Posts about podcasts

Guardian column: Prinzessin von Podcasting

I wrote my Guardian column this week about Annik Rubens (aka Larissa Vassilian), the podcaster behind Schlaflos in München and Filme und So, whose voice was a siren call that helped draw me to Munich on my way back home from Europe a week ago. The column is here; an alternate page is here. An excerpt:

I wanted to meet Vassilian to find out whether that voice was indeed authentic – it is – and to learn how she does it. In a Munich cafe, she told me she has loved radio since she was young. Instead of watching German TV, she escaped to her room and listened to the Voice of America because “it seemed wonderfully exotic”. As a result, she learned to speak flawless English and also how to make lively radio – how, in her words, to put laughter in her voice as she speaks into her microphone, imagining that she is simply talking to a friend on the phone. As a teenager, she worked part-time at a Munich radio station. Now, as a 29-year-old journalist, she can be, like any freelancer, chewed up and spat out by various German publications. And so she came to try podcasting.

This is a cautionary tale for media bosses: it’s hard for talent to rise and survive in your institutions. But on the internet, with her podcasts and her thousands of faithful fans, Vassilian has the freedom to be herself. Later, I asked her partner on Filme und So, Timo Hetzel, what he plans to do when he finishes his studies. “Podcast,” he replied, without hesitation. Beware: tomorrow’s stars are no longer necessarily interested in yesterday’s media.

We spent hours in a Schwabing cafe talking about podcasts, journalism, advertising, media, and that night, I got to meet Timo with other bloggers in a restaurant over great wurst (Eamonn Fitzgerald reported).

One tidbit I didn’t put in the Guardian column because it would have been meaningless to a UK audience was that one of the DJs who influenced Vassilian was Shadoe Stevens. See, he was good for something.

She was amused that one of the commenters here wondered, upon learning that I’d meet her, whether she was a “babe.” I’ve never been asked that about meeting bloggers. (Winer’s no babe.) Her smile is every bit as enchanting as her voice and, yes, she is as lovely as she sounds. But she doesn’t look like what you’d expect. And this leads to a funny media story she told me. Vassilian’s mother is Bavarian and her father is Armenian. She has long, curly, and dark hair — which is to say that she doesn’t have the blond hair and blue eyes you’d expect. She said that based on her cohost Timo’s voice, she might have thought in turn that he has blond hair and blue eyes but he, too, doesn’t look like he sounds. Anyway, Larissa said that the German TV magazines (more successful these days than TV Guide) seem to have a rule that they must have a blonde-haired, blue-eyed actress on the cover for every issue and she had to write some of those cover stories. One week, part of her story was how the actress had two different colored eyes and how bizarre that is. But by the time the issue came out, though that anecdote stayed in the cover, the actress’ picture had been Photoshopped so she had two blue eyes. In old media, you have to look the part. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a brunette.


As the kerfluffle over Audible’s podcast offering went on, I was wondering what Audible’s PR people must have been thinking, Cal Bruckner speculates that it was a form of new-age viral marketing. Mitch Ratcliffe says no but doesn’t back away from the stove and throws some more fuel on it. I still wonder what the PR people are thinking. There has to be a middle ground between disingenous flackery and flaming, just as there is a middle ground between messaging and listening. I’d like to see a Steve Rubel case study of this one.

How to ‘cast

O’Reilly comes out with a pocket guide on how to podcast.

Getting personal

There has been a very good and spirited discussion about Audible’s efforts to measure and serve ads on podcasts with many pioneers — Dave Winer, Doc Searls, Om Malik — giving their reaction and Mitch Ratcliffe, who helped create the Audible product, responding in turn. Audible should be listening to the marketplace to figure out how to make this work, for the marketplace is telling them they’re on the wrong road. Maybe they will. But it certainly doesn’t help when Mitch gets personal about Dave. Dave responds as well he should.

