Audible just announced plans to enable the hosting & tracking of podcasts. I always thought Audible was the original pioneer in podcasting. They’ve been delivering audio subscriptions to subscribers for years except that theirs is a closed system and doesn’t have the catchy name.
Unsurprisingly, Audible’s announcement has not been well received by the podcasting and blogging communities. They object to the costs and, most importantly, the need to get onto ADBL’s proprietary format. While I’m often sympathetic to these sentiments, I’m not so sure this time:
1. For podcasting to become a real, ad-based medium, it needs accountability. This means measurement and auditing abilities that .mp3 does not support. Yes you can use # of downloads as a proxy for impressions but it is imperfect at best and will not ultimately convince advertisers. Also, sponsorships and underwriting are absolutely viable (full disclosure: I was responsible for a relatively large podcasting sponsorship deal just prior to leaving Live365), but this is hard to scale. There are other companies like Fruitcast also trying to solve this problem, which is great. What’s nice is about Audible’s .aa format, which I believe can be a wrapper around a .mp3 file, is that it’s supported on iPod, unlike other DRM formats like .wma.
2. I thought their pricing was outrageous when I first read about it but didn’t realize that this covered hosting and bandwidth costs, which make it more palatable. This analysis is on Mitch Radcliffe’s blog where he impassionately defends Audible’s move. I still think $35 CPM is very high to cover the variable costs of podcasting (and this doesn’t include sales related costs). It means you’d obviously need to sell ads at a much higher CPM to make money, but it’s less outrageous than before.
3. From a consumer’s standpoint, it doesn’t matter if a file is .mp3 or anything else, as long as it works and doesn’t hinder a consumer from fairly using the content. This is why Apple’s Fairplay works — it’s invisible DRM. I don’t know that .aa is, but it sounds like it give the content owner the choice of making it secure or not.
Finally, Apple is best positioned to do something about this. They could modify Fairplay to support these different models for not only spoken word but also music where licesning issues have legitimately hampered the distribution of a lot of copyrighted music (in effect they’d make music podcasts conform to DMCA webcasting rules and handle the appropriate recordkeeping around this), but I’m not holding my breath on this one…
Incidentally, note Audible’s "Wordcast" monniker to reflect their emphasis on spoken word (and signal to Apple that they have NO intention to get into music and risk Apple shutting them out of the iTMS).
[FD: I have no relationship with Audible nor do I hold any positions in their stock]