Journal/15 Nivôse CCXVII from Evan Prodromou

I really like the This American Life podcast. It's probably one of my favorite pieces of public radio, and having a full high-quality public feed is fantastic. However, I've been a little grumpy about the long forewords that have been put into the show lately, asking for donations from podcast listeners.

Here's the scoop: apparently WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) is spending US$150K just on the bandwidth to keep the podcast on the air (not counting servers, staff, or whatever). This is not just small potatoes for WBEZ; they just laid off a dozen workers. So, podcast listeners should pay their fair share and help out Chicago Public Radio.

Now, I'm a big fan of public radio, and I think everyone should become a member. However, I find the premise of this solicitation kind of faulty. First, there are a lot of technical ways they could cut down on their bandwidth requirements. Providing an alternative BitTorrent RSS feed, for example, would reduce their bandwidth requirements a lot. They'd need to put a bit of documentation on their site, but is that really harder than getting people to pony up $$? I think not.

Second, they could change the redistribution requirements and let other people or organizations mirror the episodes. A Creative Commons license would let other people distribute the files, saving WBEZ a lot (possibly all) of the distribution costs.

But that second option is probably not that interesting to WBEZ. Why not? Because they make money selling "This American Life" to other public radio stations. If they put it under a free-redistribution license, they wouldn't be able to get that income.

So, in reality, the service announcements at the beginning of the podcasts aren't really asking listeners to keep the podcasts running. There are lots of ways to do that. What the announcements ask is for listeners to support a particular "business" model. There are even ways (like BitTorrent) to have their cake and eat it too. I'm still going to contribute to WBEZ, since I like the show and I'm glad it's produced the way it is. But I regret the disingenuous guilt-tripping that's going on. It's not a fair way to treat listeners and supporters.