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The Audible.com Debacle

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Audible.com recently announced its new service Wordcast – essentially they are adding a propriety twist to podcasting that will enable publishers to …

… “manage, accurately measure, and monetize their audio content without significant infrastructure investments.” The content remains free to end-users – a person can subscribe to an Audible.com podcast via iTunes or a favorite podcatcher and take it on the road as normal (and this format works with “160 other devices” besides the iPod) – in other words, Audible.com’s system is in many ways transparent to users. Still, the move has prompted a huge backlash in the blogosphere, the majority of which has blasted both Audible and their consultant Mitch Ratcliffe – and it is not clear if the backlash is business, personal, or a mix of the two.

A few weeks back, Forbes writer Daniel Lyons unleashed his Attack of the Blogs, criticizing blogging technology as one that enables online lynch mobs to spew “lies, libel and invective.” His piece of course faced the wrath of the bloggers he so derided – and not without merit, as his analysis presented a very one-sided view.

The response to Audible.com’s announcement highlights the fact that the blogosphere (or more particularly, some of today’s most powerful bloggers) can also be quite one-sided and lynch-mobish, proving Lyons’ assessment is not entirely inaccurate.

There are several major issues that I take with the Audible.com backlash:

  1. Failure to Recognize Choice: I think author/blogger Nicholas Carr gets it right when he writes, “If its Wordcast service (as it calls it) or the associated pricing model is flawed, then it will flop.” Why are so many bloggers up in arms about Audible.com (and no, I am not naming names, you can go read them for yourself) – will not the market, as Carr states, not correct any incorrect approaches? The bottom line is that Audible.com is not forcing anyone to use their service – nor are they withholding “free” content from end-users. They simply are providing publishers (podcasters) the infrastructure to monetize their content.

    If podcasters go for it, great. If not, Audible.com goes back to the drawing board. If it does work, however, the end-user is getting the content they enjoy (at no cost) and the podcaster is earning some dough. The best case scenario is a win-win situation. The worst case is that podcasters don’t go for the Audible.com model and stick to their current means to podcast – leaving the podcaster at status-quo and Audible.com scratching their heads. Of course, in any investment a company puts itself at that risk.

  2. Failure to Realize that Competition Spurs Innovation: Is this blogosphere not consistently evangelizing the adoption of new web technology? Businesses like Audible.com have every right to ensure that no one else is eating their lunch and to move into new spaces. They have every right to use whatever means they find appropriate to solve the problems they see, whether that be via a proprietary or open standards solution. They should be applauded for this move or at least for attempting something innovative. And if someone or some company thinks they can do something better than Audible.com, then they should.
  3. Failure to Recognize that Bloggers Don’t Always Deserve Special Treatment: Yes, the blogosphere is full of early adopters who get’ the new web revolution but they are not the end-all-be-all of smart savvy thinkers out there. It’s pretty bold to think that any release of a new service needs to be run through the blogosphere first. After all, even with the dwindling of newspaper and other traditional media sales, the total number of people consuming blogs is still relatively small when compared to the old media’ outlets.
  4. Failure to Hear Out Dissenting Opinions: Bloggers (especially political bloggers) often talk about the MSM – short for mainstream media. Essentially, bloggers believe themselves to somehow counterbalance the biased, unfair, or fluffy coverage of the old media regime.

    But from within the once free spirited and frequently contrarian attitude of the blogosphere that challenged everything’, a new evolution is unraveling in the tech/business blogging space. There now exists an extremely powerful group of bloggers who each reach thousands upon thousands of readers a day and who often link solely to each other. It’s the echo chamber effect at its worst and less you agree with these very influential people, you must be wrong.

    A technology that once powered the voice of the “little guy” is now dominated by an elite group of bloggers who often agree with each other and often dismiss dissenting voices or ideas they don’t like – best exemplified by the roasting of Audiblie.com and its consultant Mitch Ratcliffe.

In trying to get to the crux of the perceived problem with Audible.com’s Wordcast, its difficult to separate the personal versus the technical debate. This controversy is further proof that the consumers of media need a better mix of the goods of the blogosphere and the goods of traditional media (yes, I admitted that traditional media has some goods’). Namely, we need the accountability and independence of the blogosphere as it originally existed with the professionalism of traditional journalism.

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Ken Yarmosh is a consultant who helps organizations get the most out of their technology investments. He works with technology users and creators across various industries, focusing on technology education and strategy. With over 7 years IT experience, Ken has worked with small businesses, non-profits, federal agencies, and multi-million dollar companies.

His online efforts include acting as the Editor for the Corante Technology Hub and authoring the TECHNOSIGHT blog.

The Audible.com Debacle
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About Ken Yarmosh
Ken Yarmosh is a consultant who helps organizations get the most out of their technology investments. He works with technology users and creators across various industries, focusing on technology education and strategy. With over 7 years IT experience, Ken has worked with small businesses, non-profits, federal agencies, and multi-million dollar companies. His online efforts include acting as the Editor for the Corante Technology Hub and authoring the TECHNOSIGHT blog. WebProNews Writer
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