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June 28, 2006

TED Talks - Very Cool!

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Back in January I blogged about how I'd like to see the sessions from the TED Conference made available on audio and video. Chris Anderson, the Editor of Wired magazine and the Curator of the TED Conference, saw my blog and let me know that they had some exciting plans in the works to make some of the content publicly available.

Today I noticed that a half-dozen of the sessions from the TED Conference are now available for free on audio and video. I just got done watching the session with Tony Robbins and it's really good stuff. People pay over $4,000 to attend the TED Conference so the fact that they are willing to make this content available to people who can't go says volumes about what the TED Conference is all about.

Kudos to Chris and the rest of the people at TED for helping to bring the ideas from the TED Conference to the world and in the process helping to change the world. It's an incredible world we live anyone with a PC and an Internet connection can now access all this amazing content.

 

June 28, 2006

Search *Within* Our Podcast Directory

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You've always been able to search our podcast directory to find the best podcasts to learn from. Now you can actually search within the audio for each podcast episode. We've recently partnered with Podzinger, a company that has a very cool audio search service. This will allow you to find podcasts that match your tastes or find podcasts on current events.

For example, let's say you would like to hear some recent podcast episodes about the World Cup. Try this search. You'll see some of the podcasts you would expect (e.g., the ESPN.com Mix Podcast, Sports Business Radio, Skinny on Sports) and some others you probably wouldn't (e.g., Digital Planet and the English as a Second Language Podcast). It's a cool way to expose yourself to some new podcasts.

Give it a try today by going to podcasts.learnoutloud.com. We're hoping to incorporate more and more of our audio content into this search mechanism in the future. Whatever we can do to make Learning Out Loud more fun and easier for you...that's our mission.

:)

 

June 18, 2006

A Guide to DRM-Free Audio

Let's face it. The DRM (if you're unfamiliar with the term DRM, click here for an overview) debate is probably never going to be resolved. On one hand, you have consumers (and consumer advocates) who hate having media they legally purchased crippled by what are sometimes ridiculous restrictions. On the other hand, you've got content producers who feel that distributing DRM-free media will result in rapidly declining business as people opt for sharing content with others rather than actually purchasing. I have no intention to get into that debate but do want to offer up something that I feel pretty strongly:

If you are opposed to DRM and want to see more DRM-free content made available the best thing you can do is support the companies that are distributing DRM-free media.

It's not easy to run a company selling DRM-free media. A large number of content producers won't do business with you because they feel that their content isn't being protected adequately (even though many of these same content producers sell the same content on CD witih no DRM). So many DRM-free companies are forced to sell whatever they can and may not have the most popular artists or latest releases. However, if we're ever hoping to live in a world where DRM doesn't exist or has a much smaller impact I think it's important to do our best to support these companies.

To help in that regard I've compiled a list of companies that sell DRM-free audio (both music and spoken word). After all, the first step in the process is knowing which companies sell content with no DRM restrictions. I feel that the best way to fight DRM is to do what we can to support them (and I'll admit upfront that there is at least a little bit of selfishness here as we do have DRM-free spoken word audio on our site). If we do then maybe, just maybe, we'll live in a DRM-free world one day (or at least in a world where there are more options for people who want legal content without DRM restrictions).

A couple of notes: I've tried to stick with reviewing companies whose legality isn't in question. There are a number of companies (the most notable being allofmp3.com) who sell DRM-free media but where it is not certain if they are paying proper royalties to artists. Since this represents a bit of a grey market I haven't reviewed them. Also, I have no doubt that I've left some good and worthwhile companies off this list. I've tried to stick with the larger companies with the biggest selections. If I've missed anyone worthy of mention, please feel free to leave a post in the forums or drop me an e-mail at jon at learnoutloud dot com.

DRM-Free Music Sites

eMusic logo eMusic - The best-known and most popular DRM-free music site. I love what these guys are doing. First of all they're cheap ($0.25 a download). They've got a large selection (over a million songs) and they are bringing on an increasing number of well-known artists (e.g., Ray Charles, Bob Marley, Coldplay, Johnny Cash). They certainly don't have as much of the latest and greatest as iTunes or Rhapsody but what they've amassed is pretty impressive. I'd love to see eMusic get even more popular and give the big boys a run for their money.

Pros: Great selection, low prices, increasing selection of popular artists

Cons: No rollover on their monthly plans (either use your monthly downloads or you lose them), no a la carte sales

Audio Lunchbox - This is a great site for independent music. They have a number of plans ranging from monthly to a "Platinum" plan which offers over a thousand downloads for $250/year. While eMusic might have a wider selection and better prices on many titles, ALB does have a lot of music that eMusic doesn't.

Pros: Diverse selection of independent music, low prices, can purchase a la carte, RSS feed available for new additions

Cons: Like eMusic your monthly credits do not roll over, credit system can be a bit confusing

Magnatune logo Magnatune - I love what John Buckman has done at Magnatune. One of the coolest things is that CDs on Magnatune sell for a minimum price of $5 but you can choose to pay whatever you want. The cool thing is that the average selling price is $8.93. And Magnatune splits all royalties with its artists so when you buy anything on the site you know exactly how much the artist is getting paid. Magnatune might not have as many names that you've heard of but there's a heck of a lot of good music there and given the general "goodness" of their business model this is a company definitely worth supporting.