I understand what it feels like to work hard on a product only to find some people issuing Bronx cheers. The design of the first Entertainment Weekly sucked. I couldn’t say that out loud; I did need to defend our product. But we rushed the fastest redesign in magazine history because we listened. Audible: You’re trying to do something for and with the podcasting world and the podcasting world is giving you tons of good advice. Listen first. Turn off the microphone and leave your headset on.

: Doc also here and here and Mitch comes back here. The personal stuff is only noise.

: LATER: Ben Barren does a great analysis of Audible’s 3-cents-per price for measuring each listen of each podcast. I translated that into a $30 CPM and said it was insane. Ben shows how those numbers compute for one ‘cast, Keith and the Girl, to demonstrate just how insane it is:

Chemda (the girl) mentioned last week they had 500,000 listeners. Remember they have no advertising. Yet, Their Own Choice. They’re not even sure what Adam Curry does or what his business model is. Listen to their other LA episodes this week : Here and here. Times that by 3 cents per listen for the charge audible want for tracking stats and .AA conversion I assume : That equals $15,000 for one episode of Keith and Hurl. Times that by 5 shows per week. $75,000 a week. Lots of vig there. Ill give audible benefit of doubt and say 4 weeks per month. That’s $300,000 or $3.6 million per year for K+TG to get stats on listeners. (and remember you can listen to podcasts on your PC and not enter any user details so im not sure how audible really think they will get comprehensive user details) Im sure you can run your discount factors, non-active subscriber numbers, monthly churn rates, % of those that dont listen to the whole podcast – to get to a total KeithandtheGirl monthly usage number, but if you want my opinion, Audible just spent $35K on a Wordcast Sponsorship for the “Portable Media Expo” to build “negative brand equity” as they used to say in my DDB ad agency days.

See, too, Mike Arrington’s proper fit over Audible’s moves.

There are some interesting features that add to the podcasting discussion and normally I’d write about it over at TechCrunch. For instance, Much of what Audible is doing is goes way beyond what Fruitcast (TechCrunch profile) is allowing publishers to do. While Fruitcast allow insertion of ads into podcasts and tracks downloads, Audible is able to pingback listening metadata as well (albeit via a closed file format and crazy prices), something that will be very interesting for publishers.

But wow, did they ever screw up the follow up to the announcement.


Dave Winer, a podcasting papa, adds this to the discussion about Audible’s attempts to make a business out of measuring traffic and serving ads on what it calls podcasts (that is, what it serves in its proprietary format):

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.

Basically MP3 can’t be rigged up to serve the purpose of advertisers, and that’s why I love MP3. And only MP3 provides the portability and compatibility that users depend on. Any other method will force them to jump through hoops that they will resist. If so, then podcasting isn’t for the advertisers.

And Doc Searls adds:

Meanwhile, back to Dave’s poison pill.
Podcasting is a perfect example of what happens when the market supplies itself. We chose MP3 because it worked on devices like the iPod, even though it was closed in other ways. And because it couldn’t be closed in ways that matter.
It’s amazing to me that we’re still only beginning to understand that free and open markets doesn’t mean “your choice of silo”. But we’ll only understand it by making markets ourselves.
And at that we’re still at about the year 1480.
Key point: the silo-builders can’t lead us out of the dark ages. They can help, but they can’t lead. That’s our job.

I disagree with Dave at my peril because he’s usually right. But he and I do disagree by a few degrees about advertising and blogs and podcasts.

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. I also now see his point that a medium without advertising is less likely to be overtaken by the big guys because they can’t exploit, monetize, and commercialize it.

But… I don’t think the big guys can control media anymore. This is the post-scarcity era and they can’t buy all the blogs in the world.

And… I do want to find ways for creators to make money and find support for what they love, for I believe that will yield more creation and more independence from those big guys. Not everyone will want this but for those who do, we need to look at open infrastructures to support it.

That’s my problem with the Audible system. It’s both closed and expensive.

That’s also my problem with restrictive DRM, which only limits the potential distribution and audience. See my favorite example of 150,000 views of Jon Stewart on CNN’s Crossfire vs. at least 5 million views of the same segment on the open web: See what happens when you let the folks formerly known as your audience become your distributors.

