Podcast, Podcast, Podcast! I'm Talking All over the Place

I had a spate of podcasts (some taped weeks ago) go up recently:

  • Clockwise #112: A 30-minute dash through four tech topics and one bonus question! I frighten everyone in this episode. (Yes, I am available to wash your dishes.)
  • Low Definition: Space Blobs: The Game Show podcast that's part of the Incomparable Network did a game that is absolutely not a popular word game in which you provide meanings to words. It was hilarious, and raccoons were not harmed, I swear. Seriously. Maybe squirrels, though.
  • Afoot: a mystery-genre podcast: I just launched this at the Incomparable. This was our introductory episode, and we'll be putting out new episodes every few weeks.
  • Doctor Who S9E8 review: “The Zygon Inversion”: A "flashcast" at the Incomparable, recorded just after watching the episode (with Jason Snell).
  • Love Blooms Naturally on a Vespa: A Rocket Surgery sub-podcast outing on the Incomparable in which we talk about Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster. You can also watch the movie at no cost, if you dare.
  • Every week, you can catch me on the Macworld podcast, too.

What's That? It's…Afoot! The Game, That Is

Over at The Incomparable network, I've just launched a podcast about mysteries—anything within the genre and related—called Afoot! No, it's not just about Sherlock Holmes, though you can imagine the great ratiocinator will come up. I've assembled a set of panelists, and different members (plus special guests) will appear in each episode depending on the topic.

The first episode is live! It's an introductory one in which six of us talk about what got us hooked on mysteries, our favorites, and what makes a mystery a mystery. We're planning on having new episodes at least every month, possibly more frequently.

The artwork is by Antony Johnston (based on my feeble imaginings), writer and podcast host; the intro and outdo sound-effect "play" by David J. Loehr, playwright and panelist.

Listen Up! Latest Podcast Appearances

I had a busy run of talking to invisible people the last few weeks, and several episodes have dropped:

  • The Committed (Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths, Kirk McElhearn): We talked security, Apple Pay, and Windows 10.
  • Systematic (Brett Terpstra): Brett asked me about my work and how I report, and we compared notes on how we approach tasks. We also talked cryptocurrency and a kid-derived currency.

In the next few weeks, you'll find me in an episode each of:

  • The Internet History Podcast: I talk with host Brian McCullough about myths of Amazon that are perpetuated even when Amazon itself denies them, my examination of the New York Times article detailing a culture that appears to thrive on conflict, and whether journalism is better off now than before the 2001 dotcom crash.
  • Cool Tools: Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder host this show in which a guest brings some of her or his favorite tools of any kind: farm, software, and more.

You can also hear me every week as the host of the Macworld Podcast, which is approaching episode 500! (I was the guest on episode #1 way back in the far past, too.)

There's No Use Crying over a Podcast

This week, I pinch-hit to write an issue of a favorite email newsletter, Hot Pod by Nick Quah. I discovered it a few months ago, and it is like ambrosia to those like me who want more insight into the broad podcast "industry," especially the parts I don't know in public radio. Nick just got a new job and was going to take this week off, so I offered to write an issue, which you can read here.

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Live! Moltz! Minecraft!

On March 3, I did a live event with John Moltz about Minecraft, a subject about which he's co-written a book: A Visual Guide to Minecraft. We talked with an audience about the basics of Minecraft, and the kids present—all experts, including mine!—chimed in with suggestions and feedback. It was a hoot, and you can listen to the fun (and get up to speed on Minecraft) below or download the audio.

There Is Not Enough Time in the Week for My New Co-Hosted Podcast!

Update: We had to put this on hiatus after just two episodes. I was signed on to the Macworld podcast as a regular host, which has quite a bit of overlap; and Christina wound up competing commitments for her time as well. Thanks for everyone's interest!

