry-Sirius program) when it comes to podcasting.

Here are a few examples of the kind of podcasts  I’d actually pay
for if podcasters price it low enough and Apple iTunes makes the
vending machine part of this transaction as easy and simple as
everything else about using their service (and please, if you have
programming ideas that you’d purchase from a budding podcaster, add it
to the comments of hthis post). I believe some of these ideas can be
multimillion dollar ideas (the seminar podcasting one, for example)
while others will be only multithousand dollar ideas.

Here goes:

1. City tours (really, any kind of tours, including
museums, historic battlefields, national parks,  etc.) : I would
purchase downloads of MP3s  I could listen to in a rental car,
driving into a downtown from an airport. Not like GPS directions, but
fun, helpful information that tells me what I’m seeing as I drive in
and gives me ideas of what to do while in town. Or, produce a series of
“jogging from your hotel” directions that tells a jogger what he or she
is running by.

2. Mash-up music-news programming: I’d pay for a version of a 30
minute program of business news each morning that had jock-jam-type
music in the background playing at my jog pace. I need music to get me
over the next hill, but I also like listening to the news. Can’t
someone smash up the two?

3. Seminar sessions: I doubt I’m going to attend your $1,200
conference. But if it sounds compelling enough, I might pay you $100 to
download each session a few minutes after it is finished. Rather than
cannibalize your registration revenue, your session downloads are
merely samplers for getting people to attend future meetings. Besides,
I hate to break the news to you, but the real value of that convention
you’re putting on is the networking taking place between the sessions.

4. MP3 books — self-publishing model: iTunes could, if they want to
extend the long tail out long enough, become the Amazon.com of audio
books — Amazon.com is trying to do that itself, however. And Audible.com
has such a headstart that Apple already partners with them. But (and I
want to be sensitive here, as I’m a loyal and appreciative customer of
Audible.com) who needs Audible.com and their short-tail, boutique
approach to retailing audiobooks at ridiculously high prices? Watch
this space for major disintermediation.

5. Motivational, self-help, weight-loss, exercise, how-to audio: This content
is all over the place already…even on iTunes. (And I touch on it in an upcoming post in this series.) It appears to me that
iTunes will provide a robust marketplace for such programming — not
only from the masters of this genre, but it could provide the platform
necessary to add fuel to emerging cult figures in media microniches. (Personally, I nominate Merlin Mann of 43folders.com to pioneer this — I’d pay to subscribe to anything he produces.)

6. Acoustiguide should sell anything they produce via iTunes. They
probably won’t as I imagine they view their business model revolving
around hardware rental, or something. In reality, I doubt they’d
cannibalize any of their rentals at museums as most people won’t think
ahead. However, the incremental sales on programming already produced
will only increase the value of the short-shelf-life products.

7.
As I said shortly after hearing the word “podcast” for the very first
time, this is a perfect medium for certain CEOs.
Unlike blogging, it
doesn’t require the CEO to sit down and write something. In this
medium, a “scripted” presentation would sound awful. Authenticity would
be rewarded and more times than not, when you get rid of scripts, CEOs
can actually sound intelligent and passionate and thought-provoking. I
would gladly pay Apple iTunes for an
RSS-enabled daily feed of anything Bill Gates wants to talk about each
morning. (I’m serious.)

(Next up: “Dear Apple, here’s a no-brainer. ‘Re-metaphorize’ GarageBand
for a product called, ‘GarageBand – ‘Podcast Studio Version’? — or how
I became a Wayne’s World engineer by recording my son’s fiddle lessons.)

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  • lewis pennock

    Okay, so I actually went and listened to the Dave Chappelle interview mentioned at left, free on the NPR web site – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3886000 and I think that I would have easily paid to have it in a format that would allow me to transfer it to my iPod and listen at my leisure, but at $4.00 I’ll just listen to the streaming version thank you very much.

  • W.B. McNamara

    Rex said:
    (Next up: “Dear Apple, here’s a no-brainer. ‘Re-metaphorize’ GarageBand for a product called, ‘GarageBand – ‘Podcast Studio Version’? — or how I became a Wayne’s World engineer by recording my son’s fiddle lessons.)

    As it happens, a few minutes before reading this post I was pointed to a post on Make:blog that mentioned Garageband’s new podcast publishing feature.

