More fan-kvetching over This American Life and podcasters

Following up on an earlier BoingBoing post about requests by the PRI program "This American Life" that podcasters stop deep-linking to archived audio files on the program's website (, reader Christopher says,

Ironically, just last week I had a friend asking me how he could get these "podcasts" for less than $20000 (sic) the other day, and now it comes up here. I think this is a move by iTMS as well as Ira Glass to squelch all other sources for the show, because the iTMS now sells each of these 1 hour shows (which I believe are broadcast weekly for free in the Chicago area) for $4 to $6, as well as a couple $20 shows for fun. Go ahead and search the Music store for "this american life" and ignore the now defunct Unnofficial podcast.

Just for giggles I tried to put them all in my shopping cart for a full dallor amount, but it only holds about 20 or so at a time for $278.50 "plus applicable tax." If we extrapolate that for the whole 299 shows listed we get about $4177.50 – plus or minus $20 error.

This is exhorbitant extortion on the part of both Ira Glass and Apple. I don't listen to the show, and I don't plan to now that they're shutting down the open sources of getting it weekly. If this is a shadow of the future of podcasting, fear for the media… and buy yourself a new AM/FM radio while you still can.

I'd welcome responses by folks involved with the program who have another side to voice, and would be pleased to post here.

Reader comment: Mark says,

It isn't free, and the files are DRM'ed to heck, but has This American Life for either $44.95 a year or $9.95 per month. I download the shows and listen to them on my Treo using their Palm-based player. Cheaper than iTunes and more portable as well. Link

Reader comment: Morgan W. says,

"reader Christopher" claims 4 bucks per episode is "exhorbitant extortion"." No, it's commercial exploitation, a system he seems not only reluctant to, but barely able to participate in. Shop for a better deal my friend. Had Chris ever listened to the show, he would have heard Ira Glass hawk the downloads at Audible which are only $2.77 or a year's subscription for $31.47 with a $10/year membership.

If you don't want to pay & mirrors of the "podcast" disappear, it's a small value of work to look inside a couple of the .m3u "streams" to find the pattern of .mp3 URIs, to handle your own downloads. If you do download, use the –limit-rate option with curl. I grabbed all 300+ archived episodes over about a week at 2x real time.

In fact, this is the answer to TAL & WBEZ's wish to provide free streams but not downloads: limit the bandwidth of .mp3s to 1.1x realtime. Before I subscribed, I used Audio Hijack Pro with its scheduler to record streams of local radio stations. I've also used it with line-in from a regular ol' FM receiver. Hijack will push these into iTunes for you or you can write a script to build the RSS for your own podcast.

Reader comment: Tom Collins says,

It could be useful to include this in a followup: TAL on podcasts. I'm not involved with the show, but am willing to offer up a counterpoint.

When I look at the "Top Ira Glass Downloads", I see 299 shows with half at $3.95, half at $5.95, one at $19.95 and one at $26.95. Since the $20 and $27 ones contain multiple shows (probably duplicated in the $4 and $6 episodes), I estimate you could download everything for $1470.15. Not bad for 297 hours of entertainment. I'm not sure how this guy came out to $4177.

This American Life is a syndicated show, typically played on NPR stations each weekend. The NPR stations are paying PRI (Public Radio International) to carry the show. It's not a podcast. Ira Glass and PRI own the copyright on past shows, and have every right to sell copies as they see fit (currently with iTMS, Audible and by selling episodes on CD).

Note that the This American Life website does NOT include links to the MP3s. They link to a .m3u playlist that contains the URL for the .mp3. A pretty strong indication that they intend for people to stream the episodes, and not download them.

The irony here is that they continue to provide free streams of all (or almost all) of their episodes on the Internet. They're not "shutting down the open sources of getting it weekly". They're stopping podcasters from making a podcast out of their (PRI/Ira Glass's) content.

If they're generous enough to make them available in .mp3 so they can be streamed in apps other than RealPlayer, the least we (on the web) can do is honor their requests not to create RSS feeds linking to the .mp3 files. It's not your content — you have no right to create an RSS feed of it. They could always go back to using RealAudio or some other DRM format if podcasters don't heed their requests. Don't fuck it up for the rest of us.

Reader comment: Sumana says,

TiVo has a no-additional-cost podcasts service, including approx. twenty episodes of This American Life. On the main TiVo menu, choose "Music, Photos, and More" or whatever they're calling it now, then choose "Podcaster." TAL is the very first Featured podcast in the list. But you can't pause podcasts in the middle, which feels very un-TiVo.

Reader comment: David Gulbransen says,

Here's the thing: I support 100% TAL's right to distribute their content as they see fit, and they have been making a valiant effort to protect their rights while making the program available via free streaming.

I guess the problem comes in for listeners like me, who aren't able to listen on-line, and would like to listen to the program at my convenience on my iPod. I'm not downloading all 297 episodes. I just want this week's (or last week's) show. So how do I do that? Well, TAL is telling me it's simple: I pay for it via Audible or iTunes store. Well, that'd be fine and dandy… except I contribute to my local public radio station so that programs like TAL can get the funding they need. I'm already paying for it. Why can't I listen to it on my iPod without paying again? I could tape it off the air at home, right? I just want to be able to time shift the show without feeling like I'm paying double. It's not that TAL isn't worth paying for–it absolutely is. But if I do feel that I'm being penalized and paying twice for something when someone who can tune in at the time it's being broadcast isn't even necessarily paying for it once.

Unfortunately, I do understand TAL's side of it… but there isn't an easy solution that I can see. I should qualify that I *used* to contribute to my local public radio station… WBEZ. However, since they announced that they are cancelling *all* music programming starting in 2007, I no longer support the station. (

Reader comment: Ted Stevko says,

TAL is bending over backwards to be nice about this, and is going MUCH farther than most NPR/PRI programs. TAL didn't send C&D letters, they asked that people not take it down, personally. How cool is that? TAL provides MP3 formats, where almost every other NPR program is in RealPlayer formats. TAL has asked that you don't provide an easy way for people to grab all they can — that's fine. Bandwidth still costs a lot, and forcing people to stream is a way of spreading out that bandwidth usage over time. If anything, we should support this move — TAL is doing what they can, and providing amazing work for free. Be supportive of TAL, and more people will move that way.