Let’s say that MP3s could ping their creators when they are played — at the creator’s option, with full transparency for the listeners. Then the creators could count and control their own stats without having to pay someone to do it via a proprietary system, and report those stats to sponsors. That’s the sort of thing I want to see. Same with RSS; I like Feedburner telling me how many are reading even cached feeds of mine and I’m grateful to them for telling me that — without charging me three cents a read as Audible is; without charging me anything — but I also wish I could get those stats directly so I could do my own analyzing of them.

I’d like to see structures that keep control in the hands of the creators rather than opening doors for new attempts at centralizing control in proprietary silos. Rather than deciding not to have traffic and ad capabilities I’d like to see control for them remain open and at the edges. That will enable the people at the edges to get their fair share if they want it. And that is what I believe will assure that the big guys can’t control media again.

: LATER: Winer says he’s writing his manifesto on the topic of advertising and all this and I eagerly await it.

Measuring podcasts

I’ve long contended that we need to find a way to measure audience for podcasts and vlogs so we can, if we want, attach ads and get support. If we don’t find an open way to do these things, companies such as Audible will come up with closed, expensive ways such as this:

Audible’s technology puts measurement capability in Audible-compatible devices — such as Apple Inc.’s iPod — or in the software for listening to Audible’s content. ….

Audible is making its tracking service available to outside podcasters. The company will charge three cents per downloaded podcast to report whether a downloader listened, and for how long. Audible will also offer tools that will stop the podcast from being emailed to others. It will charge five cents per download to track listening and attach the access restrictions. For half a cent per download, Audible will insert an ad relevant to the podcast.

With the tools, “you can build a bona fide rate card” for advertising, says Foy Sperring, Audible’s senior vice president for strategic alliances. The company says it will provide only aggregated statistics; it won’t disclose what individual podcast downloaders listen to.

What we need is an open system that allows any content creator to get audience data pinged back and allows them to attach measurable ads. Today on the text web, these things are free unless I choose to use a premium service for stats or ad serving. We need similar functionality for the multimedia web using MP3s and not just Audible-formatted media.

Look at the Audible economics: They’re charging 3 cents just for measuring listenership. That, in ad math (if I have enough fingers and toes) is a $30 CPM just for measurement — $35 for inserting ad ad. That’s a high rate for advertising online these days — very high. So there’s no profit. That won’t work.

Mitch Ratcliffe, who helped build this, responds in the comments and on his blog. And I add there:

Mitch: What I’m really calling/hoping for is an open version of what you’ve done. I doubt the pricing is your fault but it’s both greedy and dumb, for it will limit uptake so severely as to make the effort not worth it. So what we need is an open version that allows audio and video producers to support their efforts without losing all their possible income to fees such as these and without backing a standard that cannot gain acceptance because it’s just too expensive. If Audible really wanted to play in this arena and become a new standard, they’d put this out for free and build businesses atop that.

We need the commercial MP3. Once that exists, little guys and big guys alike will rush to produce and distribute content by every means possible. P2P will be their friend.

Quotable quotes

Via Annik Rubens, I’m having a ball with Soundboards — the clickabout soundbites you can use to make phoney phone calls or whatever fun you’d like. Try George Bush (Vladimir PUtin) and Dr. Phil (are you nuts?).


Howard Stern may have pooped on podcasts, but he said this morning that when he saw the video iPod he realized that is a medium for him. I liked hearing that. I said a few months ago in an open letter to Mel Karmazin that I hope Sirius does not fall into the trap of other media and think of itself as its pipe. Instead, Sirius is creating content I’ll pay for and it should deliver it to me any way I want it.

When you think about it, satellite radio and iTunes are the best positioned in the new world for pay content — for the golden fleece of the added content revenue stream: money from the consumer. Print content is pretty much all free by now. Networks and cable and program producers and all bound up in their mutually destructive deals. But iTunes enables the sale of content and Sirius is producing content worth paying for and neither is trapped by their histories.