Don Katz on Podcasting

Yesterday I listened to Rob Greenlee’s interview with Don Katz of Audible.com. I remain kind of befuddled by Rob’s approach to the podcasting world. He cannot talk about the subject without trying to point out that aspects of it existed previously, to the point that it has become a tic. It’s like he’s on a crusade to point out the injustice of people’s current interest and excitement in the subject and must try to deflate that. Good luck holding back that tide.

As time goes on, I find that part of the conversation has sank to the bottom of what interests me – exactly who did what first. Who gives a shit, really? What matters more to me is what has happened with the people doing it currently, which no matter how you slice it did not happen before last summer. That’s the thing I always think when someone wants credit for doing X aspect of podcasting Y years ago. No matter how true that is, that work on X didn’t start the snowball rolling down the hill. It sucks to be too late and it sucks to be too early – sometimes only the people working at “steam engine time” get the hosannahs. Sorry about that dudes, life is so unfair. Maybe the day everyone else gets everything they deserve, that will get straightened out for you.

Don Katz talked in the interview about how Audible did things much like podcasting, but again that was via a centralized authority. Unless I misunderstand how it works, I can’t decide to publish arbitrary free shows into the Audible catalog. You get what Audible decides to carry. The claims in this show to the contrary, it lacks one of the important aspects of what we are calling podcasting, mainly that ordinary citizens have access to produce and publish into the automatic download infrastructure.

Over time I have noticed that people who are uncomfortable with the grassroots notion of podcasting are almost entirely people who benefit from the status quo in one way or another. That is not to say that people from the current system always dislike it, because plenty of media folks love the medium and/or use it, but the people whose objection is “I’m not sure if it is a good idea to give just anyone a microphone” almost always are. I’m starting to pay attention to when someone expresses that opinion and examine if they have some of the following riding on the status quo: their job, their money, their social status, their celebrity, their ego. It seems antithetical to me to say “I think fewer people should be able to express themselves.” If someone says that, are they in a position weakened by that ease of expression by citizens? If so, you might should pay attention to that and take their opinion with a grain of salt. As you should mine, I point out with I hope is superfluity.

10 Replies to “Don Katz on Podcasting”

  1. I think you’re right on the money with your attitude. I say let the ones with the loud voices fight while the “everyone with a microphone” crowd slowly makes progress.

    I find it interesting that the first thing the mainstream media thinks to do with a medium like podcasting is to try to make it exactly like MSM and assume that the medium is irrelavent until it is.

    The shows I listen to will never have hundreds of millions of listeners. As far as I’m concerned, it’s by design. If you want an audience that large, you’re that less likely to appeal to any one individual.

    -a

  2. Over at rexblog.com, Rex Hammock riffs on Apple’s impending step into the podsphere, titled “How Apple will change everything about Podcasting”. Here’s a quote:

    “Just imagine when iTunes starts offering access to podcast programming like it sells hip-hop songs. Just imagine an iTunes directory of podcasts that can be sorted by location and interest and format with community features like “iMix” enabling listeners to find programming recommended by others they’ve grown to trust.”

    Check the article, I’m interested in your thoughts on this, maybe the topic for a future show.

  3. Audible is potentially in trouble because of podcasting, especially with iTunes potentially bringing the vast array of choices offered by podcasts. There business model is directy threatened:

    http://www.forbes.com/markets/2005/05/25/0525automarketscan08.html

    Katz seems to be saying that they will also be podcast distributors, as Odeo and Podshow are doing.

    If so, they will have one huge advantage in their .aa (audible) file format, which has iPod supported chapter marks and bookmarks.

    Katz also says the the user experience of podcasting sucks, but I can’t stand the audible user experience. If I want to download 6 or 7 shows from Audible, it becomes a half-hour hassle to make sure I have downloaded each one, added each one to iTunes, then moved each one to the “archived” section of “my library’ at audible.

    I would bet if I had used Audible before podcasting, I would have thought it was great, maybe even thinking it was instant gratification. Podcasting is better than instant gratification, because I don’t have to worry about finding new stuff by content producers I like, I don’t have to download it, and I don’t have to put it on my listening device.

    With podcasts, a podcatcher (in my case, iPodderX) takes care of all this nonsense.

    I have to say that Audible has a ton of periodical content that I would pay for, but the effort required to to get it down makes it not worth it to me. I have told them so via there customer service email. I hope for their sake they are going to start podcasting their premium content for a fee via iTunes, because if they don’t, they are going to disappear quickly.

  4. Richard,

    Obviously we’re all whistling in the dark until we see exactly how this iTunes podcast integration really rolls out, but I find it yawn-worthy. I feel about the same for any centralized service that is aggregating a subset of all podcasts. A large part of that value is me getting to hear what I want and if the gatekeeper doesn’t feel the shows that interest me are worth carrying, I can’t get them that way. On principle, I reject any mode of receiving that re-institutes unnecessary bottlenecks and false scarcity and superfluous gatekeepers.

