The beautiful simplicity of the podcast, where an MP3 player automatically updates itself with new episodes of shows, has led to a renaissance in speech-based entertainment. Many podcasters have been able to convert their shows into cash; all they need is a sizeable listenership and some eager advertisers.
It's a logical step for content creators to think about charging people to download their shows. But the history of the paid-for podcast isn't a happy one, and the latest casualty is a show created by Danny Baker. Earlier this year, with music download company Wippit, he began a free podcast, The All Day Breakfast Show, which quickly rose to the top of the iTunes podcast chart. Baker appeared at a Radio Academy event with Paul Myers, the CEO of Wippit, heralding the "future of radio", and in September, they began charging 2 a week for the thrice-weekly hour-long show.
Wippit encountered huge technical problems in making this happen not least because, according to Myers, iTunes dictates that podcasts must be free. Baker ploughed ahead with a series of highly acclaimed shows, but at the weekend he pulled the plug, saying that "there has been an... utter breakdown between the on-air team and [Wippit]... We created an enormous amount of strong, funny, unbeatable internet shows and in return received nothing."
Wippit cited contractual disagreements about exclusivity as the reason for the show's demise. What's interesting is that listening figures have not been revealed. It was a similar story when Ricky Gervais stopped his paid-for podcast after just 12 shows; while downloads for his free podcast were quoted as around half a million, figures for the paid-for version were never made public.
Cyberclinic commenter "Adrian" thinks an advertising model is the only way forward. "In a country where radio has always been free to air," he says, "the model of selling 'disposable' content is not going to work." And as we're ever more convinced of our "right" to receive media for free via the internet, I'm inclined to agree.
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