I've been absent from a regular podcast for a while as I wrapped up The Magazine and sorted out my freelance career. But I'd been incubating an idea for a while, and enlisted my friend, Christina Bonnington, a staff writer at Wired, to co-host Not Enough Time in the Week. She and I have complementary technical backgrounds and interests, and we'll quiz each other each week to explain the events of the last few days — why is China blocking VPNs (and what is a VPN)? If Uber is planning self-driving cars, is that realistic in the near future? The FCC is changing how it defines broadband, and what does that mean and how will it change our available services?

We're looking forward to listener feedback and suggestions. We're keeping it timely and short: 30 to 40 minutes per episode. Give a listen below, or find us via our RSS feed or on iTunes.

Show Me the Numbers: Serial's Data Transfer Costs

Serial is the most accessed podcast ever from iTunes, according to Apple. By November 18, it was downloaded and streamed 5 million times. The show claims some 1.5 million listeners per episode, of which nine have so far been produced. That would mean nearly 9 million downloads or streaming sessions (assuming people went back to listen to the whole thing) from non-iTunes sources, which seems high, but would also indicate a better distribution of means by which people obtain podcasts, which is good for all podcasters!

David Carr, the lead media reporter at the New York Times, wrote that the episodes were downloaded "at a cost of nothing," which may refer to what it costs to deliver or what listeners pay; hard to tell. But I'd like to guess at the amount. What does it cost to deliver that many episodes?

Let's take the notion for simplicity that roughly 13.5 million downloads or equivalent streams occurred evenly over three months, or 4.5 million downloads a month. Episode 9 is typical and roughly 30 megabytes (MB). That's 135 terabytes (TB) per month. (Yes, some months would be more and others less, but still good for estimating.)

Via Amazon S3, Serial would have paid $12,000 a month or $36,000 so far. Amazon charges on usage, not on a monthly basis. (It charges for storage on a monthly basis, but all the podcast files together aren't even half a gigabyte.)

But, as my information technology friends tell me, that's way too much to pay; instead, Serial is using a content distribution network (CDN), which is designed to take media files and feed them out a bazillion times more cheaply and efficiently. Serial's CDN, Highwinds, doesn't publish its rates and any CDNs only offer private estimates, but MaxCDN has a rate schedule. Serial would pick the 150 TB per month plan, which runs $6,144 per month plus 4¢ a GB over 150 TB ($40 per extra TB). That would be over $18,000 so far. CacheFly has a bandwidth calculator, and reckons a bit over $3,700 per month for 135 TB, or about $11,000 so far.

If Serial has cut an excellent deal, piggybacking as one expects on This American Life's downloads, it's probably paying the least possible, and that sub-$4,000 per month figure seems accurate. But in public radio, that's the same cost as part or all of a full-time entry-level-or-above position. If the show becomes more popular, the costs go up as well, where conventional radio distribution has a very high fixed cost and none of these sorts of high variable costs for extremely popular programs. Some podcast and audio hosting sites, like Libsyn and SoundCloud, absorb some or all of the bandwidth costs — but they're still paying the piper, even if they bill $0 to the podcast producers.

Over time, the price of data transfer has dropped relatively quickly, but it doesn't plummet nearly as fast as hard drives or hosted storage. In 2006, Amazon charged 16¢ per GB for downstream transfer (its servers to the Internet); in 2014, it's 33% lower, or 12¢ per GB. In the same time, hard drive storage dropped from 60¢ per GB to 3¢, or a 95% drop.

Increasingly successful podcasts will need to budget serious sums that, as listenership grows and prices slowly drop, might stay constant for a while, and be a significant line item in the budget.

Future of Publishing Podcast

I've just launched a new podcast about the future of publishing (analog, digital, periodical, books, games — everything) called The Periodicalist. A lot of friends and colleagues have helped make this happen. Our first episode is "The Netflix of Ebooks," about how some startups offer subscription access to large libraries of ebooks on an all-you-can-read basis. Is this sustainable? Can publishers afford to be involved? Do readers benefit from this model? My co-host for this episode, Jane Friedman, and I discuss the ins and outs for authors, publishers, and readers.

You can listen or download below or at the site. The RSS feed to subscribe to the podcast is available, and it will be listed in iTunes shortly!