« The big lie about free | Main | Latest free news »

February 01, 2008



And maybe radio should be used to push shows: whenever you're bored and want to try something new, you tune in and listen to a show/sample that either someone paid to put on, or the station thinks *some* people might subscribe to.

Also, since you're getting a better product with podcasts (time/place-shifted), maybe broadcast should be free (maybe even delayed), and podcasts should be the media with advertisements.

Ivan Kirigin

The problem with microchunks is that the level I'd like to pay is below a minimal level I'd bother with an online donation checkout. Also the overhead on giving a station a few bucks is pretty killer.

You're right though. I know exactly where my entertainment comes from. I don't want to support anything but the creators anymore.

Joe Flynn

A perfect example of this is my favorite podcast, Free Talk Live. They're a real talk radio show but they get almost all of their ad revenue from their podcast fans who agree to give $3 a month, even though the content is always 100% free.

Richard Rowan

Thanks for promoting podcasting. This four-year-old phenomenon--and the RSS file format on which it is based--has huge potential. (I listen while on my daily run.)

As for your donation to the show versus the station, I believe the money goes to the same place: the larger system that makes great shows like "This American Life" possible. We should be careful as a nation to be loyal to systems such as democracy and public health, not just to our personal favorites. The concepts underlying public radio would be worth supporting, even if we disliked all the shows.

Al Anderson

Newspapers are already experiencing the issue of how do I get paid for content. They put most if not all of their content on websites, but derive a very small portion of their revenue from them. Soon we will see a major decline in the value of information because newspapers can not afford to have a staff of reporters generating content without payment.

Think of the millions of dollars Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others have made by linking to these sites and having no reporters at all.

Should these companies be sharing their advertising revenue with these content sites. As a famous Minnesotan once wrote "Times they are a changing" we just don't know which way.

Dave Long

"Think of the millions of dollars Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others have made..."

If these organizations link directly to the newspapers' sites, fine. The visitor will view that publication's ads and the link is a valuable service and a *major* plus. The increased traffic increases the value of the ads as much as larger circulation does.

However, if Google, Yahoo, etc. just "swipe" the content and put it on their own site without the newspaper's ads, shame on them! (BTW, I haven't seen Google do that and I subscribe to several of their "Alerts".) That is stealing and they shouldn't just be sued, they should be jailed!

John Sutton

One of public radio's strengths has been its ability to create economies of scale through an industry-wide funding/spending model. The true annual cost of This American Life is probably well over one million dollars. The three programs listened to by the author represent several million per year in budgets. Content creation is not cheap, even as technology makes it cheaper. $50 to offset the bandwidth of This American Life doesn't help pay for Fresh Air, or Science Friday, or Anne Garrels in Baghdad. It doesn't even cover the cost of a few minutes of a This American Life production. Listeners aren't going to pay $50 for every podcast subscription. Microchunking might help pay some part of the budget for the most popular national programs, but it's hard to imagine the average person giving a buck 60 to 120 times per year to support public radio. If this plays out as the author suggests, public radio will have less listener support and will become more dependent on sponsorship income. Maybe that won't matter anymore. Maybe listeners won't care about the public radio label as long as the quality is high.


I can listen to Science Friday a few days later, and it's still fresh. This American Life will probably still be a gem decades from now. But I want my news now, live, and in real time. Also, until online audio is distributed in something better than 128k stereo MP3s, the quality will usually be considerably better on an FM broadcast. I'm not ready to give up my radio yet. And despite my issues with my local NPR affiliate, I still send 'em a check every year.

Patty Fitzpatrick

Anyone who feels like they're not getting what they want/need from Public Radio isn't listening to the right station. Here in Rhinelander Wisconsin we are so fortunate to have a true public radio station--WXPR. I wasn't a real public radio fan until discovering WXPR. The station offers an eclectic mix of music with the best of the national programs. A large percentage of the on-air hosts are volunteers. The station has created programs in response to local audience requests. I have been introduced to new artists and had my musical horizens expanded because of this station. There is a pledge drive 3 times a year. Many of the people asking for money are volunteers who listen to the station. To me it's a small price to pay to have this station available. It's sort of like taxes, if we all pay a little then everyone has good roads and a fire fighter when you need one. I hope all the public radio station listeners don't start bailing on their obligation to cover the cost of the programming.

