Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
July 31, 2012, 9:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production

SoundCloud expands its effort to become the YouTube of public radio and podcasts

On the web, audio has long been video’s neglected little brother.

SoundCloud is arguably the biggest music-sharing community since MySpace, but now the company is eyeing a different kind of audio: the spoken word.

SoundCloud logoThe website was founded five years ago by two sound guys who wanted to make it easier for musicians to share their work. After a series of smart moves — releasing robust public APIs, building partnerships with the likes of Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress — SoundCloud has attracted audience (20 million registered users, according to the company) and money (including a reported $50 million investment round in January). SoundCloud’s “freemium” model charges heavier users for extra storage capacity and deeper analytics.

Now, as part of its effort to “unmute the web,” SoundCloud is courting radio news professionals, podcasters, and indie storytellers. A year-old team of about a half-dozen people is focused on spoken-word content. The company just hired Jim Colgan, formerly a producer and digital experimenter for WNYC public radio, to manage partnerships with audio providers.

“In our outreach…we highlight that if you’ve got great audio, appreciate it for what it is,” said Manolo Espinosa, SoundCloud’s head of audio. “It does not need to have an overlay of a video container. It doesn’t have to have a separate experience. … You don’t have to have a stock video image of a tape player or a microphone on there. The audio stands by itself.”

A recent example: Audio from police scanners captured during the Aurora shootings, edited and posted to SoundCloud by The Madeleine Brand Show.

Producers of radio stories don’t need to be told how powerful sound can be. The problem is, the form has long suffered from neglect on the web. Sample a variety of public-radio sites and you’ll find proprietary Flash-based widgets or direct links to MP3 files. The HTML5 <audio> standard was supposed to fix all that, but ongoing format wars have led to inconsistent browser support, so hardly anyone uses it.

Video producers might still be having this conversation if not for YouTube. Do you remember what it was like trying to embed video in a blog post before YouTube (or Vimeo)? Pretty terrible. YouTube became a de facto standard for video because it nailed three things:

  1. It provided free hosting of the content
  2. It provided an easy-to-embed player
  3. It built a huge community

It’s uncommon for a news organization not to upload original video to YouTube — at least those organizations without their own infrastructure for video. There’s no need to fiddle with file formats or pay for server space, and it’s dead simple to embed the file in a web page. Plus people might actually see it.

Standardization, in addition to simplifying things for news outlets, can go a long way in providing a consistent user experience. SoundCloud, of course, wants to be that standard. Think of it as an aspiring YouTube for public radio.

SoundCloud is itself a social network, within which fans can like and comment on tracks. But the content is portable, easily embedded in other sites. And the player is offered in HTML5, which means mobile devices (without Flash) can still render the audio.

Some producers are signing on. L.A.-based KPCC and KCRW, North Carolina’s WUNC, St. Louis Public Radio, and (newly relaunched) CNN Radio are among the traditional outlets actively uploading to the site. Boston’s WBUR and WGBH program The World have switched to using SoundCloud’s player on their websites. A number of other shows are on the platform, free to download and share, including Roman Mars’ wildly popular 99% Invisible.

SoundCloud also provides a way for producers to solicit audio from users. Last week Michael Caputo of the Public Insight Network wrote about American Public Media’s new effort to collect audio responses to survey questions:

For years now, the web has elevated visual presentations, making videos and video streams a means of trading information on sites like YouTube, Skype and Google Hangouts. They, and thousands of similar services, have turned the seen into the shared, and helped make video an important mode of engagement.

But it seems like audio has lagged behind, likely because the vast majority of audio platforms cater to music creators. They enable us to hear the songs and even pass finished pieces along to someone else. But where’s the engagement in all this?

Espinosa told me one of his challenges is winning over commercial outlets, who are, for better or for worse, more focused on monetization and concerned about releasing control of their product. Unlike YouTube, SoundCloud offers no built-in options for advertising or other ways to monetize. That could stall broad industry adoption. Espinosa said SoundCloud’s focus now is on maximizing distribution.

POSTED     July 31, 2012, 9:30 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Reporting & Production
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
Can publishers find a sustainable business model this new age of Facebook/Apple/Snapchat/Twitter/Google distributed content? And is local news destined to be left behind?
What Scribd’s growing pains mean for the future of digital content subscription models
It turns out that ebook subscription models don’t work very well when people read too much. So what happens next?
How research (and PowerPoints) became the backbone of National Journal’s membership program
“We no longer look at National Journal simply as a news source, but as a collection of resources, as well as a collection of experts we can turn to on occasion.”
What to read next
2843
tweets
A blow for mobile advertising: The next version of Safari will let users block ads on iPhones and iPads
Think making money on mobile advertising is hard now? Think how much more difficult it will be with a significant share of your audience is blocking all your ads — all with a simple download from the App Store.
1763For news organizations, this was the most important set of Apple announcements in years
A new Flipboard-clone with massive potential reach, R.I.P. Newsstand, and news stories embedded deeper inside iOS — it was a big day for news on iPhones and iPads.
762Newsonomics: 10 numbers that define the news business today
From video to social, from mobile to paywalls — these data points help define where we are in the “future of news” today, like it or not.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
PBS
The UpTake
Mashable
Chicago Tribune
Outside.in
Dallas Morning News
Press+
Fox News
Bayosphere
Demand Media
New York
Bureau of Investigative Journalism