  • colin Faulkingham

    NPR along with National Geographic did a series called Radio Expeditions for Morning Edition. It would be cool if people did podcast that picked up on that format.

    http://www.nationalgeographic.com/radiox/

    In my view what would be cooler than Apple getting into the game is if Sirius Radio allowed me to go to their web site and create a subscription list of podcast I would like to listen to and then broadcast those to a specific personal station. Sort of like on-demand video from the digital cable company. Now that would be neat! Siriuscasting 🙂

  • Shannon McRae

    other multimillion dollar ideas:

    The whole category of sports. Not audio streams of games like Sirius, but ‘insider’ information. My dad would pay big to hear Tommy Tuberville’s after-practice report everyday.

    For college students…what about class lectures? At my alma mater, there was an off-campus business called University Notes. If you ever missed class because you were …errrr…sick….you could buy notes (only from certain courses). Think if you could buy podcasts of Prof Smith’s American Lit 101 lectures…

  • Johnathan Grant

    More of a comment on the sidebar, but related to the main entry:
    It seems to be a well-kept secret that going directly to audible.com (and cutting out the iTunes middleman) is not quite as automatic but generally cheaper. Many programs are available free from Audible – they even publish an RSS feed of new free releases, which I subscribe to along with the feed of new book releases.

    Any new books I like are added to “My Next Listen”, which is a queue from which a book will automatically be purchased if I don’t use my book credit by the end of any given month. (I have a subscription that includes one “periodical” credit and one book credit each month.) The periodical credits can be redeemed for a month’s worth of many public radio shows (the aforementioned Fresh Air, This American Life, even All Things Considered). Le Show, however, is completely free – even subscriptions to it are free. (Le Show is also podcasting now, but with music cut out due to rights issues. Because Audible files use DRM, Le Show on Audible includes all the music.)

    The only thing missing from Audible is better integration with iTunes. However, on Mac & PC, all it takes is downloading Audible files then dropping them into the iTunes window- they will be added to the Library automatically. iTunes may prompt for Audible login info if it’s the first time this feature has been used.
    I have heard rumblings of Audible finally coming out with an iTunes plugin sometime this year – I certainly hope they do.

    BTW, FWIW, I looked up Fresh Air, and if a subscription was purchased directly through Audible.com, it would be either $12.95 a month or $39.95 a year. I would advise against the monthly rate – far better to get an AudibleListener plan for $14.95/m and get both Fresh Air plus a book credit (good for any book on the site). The yearly rate sounds reasonable, though. Audible also sells single copies direct for $2.95. All the prices for Audible content on iTunes are set at full retail. Going direct is cheaper.

  • Amy Bellinger

    Really nice job of writing and thinking on this series, Rex.

    you: > I feel reasonably confident predicting that its producers would generate more revenue by charging 10¢ per Fresh Air download than by charging $4 per download.

    You know, I had the same thought when I heard Dave Winer’s musings on the Apple announcement in a podcast sometime last week. He mentioned that Apple would charge 99 cents for a “professional” podcast, the way they charge 99 cents for a song, and I said to the tree I passed as I was walking, “They’d make more money if they also had an amateur category in their catalog and charged 9 cents each.”

  • Phil Wolff

    First off, how about paying me to listen to a podcast? Coopt the world of infomercials, telemarketng, and radio commercials. You see things very close to this in pharma marketing where drug companies produce little TV shows for “educational” purposes.

    Next, I’d pay for government transparency. Every city council meeting, commission hearing, etc. should be promptly podcast. CSPAN for the 50,000 elected officials in the U.S. And filtered for anything said by and about my 20 city, school district, county, state, party, and federal elected representatives. Is that worth a dollar a week?

    Ambience. Literally. Hang stereo mics in public squares, pubs, busy restaurants. I’ll subscribe to an ambience pack that I can play in my home office in the background, preferably sync’d to the same time of day as the recording. Give me a day at Times Square, the lobby of the SFMOMA, the coffee machine at the Chicago Trib, a diner without muzak, nearly any restaurant in New Orleans during Mardis Gras, a weekend at the park. Almost like being there. The podcast version of webcams.

    About sports, I really like the idea of TiVoing my hometown Oakland Athletics vs. the Rangers, then playing it back to a podcast by four baseball fanatics in Texas watching the game “with me”. There should be a constellation of color commentary to choose from.