Tworzenie Stron

I like when in the radio i listen new songs i hate listen old hits once time and again and again... It's booooring!

Interent Komputery

Radio is my life, i listen mp3 or music from cd but it's no same like listen radio and good speaker auditions

Sandy Ward

Up in Canada we are 'lucky' or 'unlucky' to have a national broadcaster that doesn't need to raise funds.

We still get the crap like the California Report (read Little Mosque on the Prairie) but by just listening to MP3s I find I miss alot of great stuff... especially interesting events going on locally.

Can't wait for the 'mp3' recommendation engine to by built someday...

Gregg McVicar

The author has discovered "narrowcasting" -- but the economics in Public Radio (and CATV as well) are still with "bundling." Through cross-subsidies, it creates stability in the system and supports new shows until they find their audience. This American Life was widely rejected unknown initially, but is now a cash cow for the system - which helps pay for other less-known or less-entertaining programs.

"Free radio" isn't free, and it's great that some folks are willing to pay for it, just as they pay hundreds of dollars per month for their combined communication fees for cell, Internet, local phone, long distance, newspaper and cable.

In closing, just a word in defense of "The California Report." IMHO, this is one of the best, and most important programs around. It may have little resonance with Canadians or NYC transplants, but to those of us who've lived our whole lives here, we know that this is the *only* radio program dedicated to covering the people and issues of the largest state in the union and one of the top economic, cultural and academic centers in the world -- and the front line of some of the most difficult new issues. And the program does this with intelligence, polish and spirit, despite the fact that the state cut off all funding for public broadcasting 25 years ago.

Gregg McVicar

The Insta Book

The Insta Book,Such a good Information on your site. thanks .

Sean Tubbs

I created a podcast site in my community to do things that the local affiliates are not doing - mainly, providing an audience with long-form content, mostly raw material. I use that raw material to produce stories for my local affiliate. Unfortunately, they've shown little interest in serving the public in this manner.

I'm not sure how long this can be sustained, but I know the experimentation we've been doing for three years will lead to some form of an organization that will either complement public radio or replace it.

David Palmer

Chris, too bad you don't have KCRW up there in Northern California. I tune them out during their fund drives too, but I always give them money. Just the support that they give to real music (and real musicians) makes me feel loyal to them as a subscriber, and many of their non-music shows are great too. You can get them on the web, but I don't know how that works on your iPhone.


Good post. Interesting that now radio (at least NPR) seems to follow television in listeners' devotion to shows rather than stations as in the pre-iPod days of commercial music radio. Of course, this is full circle for radio from the days prior to TV when 15 minute shows ruled the medium (and listener loyalty).

Tom Fudge

As someone who works in the news business, public radio in fact, I've become very concerned about two trends I see in the media. One is the belief that content should be free. The other is the notion that we should only pay for that narrow band of content that particularly interests us. On the first point, I'll just say that quality content costs money. It's a simple as that. Secondly, it's highly unrealistic to say that media can continue to produce lots of good stuff if consumers are unwilling to pay for a variety of content... including some things they may not use. Can any modern health care system thrive on strictly a fee-for-service basis? No. Eventually you need some healthy people to pay for care of the sick, if comprehensive health-care services are going to be available to all. Same is true for any comprehensive offering of entertainment or news coverage.
Furthermore, a narrow approach to paying for programs or news content makes us narrow minded. It would be a shame if our consumption of news left nothing to chance and never allowed us to happen upon a story or a program that surprised us, or gave us something unexpected.
By the way... my public radio station is having its membership campaign this week. (I say that in the spirit of full disclosure). And if you're wondering who doesn't carry a cell phone. I don't!!

Andrew Deal

We created a model that is more accessible by all people than podcasting, has interactivity built in, and allows the 'contributions' of listeners to the shows that participate to be distributed in exact proportion to the amount of time spent on each show.

$10/mo. listen all you want commercial free and guilt free.

Now, this is less commercial and more an appeal to weigh in on what is missing from this value prop. Your thoughts?

