Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How much does it cost if it's free?

This American Life is an excellent radio programme/podcast produced by Chicago public radio. This is popular all over the English-speaking world. But the more popular it is, the more it costs Chicago public radio. This is a classic example of the economics of the web, the exact opposite of the economies of scale that we traditionally believe in. Now they're having to make appeals like this one.


  1. Ira Glass can be quite scary. I will probably donate. It keeps me entertained for an hour every week, which is more than most cds do.

    I can't quite understand why they allow free downloads outside of the US though. What's in it for them?

  2. I think the 'economies of scale' comparison is perhaps not quite right as it's usually applied to the unit cost of a mass produced and probably mass distributed item.
    But even then, if it's cars or combs, the more you make the more you pay out for materials and production costs - in total.

    As bandwidth is charged for as a commodity item just like steel or plastic, inevitably the more people that log in, the more the Chicago guys will have to pay.

    Your recent posts, which I am following with interest, about a model of paying for internet newspaper content may also need expanding to cover transmission media as well.

    The closest comparison could be another utility like electricity or water - you pay for the product and you also pay for the transmission medium all the way up the line, not just at the 'consumer' end, i.e. your ISP.

    I'm sure there's an opportunity to lecture on this and be treated to fine dining and dry sherry.

  3. Er.. I might be missing something here but why do they need to host their podcasts themselves?

    There's numerous sites that'll host audio without charging.

  4. Eyes (or should that be ears) out on stalks at the cost of hosting this podcast. I've only recently got into TAL via a Jon Ronson tweet a few months back and agree that its excellent.

    Having said that, I'm with Rob - why does it need to be that expensive. Can they not buddy up with some mirror sites. Isn't distributed distribution what p2p/torrent is all about. (Can you tell that I'm now just repeating words with a vague sense of what they mean).

  5. Sorry, meant to add that it makes me think that this is the digital equivalent of free museum admission. The free access leads to increased footfall, which increases wear and tear on the fabric of the building, which drives up running costs, which makes the museum less financially viable. And so on...

  6. Rob: delivering half a million 30MB mp3 files every week goes way beyond the scale of any free podcasting host.

    Andy: they can't go via the p2p/torrent route - at least with their current model - because each podcast is only available (in theory) for a week. After that, you pay for it. So they can't release it into the wild, so to speak.