A couple weeks ago I posted that the International Herald Tribune was offering an new service that allows you to create podcasts of the stories you want to read and download them to your preferred listening device. Here’s a review after using it over the past week.
Overall, it is a striking innovation in the way newspaper content is presented. The implementation needs work, but the basics of the system are sound, easy to use, and give entry to traditional newspaper content into an area it’s never gone before. My gut feeling is that this is one way the newspapers can follow their dwindling readership base.
How it works
You sign up for free membership at the IHT.com site. After the standard email validation stuff, you’re into their audionews page, which lists virtually every story on their site, by top level category. Beside each story is a button to stream or download the story as an mp3 file. Or you can check off all the stories on the list of interest and download them as one big podcast (that’s my choice…). It shows up as podcast in ITunes, but only the first item has been downloaded, so you will manually need to ask it to retrieve the rest of the files. Then you can take it with you and play it when you want, where you want, over the car stereo, on your Ipod or laptop, etc.
I’d expected the audio to be choppy, as I’ve come to expect from all text to speech syntesizers. In some cases, it is, but in most stories, it’s easy to forget that you’re listening to a compute and not a person with a mild speech impediment. Guitarist Pete Townsend’s name comes across annoyingly throughout a story as “Townshend” and the words are occasionally halting, without accentuation. Overall, I give them high ranks on their generally human presentation.
To my mind, the best thing about this service is that I can now take the newspaper stories I love and listen to them in my car on the long ride to work. Audio versions of newspaper stories provide much greater depth than the shallow radio version of the news. It also extends the paper to the one place it really couldn’t go before – behind the wheel. If your readers are leaving, follow them!
On the negative side, this current implementation is yet another disruptive technology which utterly breaks the newspaper revenue model. Simply telling me in the podcast that “this podcast is a service of the International Herald Tribune” won’t pay the bills. But I’m willing to bet that problem will be overcome. I think the bigger issue is the two bits I see missing, the ability to subscribe to a daily list of top stories (configurable to your request) and the ability to set up a standing search preference to pull down stories according to your preferences.
The UI on the system gets a 6 out of 10, the help and instructions I rate a 3 out of 10 (some instructions are just plain incorrect and much is missing) while the reliability is about a 6 – stories don’t always work or download properly. That said, the overall service gets a big thumbs up and I’d rate it at 8 of 10. Give it a try…