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The Audible issue

Only someone with a position in academia could possibly be as cantankerous about people offering ways to make money as Dave Winer. Winer is dead-set against Audible’s attempt to provide a way for podcasters to make money directly from their work, which is fair enough given that (1) he has idealogical “issues” over this, and (2) he’s already rather well off thanks to selling a domain name.

But what really tends to irritate about Winer’s comments is his high-church pronouncements about what is or isn’t Podcasting, like he somehow owned the trademark. According to Winer, “ if you’re not using MP3, you’re probably trying to make Podcasting into a replay of previous media.” What, Dave – you mean someone wants to make money from their work, wants to be more than a talented amateur?

Winer is living in a fantasy world. Take, for example, the following:

Google has shown that the text web can be monetised, but maybe only for a little while. That’s what I think is going on. They’ve built a web that historically the Internet undoes. An advertising broker isn’t that different from a stock broker, travel agent, a real estate agent, reporters, all the intermediaries and distributors that the Internet has already disintermediated.

Umm? Stock brokers? Travel agents? Real estate? Yes, you can sell your house via Craigslist. But there’s no disintermediation here – you’re still effectively using a third party to sell your house. But they again, any criticism of Winer is unwise:

There are a bunch of people who have, in the past, tried to make a business out of trashing me, but that seems to have stopped, thanks to the success of the things they were trashing me for, and the failure of the things they were promoting as alternatives. Mitch apparently hasn’t heard the news. Singling me out for abuse should be, and I believe is, bad strategy, and bad representation for his client, Audible. They both owe an apology for this abuse.

In other words, “I’ve been right in the past therefore that means anyone who criticises anything I say is wrong”. But Dave’s vision of Podcasting isn’t exactly thrilling:

Check out the breakfast podcast I did with Betsy Devine in a Cambridge restaurant. Or try the cast I did with my parents on my birthday, also in May of this year. Or the last one I did, with an ode to Steve Gillmor sung to the tune of Turkey in the Straw.

I’d urge everyone to check all these out. They’re hardly thrilling, and demonstrate perfectly well why the majority of the podcasts in the iTunes top ten are either professional (BBC stuff, for example) or professionally-done amateurs who take the medium seriously. Winer is like the guy in the crowd calling Bob Dylan “Judas” for going electric: his vision is a failure of vision.

Calling out Dave Winer often leads to a group of like-minded bloggers jumping up and down on your head. As one Steven Frein puts it over on CrunchNotes comments:

The problem is that everyone thinks Dave, Doc and OM are gods in this space. They only get the attention of the geeks. Do you think the average person who uses Audible cares what Dave, Doc or Om thinks about the product. There is a focus on technology but the focus should be on the consumer. The elite bloggers don’t get to decide how Podcasting is going to be controlled. You are better off having a big circle jerk with yourselves because at the end of the day you are not the influencers.

Nicholas Carr hits the nail on the head:

Those who hope to make a career of writing or talking or making music or shooting video should be able to protect their work and try to earn a living from it. If we don’t encourage experimentation with profit-making business models (beyond just search-based advertising) – and with rights-management schemes – we’ll end up restricting the creation of web media to amateurs, particularly amateurs of means. And we’ll end up with mediocrity. The greatest content is not created by those who do it just for love; it’s created by those who are so dedicated to their craft that they have no choice but to do it for both love and money. 

Note particularly that “amateurs of means”. Dave forgets that he’s exactly that – but not everyone is so lucky.

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  • James Bailey

    I believe this is the first opinion piece by you that I’ve agreed with without reservation. :)