Podcasts Get Lift From ‘iTunes Effect’

Jul. 8–Until last week, the Twin Cities’ Wanda Wisdom had enjoyed only marginal success with her podcast — a radio-like program offered online as a digital file for subscribers to download and put on their portable music players.

The cross-dressing character and the alter ego of Bradley Traynor, a Minneapolis resident, figures the podcast attracted only several hundred visits or “hits” to its address or “feed” per day.

Then came the June 28 “iTunes effect.”

That’s when Apple Computer released a new version of its popular iTunes music-jukebox software with the built-in ability to locate and automatically download podcasts. Since then, downloads of Wanda Wisdom’s podcast — which has a title that cannot be printed here — have ballooned into the thousands per day.

Suddenly, the obscure, geeky podcasting world was thrust into the mainstream as millions of average Windows and Macintosh users discovered the downloadable shows and took to them in droves. Within about two days, iTunes fans subscribed to podcasts more than a million times for use on their Apple iPod players.

This doesn’t mean that Wanda Wisdom and other area podcasting personalities are suddenly awash in cash. Most podcasts are free, after all, so their authors have to settle for the increased visibility that comes with their recent surges in Web traffic.

That has caused a few of them minor technical problems. One local podcaster said his initially popular show vanished from the directory, then reappeared with an “explicit” label he said it hardly deserves.

But local podcasters said the iTunes effect, on balance, has been a good one.

St. Paul-based marketing and public relations firm Provident Partners, for instance, is delighted that its 4-month-old podcast, “The Marketing Edge,” now has a broader audience. Podcast-feed hits, initially hovering around 100 to 150 a day, roughly tripled just after the new iTunes program was released and have since roughly quintupled.

“It’s been amazing,” said Mike Keliher, a Provident Partners staffer.

Tim Elliot of Lakeville said his “Winecast” has gone from 242 to 650 file downloads a day. Joel Anderson of St. Paul said his “A Klingon Word from the Word” podcast centered on the “Star Trek” aliens’ guttural language saw a tenfold increase in hits just after the new iTunes came out. Nick Ciske of Minneapolis said his “Bluer” religion show went from 5 to 7 gigabytes of file transfers per month to about 2.6 gigabytes in the first four days of July alone.

One of Ciske’s complaints: Bluer is strangely listed in Apple’s “food” category as well as the “religion” category, but not in the “Christianity” category.

For local podcasters not yet listed on the iTunes directory, excitement is building.

“Creot Radio,” an informal group of amateur musicians with members here and around the world, has been podcasting in semi-obscurity for months.

“Apple’s decision to include podcasts as part of its iTunes program will mean more opportunities for independent musicians to have their music heard and for listeners to enjoy a wider range of songs,” said St. Paul’s Alissa Barthel, “Creot Radio’s” founder.

At least one top local podcaster didn’t see a major traffic surge. Garrick Van Buren of St. Anthony said his “First Crack Podcast” had been steadily building a following prior to the new iTunes’ release, which may partly account for why only a marginal uptick occurred just after June 28.

For local podcasters, the iTunes program and its directory have become the main consumer tools for getting at their shows. Other podcast-downloading programs, such as iPodder and iPodderX, have largely been marginalized as iTunes becomes the de facto podcast “receiver.”

This worries St. Paul’s Mike O’Connor, author of the “Sex and Podcasting” podcast, who said he has been a victim of censorship. His problem: The word “sex” in his podcast’s title is a joke. His show has nothing to do with sex. Yet, possibly because of user complaints, the podcast briefly vanished from the directory and then was labeled “explicit.”

Podcasting was once “entirely a conversation between the podcaster and the listener,” O’Connor said. “Now there is an intermediary. This bugs me a lot. (Apple is) essentially a third-party arbiter of taste.”

Greg “Joz” Joswiak, Apple’s vice president for iPod marketing, said Apple is applying to its podcast listings the same family-friendly cautionary labels it has used with iTunes Music Store offerings that feature explicit content.

He added that the word “sex” alone needn’t get a podcast booted from its directory or branded “explicit.” What happened to “Sex and Podcasting” may be due to misinformed user complaints, he said, and the firm will investigate.


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