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Insider (May 14, 2021): Piracy Watch, Wonky Conversions, Edit Mode’s inaugural class

Piracy Watch [by Nick Quah]. The Verge reports that leaked versions of paywalled podcasts — typically of the private feed variety, facilitated by companies like Patreon and Supporting Cast — are popping up on the Chinese podcast app Castbox, possibly exposing a vulnerability in the existing premium RSS-facilitated paid podcast sub-ecosystem.

Quick thought on this: I think it’s important to strike a balance when trying to grok the severity and ramifications of this particular issue. On the one hand, this isn’t a problem that’s specific or unique to the RSS-facilitated paid podcast infrastructure. Supporting Cast CEO David Stern’s quote in the piece comparing this to Netflix password shares is right, and I face versions of this problem myself when it comes to Hot Pod Insider’s paywall (I see you). Plus, based on the write-up, the severity of this still seems to be relatively small, more about Castbox allowing for careless workarounds and less about a sizable portion of listeners actively seeking pirated versions of paid podcasts. (That is, it’s not Napster and the music industry.) On top of that, the premise of a lot of current paid podcasts is one of support; paid listeners are mostly those who opt into the relationship.

But on the other hand, even if this problem has a “relatively small” severity, that still matters if you’re an independent podcaster governing a relatively small but deeply monetized show where those margins really matter. And even if those margins don’t matter, stuff like this adds up. Furthermore, given the recent announcements around new podcast subscription features, I imagine there are at least a few publishers thinking about positioning their own paywalled offerings as a subscription-first business; that is, less a relationship of “support,” and one of pure transaction. That this vulnerability exists — and publicly identified in The Verge — could complicate the perceived viability of those efforts.

Then again, this is theoretically something that won’t be a problem for the upcoming Apple Podcasts subscription tool, which isn’t built using RSS, but on something that’s internal to the platform. I guess that’s what you pay for with the steep, steep 30% cut.

Speaking of which… And even then! I continue to get reports of Apple Podcasts weirdness: episodes not showing up, slowdowns in uploads, and so on. Still gathering yarn, let me know what you’re seeing.

Meanwhile… ‘Cuz I know some Insider readers are paying close attention to this: Slate’s new Dear Prudence columnist is Jenée Desmond Harris, who joins from New York Times Opinion. Daniel Lavery, who previously wrote the column (and hosted the podcast), has moved over to Substack, but will launch a new podcast for Slate, called Big Mood, Little Mood, on May 25.

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Facebook begins testing its Clubhouse competitor with select users. In addition to plugging away at the various audio products that the company recently announced — Soundbites, the shareable clips slated to be exactly what they sound like; native podcast playback; etc. — Facebook has begun demo-ing its Clubhouse competitor n, referred to as “Live Audio Rooms,” in Taiwan.

Bloomberg reports that Taiwan is one of Facebook’s “most vibrant markets,” namely because “celebrities and politicians constantly debate important issues and freely interact with their audiences.” That’s something I didn’t personally know about that locale, and it ostensibly provides a valuable testbed for any viable social audio tool, since in being a primary use case for Clubhouse, the dynamic of one creator speaking to an audience (one of several that Nick has mentioned while tracking these developments) would reasonably be a use case for Clubhouse’s competitors.

Among those competitors, Facebook, at the very least, is reportedly planning to integrate its Live Audio Rooms into both Facebook Groups and Facebook Messenger, which I take to mean that they will hypothetically be accessible from both individual pages for their entire followings and as a more selective form of communication, the way you can currently cobble together a group chat in Messenger, with just the people you choose.

On a related noteFrom CNBC: “Discord takes on Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces by pointing users to audio chats.” That push involves a feature called Stage Discovery, and the company also announced that it will begin testing ticketed events for those live audio chat sessions.

Speaking of Bloomberg… The media company is seeing some success enticing listeners of one of its biggest podcasts to become paid subscribers of the site, according to Nieman Lab.

The podcast in question is Odd Lots, the hyper-wonky finance show hosted by Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal. Nieman Lab’s Sarah Scire writes that, since listeners of the show Odd Lots have shown interest in in-the-weeds financial discussions (per download numbers for particularly granular episodes) but are majority non-subscribers (76% of the show’s listeners), folks like Bloomberg’s general manager of subscriptions think these listeners might be possible to convert, by way of dangling similar, paywalled content in front of them, even while keeping the show itself free.

Scire puts it gently by saying that Bloomberg subscriptions are “not for everyone,” because, yes, they’re steep. At $420 a year (nice), Bloomberg outranks similarly niche, white-collar pubs like Harvard Business Review and MIT Technology Review, which, even at their most premium tiers, come in between $100 and $200 annually.

To that point, do I currently have that Bloomberg article about Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms open in an Incognito window? Possibly.