    It’s one thing to point at a subset of podcasts and say “here’s stuff I certify as interesting to me.” It’s another thing and a disingenuous one to say “here is how you receive podcasts” when you are getting a fraction of the whole space. Rex seems excited that the ITMS integration will spread podcasting to new people. Sure, people that didn’t know about it before will learn but what they are learning isn’t actually the truth so what was the gain?

  5. Dave,

    I am just asking the questions that need to be asked and talked about.

    Dave wrote: He cannot talk about the subject without trying to point out that aspects of it existed previously, to the point that it has become a tic. It’s like he’s on a crusade to point out the injustice of people’s current interest and excitement in the subject and must try to deflate that. Good luck holding back that tide.

    Do you have an issue with looking at the past to help understand our future. I admit that I do have filtered lenses when speaking about the growth of podcasting. I always try and learn from history and apply it to the present as it will give a more objective way of looking at the world. I am older than you and have seen trends get very misunderstood at the beginning. Podcasting has been built up to this point on a certain amount untrue hype. By saying this I am not saying that podcasting will never have the real significant impact that is all hoped from the medium. I am speaking with the current leaders in spoken-word content because THEY are the current leaders in spoken-word audio.

    I have never down played the significance of the grass-roots content creation boom. I just tend to look at the space from a major network and content provider perspective. You are right it is a tic and it can come across as negative or sobering contrast to the high flying hype. Mark my words podcasting will be taken over by major media and dominated by it very soon. Yet the long-tale content creators at the edge of the growing online network will keep growing and eventually will have a voice greater the major media, but it will take longer to do that. I do believe that podcasting will evolve differently than blogging has as your view on it seems to follow the evolution of blogging. The real difference between us is that you see podcasting is something really new and see it as a audio program that has a slightly different format but yet is not really different from what has existed prior. Case and point podcasters are getting all excited about getting on broadcast radio and next will be streaming as these are just natual evolutions of the medium. We are both pro-podcasting and that is all that really matters.

  6. Rob, I’m glad you agree it is a tic. I think I’ve heard you say this on at least a dozen shows of one sort or another. It doesn’t seem to me like you are digging deep to understand history, it’s more like you reflexively must point out that audio downloads pre-existed. What is the value in that? When you have something that is a synergetic combination of existing technologies, of course all the existing technologies existed. That’s one of those “duh” observations.

    You also use the value heavy word “hype” every time you mention the subject. Humor me, can you give me some examples of the “untrue hype” you mention? My listening patterns have completely and totally changed over the 9 months and I seldom listen to the radio via the airwaves anymore. That’s not hype, that is empirical and measurable fact.

    You say:
    The real difference between us is that you see podcasting is something really new and see it as a audio program that has a slightly different format but yet is not really different from what has existed prior.

    The way I use these technologies is new and my usage pattern did not previously exist. Before the middle of last year, I couldn’t have automatically had your show on my iPod Shuffle unless I sat down and programmed some sort of ad hoc script to do it. Now, in about 20 seconds I can set it up so that it happens whenever you publish a new show and I can do it for any of 5000 sources with the same effort. This is not hype, it is fact. I don’t care how new any of this techology is, what I care is that people are using it in new ways. Pointing out that the technology exists adds nothing to the only part of it that matters to me. You may think you are digging deep by pointing out the machine end of it over and over and over again, but you are missing the people end of it. That is why I find it so frustrating to listen to. I’ll confess that I unsubscribed from Webtalk because I got so tired of listening to you bang this drum without adding anything substantial to the discussion.

  7. All technologies are comprised of various facets of old technologies. The auto car was just a carriage with a motor and did little that a horse and carriage could not do. Talkies were just film with sound added. In fact, podcasting does do new things, but they are subtle things that may or may not make a difference. For instance, people living in other countries can put up shows that others can listen to fairly easily. It’s true that long distance broadcasting was possible through short wave, but producing shows was not an accessible activity for the average person. But this is what may make the difference between a technology with no impact and one which has a major impact. For instance, before the personal computer existed it was possible to perform various computer related activities, but very few did. Podcasting sounds like it makes shows relatively easy to produce which means that if you are a talented speaker, you wouldn’t necessarily have to be a talented technician to produce a good show. The underestimated part of this new technology may be the fact that it is highly accessible.

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  9. I remember when the Web was starting to go mainstream and media companies with smart CEOs like Prodigy and Compuserve and Delphi were all telling us how rough the Web was and how people wanted multi-media content, just the kind made by professionals.

  10. I can’t stand the way the current audible.com website works, it is so slow. I don’t see them growing into the podcasting concept if they can’t get their shopping cart method to work the way amazon’s has been working for years. the only reason I HAVE to use their terrible website is because I’m chained to a subscription that would be a waste of my money if I didn’t use it. I’ve emailed them about it, and I look forward to the day it is improved, but until then, the podcasting idea is like building a skyscraper on quicksand. It will sink audible.

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