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NPR Drops Audible.com; Talks With Apple & Others (UPDATE)

TMO Reports - NPR Drops Audible.com; Talks With Apple & Others (UPDATE)

by , 7:00 AM EDT, June 9th, 2005

National Public Radio has ended its relationship with Audible.com and has removed its primary daily and weekly news programs from the online audio distributors Web site. The Mac Observer has learned NPR is talking with a number of other possible suitors -- including Apple Computer -- about offering its shows for download from services like the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) onto portable audio players.

The programs were removed at the end of last week. Programs such as "All Things Considered," "Morning Edition" and "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me," are no longer available. When a program linked is selected, subscribers are met with the message, "That product was not found in our database."

Subscribers of the programs who have paid in advance for daily feeds were informed by e-mail on or around the posting of this story about the cancellation, saying the programs would no longer be available after July 1.

"We want you to know that as of July 1, Audible will no longer be able to offer subscriptions to All Things Considered," the e-mail read. "We will continue to deliver the program to you each day through the end of June...Wed like to invite you to consider subscribing to one of our other great news and information programs, all of which are delivered daily."

A spokeswoman for NPR told TMO the public radio network informed Audible, Inc. it would be terminating its agreement with the company five months ago.

"We informed Audible we would be ending our relationship last January," Jenny Lawhorn, a spokeswoman for NPR told TMO. "This was not a last minute decision. This had been planned for a number of months."

A spokesman for Audible.com did not respond to numerous e-mail and phone calls requesting comment in advance of the posting of this story. David Joseph, vice president of Corporate Communications & Strategy for Audible.com, has since contacted TMO, clearing up a number of questions including the fact that programs such as "Car Talk" and "Fresh Air," which are distributed by NPR, are still available on Audible.com and are not affected.

Ironically, the dropping of NPR programming on Audible.com came just days before the company announced an alliance with XM Satellite Radio that will ultimately allow Audible users to listen to public radio programming from one of NPRs competitor.

In 2006, XM will start selling an "AudibleReady/XM" device capable of playing both the XM service as well as Audible's spoken-word content, which can be downloaded from the Web into the devices' memory. Among the programs that will be available for Audible.com listeners will include the "The Bob Edwards Show" -- formerly show host of NPRs "Morning Edition" before being unceremoniously dumped in March, 2004.

Those not owning the special receiver will also be able to download certain XM programming, including "The Bob Edwards Show" from Audible's Web site to play on their portable media device, such as an Apple iPod

When asked about the alliance between Audible, Inc. and XM, Ms. Lawhorn said she was unaware of the announcement, but that "this had nothing to do with our original decision last January."

NPR considering their options, including Apple's iTMS

Ms. Lawhorn said NPR has been considering a change in how its programming is distributed and while it has spoken to many companies, it has yet to make a final decision.

"We have spoken to a number of companies, including Apple, about our next move in offering NPR programming in podcast form," she said. "It's too early to say when we will make a decision."

Ms. Lawhorn said NPR is carefully considering its options in the wake of the ever-growing phenomenon known as 'podcasting.'

"Our radio affiliates are an important part of our existence. We are involving them in this podcast process at every step," she said. "We're trying to find the right formula so we can take advantage of the growing market for podcasting. A year ago, no one even knew what it meant. Now, we have something that is going to be important to our future and we've got to figure out how it fits into our overall strategy."

Unlike commercial radio stations, much of NPRs lifeblood depends on public radio stations throughout the U.S. who air NPR programs and survive on money raised through donations and not from radio advertising. As a result, NPR must be careful not to make its programming available through other means where listeners could simply listen and not be persuaded to donate to their local public radio station.

One possible option could be selling NPR content through Apple's iTMS either individually, or in a subscription deal where subscribers would pay for a week or months worth of shows. If Apple decided to offer subscriptions to recurring NPR programming it would be a first for the company, which has shunned away from offering a subscription music service in favor of selling individual downloads of music.

An Apple spokesperson did not respond to repeated attempts for comment for this story.

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