Pineapple Street teases forthcoming “mystery box” show. On Tuesday, Pineapple Street Studios co-founder Max Linsky tweeted about a new show scheduled to debut in summer 2021. Episodes of The 11th, Linsky wrote, will publish once a month and be a surprise every time, from who hosts them to how long they are. The production house is currently looking for pitches and is said to already have “a documentary mini-series, a concept album, and a modern take on an old book” in the works.

“You are probably saying to yourself, ‘It sounds like it could be anything,’” the Pineapple Street site reads. “And that is not technically wrong. But we will be selective. We want projects that feel new and ambitious, are told uniquely well by the person pitching them, and might not currently have a home.”

Though it will obviously have way more variation, the all-in dedication to a different creator each month reminds me a bit of Atavist Magazine, but for audio rather than text — fitting, since Linsky, in his original tweet, wanted to drum up interest from magazine writers in particular, saying “if you have been looking for a way to try audio, this might be it!”

Aside from being curious to check this out, I’m super interested to see some listener data after the show gets going. What will their downloads look like episode to episode? If episodes are actually gonna range from 5 minutes to 75 minutes, as the site says, I almost definitely won’t be down for all of them. But maybe that’s just me.

Edit Mode announces inaugural group of fellows. Edit Mode, a program to teach audio editors by way of the digital-training provider SoundPath and a new group called the Editors Collective, debuted its first class of fellows. The ten participants will partake in focused workshops in the coming weeks, receive one-on-one mentorship, and each be granted a $1,000 stipend.

The idea, say the Editors Collective founders, is to provide direct, explicit training for a role that’s often filled by the same people (i.e. “coastal, upper middle class, white, college educated, probably from public radio”) often because they’ve already worked in public radio. They also say that this becomes a problem when there’s increased demand for people who know how to shape stories — as there reportedly has been recently — since there isn’t currently a robust, diverse group of applicants who know how to do this work.

I will say, anecdotally, that job opportunities for audio-story editors don’t seem to appear nearly as often as they do for, say, sound engineers, but I don’t think a perceived shortage and my observation are mutually exclusive. The latter might just mean that there is a large demand for editors, but the roles are often being filled internally, by people who are swept into the roles because they already work in the industry, whether or not they have the time or are being fairly compensated to take on these new tasks. (This appears to square with an observation by the Editors Collective’s Jen Chien, from Nick’s piece from March, that folks are likely “getting poached and recruited from all angles.”) At any rate, any absence of focus on storyline editors is a red herring, because audio basically always needs editorial oversight, the way written articles do, for example.

The first round of folks to receive this training comprises various levels of experience with audio, though they do all come from the industry, as was the intention of the Editors Collective to build on existing knowledge of narrative audio. The fellows are Abukar Adan, Christina Cala, Jenny Casas, Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong, Jess Jupiter, Neena Pathak, Lisa Phu, Adreanna Rodriguez, Aisha Turner, and Sharif Youssef.

Edit Mode 2021 starts on June 5 and will span three weekends. An opportunity to apply for the next training cycle is said to be scheduled for later this year.

“Sound on Mystic” opens to public in Boston area. The site-based sound experience along Massachusetts’ Mystic River, which I wrote about in February, opens tomorrow, Saturday, May 15 in Medford. Folks will be able to access audio art anchored to different points along a two-mile-long section of the river, which spans from the bottom of the Mystic Lakes in the west to Cradock Bridge in the east. “Entrance” is free (the exhibit is outside, and it’s self paced), the sounds are free, and the actual way you proceed through the experience is also, in the figurative sense, free, since you can start at any point and move around as little or as much as you’d like.

Again, it’s site specific, so it will only work in specific proximity to the Mystic River, but once you’re there and have downloaded the app ECHOES, the individual installations play automatically, based on where you’re located. The final lineup of artists for the exhibit has 14 participants, all of whom hail from New England; you can read that one piece is an interview with members of the Massachusett Tribe and another is an instrumental composition meant to mimic the “metronomic feeling” of walking, but you won’t be able to hear them until you’re physically there yourself. Ian Coss (who co-created the project with Dwayne Johnson, Gary Roberts, with support from the Medford Arts Council, Arlington Cultural Council, and Mystic River Watershed Association), recommends using headphones for the experience — rather than, ahem, paying it aloud like some college students on a hiking trail.

In a press release for the exhibit, the group notes that public parking is available near the Condon Shell park and that the exhibit is also accessible by bus, with stops on various lines intersecting the exhibit’s route, namely at Medford Square, Boston Ave, and High Street, all in Medford. Locals should be able to use Google Maps to identify the route that’s best for the specific direction they’re coming from, by plugging in one of the above locations as their destination and selecting “bus” as the mode of transportation.