Doug Wolkon - Author of The New Game

Competition breads competition. Don't count radio out as it has one critical edge over Podcasts in that it is local, and local only. In other words, local entrepreneurial information and expertise can be uniquely preserved through local community radio stations and work together in order to fend off larger, foreign corporations with bigger bandwith trying to enter a truly competitive economic community. Media alternatives like Podcasts will undoubtedly force the cost of radio (Advertising time) down. In other words, once Podcasts and other media alternatives have had there way with Radio, we will once again experience minimal if any Advertising on Radio stations (old school). Now that would certainly make radio stations precious and valuable once again. I don't view a DJ as a cost, but rather a proven barrier to entry that is irreplicable based on their personality (i.e. Almost Famous dude...). I still like radio long-term but the price (in the form of annoying advertising time and other inefficient costs) must come down.

Steve Burgess

Chris - heard your comments at the RAB conference. We spoke briefly after. I figured out how I had heard your comments about this topic before hearing them from your lips! Mark Ramsey's blog (Hear 2.0 http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/radio/~3/231114204/interesting-pie.html)
had an extensive post on it. Interesting convergence - I wasn't sure where I had "heard" the idea, but I knew I had and I was surprised when I heard it in your speech. Power of the network... and it only makes your point strongly.

Amy Kweskin Duncan

Having lived in Stamford, Ithaca, San Francisco and Houston (now London) I have found that the choice of NPR programming in each city gives you a flavor for the people and politics. Although I have favorite programs and ones I can't stand it is a good way to get to know your neighbors. Now in London I sometimes tune into these stations via the internet and am instantly taken back - especially during traffic and weather reports.

Irene Grumman

Who doesn't have a cell phone? Millions of people in the US.

Who doesn't have an incessantly connected, multi-tasking, quick byte lifestlye? Same answer.

Were you by any chance dismissing all those people?


Podcasting is amazing... as more folks wake up to this, broadcast radio will realize that it may not always be the 900 lb. gorilla when it comes to audience.

eMarketer just estimated the podcast audience at 18.5 million in 2007, and 2008 is expected to be 28 million.

It's all about the specialized audience now.


Michael Pereckas

My experience with broadcasting is that it just doesn't work. They put up a huge tower, run a transmitter so powerful that the electric bill is substantial, I use my ham-radio foo to build an antenna custom-trimmed to their frequency and...it's like bad ham radio. Classical music in hissy mono? No thanks. Listening to NPR on a portable radio with the signal cutting in and out with every step I take? No thanks. Podcasts *work*. Sure, if I selected radio stations purely on the basis of whichever one had the strongest signal where I am, I suppose I'd be happier with the technical quality, but not the least bit happy with the content. (Mind you, I live in the city, not the wilderness, but the public broadcaster, whichever city I live in, is always unlistenable as far as signal strength is concerned.)

Anthony Hunt

First the disclosure...I am a public radio manager.

My thoughts:
For a mass communications, public radio maximized the long tail long before we knew what it was because we are an aggregation of many shows that would be out in mass media's tail. It took time to develop our audience (which tends to be college-education and already a minority in this country right there), but we are now "destination programming" because listeners tune in specifically to hear "This American Life" or "Fresh Air" but if they miss it, they also might encounter another program that they will also develop a fondness for...like "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" or "Morning Edition."

During pledge drives, most people call to support the program(s) they love. Fewer call to support the concept of public radio though I think there must be some appreciation to a standard of programming we constantly strive for. Though I see 1/5 of the top 100 iTunes podcasts from public radio and I am happy that the system has been able to develop a large afterlife for many of the programs we offer, podcasts have also removed listeners from the aggregated group funding from all "local" public radio stations. Pushed to its ultimate conclusion, that membership disconnect will ultimately crash my capacity to pay my bill to national producers, who then after enough stations stop paying couldn't continue to produce the content eveyone loves to download. It's sort of a real world story to the nursery rhyme, "...all for the want of a horseshoe nail."


Regarding Chris' opening post, I'm the new news director at KQED Public Radio. I'm sorry you're dissatisfied with The California Report, one of the few news programs devoted to local news (i.e. the state). Not to get off track of the original thread, but I'm curious what you feel is needed to make this a more compelling program?




have good information on a good site would be useful to people thank you

The comments to this entry are closed.


The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!