Pros: Multiple DRM-free formats (even WAV files!), listen to albums in their entirety before buying, give 3 copies of music you buy to friends, their motto ("We are not Evil")

Cons: Not many artists that you've previously heard of

betterPropaganda - A sweet site for indie music with free MP3 downloads. Most of the artists are up-and-coming ones although artists like Brian Eno, Snow Patrol and Belle and Sebastian are featured (however, many artists have a limited number of tracks available). betterPropaganda has done a lot with playlists and podcasts and has a cool recommendations service from Loomia (the same company we use for our recommendations service). Definitely a site to keep an eye on.

Pros: FREE MP3 downloads, Nice mix of up-and-coming independent artists and more established ones, playlists, podcasts and recommendations

Cons: Limited number of tracks from more popular artists

Others: Bleep | CommonTunes | Epitonic | Garage Band | Insound

DRM-Free Audiobook Sites

Telltale Weekly logo Telltale Weekly - Telltale Weekly and its sister site, The Spoken Alexandria Project, have a number of free and low-cost public domain audiobooks. A glance at their bestsellers list produces titles from authors like Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and H.G. Wells (of The War of the Worlds fame). Telltale's prices are very low and they have made a commitment to releasing recordings under the Creative Commons License in the future. In addition, they give 7% of gross revenues to worthy charities such as Project Gutenberg and the Wikimedia Foundation.

Pros: Low prices and many free titles, Multiple file formats (MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis), Charitable giving

Cons: Selection consists only of public domain titles, many titles are fairly short in length

Librivox logo Librivox - Librivox has an interesting take on audiobooks. They gathered an army of volunteers to read public domain audiobooks a chapter at a time. The upside is that they are producing a ton of content to listen to. The downside is that they chapter-by-chapter approach leads to some big inconsistencies in quality (although this does appear to be getting over time). And since these titles are all available for free it's tough to complain.

Pros: All audiobooks are free to download, large and growing selection of classical literature

Cons: Selection consists only of public domain titles, inconsistency both among and within titles

LearnOutLoud - We're doing the DRM-free thing as well and while our selection is still pretty small (approx. 400 titles) it's growing pretty quickly. A number of our titles are public domain but most are not including titles like Think and Grow Rich and content from authors like Bodhipaksa and Sir John Templeton. We're heavy on self-improvement titles but working hard to expand our selection in other areas as well. In addition, we give away one free full-length audiobook each month.

Pros: DRM-free non-public domain audiobooks, Multiple file formats (MP3 and bookmarkable MPEG-4), Personalized recommendations

Cons: Selection is still somewhat small and focused primarily on self-improvement titles

Others: AudioBooksForFree.com | Christian Audio | iAmplify | LiteralSystems.org | Project Gutenberg

DRM-Free Podcast Sites

No discussion of DRM-free audio would be complete without a nod to the podcasting community. I'm not going to review all of them but the best directories I've seen are Yahoo! Podcasts, iTunes, ODEO, Podcast Pickle, Podcast Alley and the directory here at LearnOutLoud.

So that's a round-up of what we've found. Like I said, I'm sure we've missed some. If you happen to know of any other sites that should be included or of any information that's incorrect drop me a line at jon at learnoutloud dot com or make a post in the forums and I'll update this blog post. We're big fans of all of the sites listed here, as much for what they are trying to do in terms of making DRM-free audio available as for where they are today. If enough of us do our best to support these site I feel we can tip the balance in favor of DRM-free media in the future. It won't happen overnight but I think it's a worthy goal.

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June 2, 2006

2006 Audie Award Winners

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For those of you unaware, the Audie Awards are sort of the Oscars for audio books and they were held May 19th in Washington, D.C. They are run by the Audio Publishers Association. Hopefully next year a LearnOutLoud.com audio book will be up for an Audie but until then we applaud the winners of the 2006 Audies. Here's the winners that apply to audio learning in general and we feature on our site:

Audiobook of the Year
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The Tertiary Phase
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America and The Audio Partners Publishing
Company
Author: Douglas Adams
Narrator: BBC Radio

Classics
Around the World in 80 Days
Publisher: Listening Library
Author: Jules Verne
Narrator: Jim Dale

Non-Fiction, Abridged
Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Author: Jonathan Eig
Narrator: Ed Herrmann

Personal Development/Motivational
The Five Love Languages
Publisher: Oasis Audio
Author: Dr. Gary Chapman
Narrator: Dr. Gary Chapman

Biography/Memoir
Garlic and Sapphires
Publisher: Random House Audio
Author: Ruth Reichl
Narrator: Ruth Reichl

Business Information/Educational
Good to Great
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Author: Jim Collins
Narrator: Jim Collins

Inspirational/Spiritual
Finding God in Unexpected Places
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Author: Philip Yancey
Narrator: Mel Foster

Humor
The Truth (With Jokes)
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Author: Al Franken
Narrator: Al Franken

Original Work
Famous Composers
Publisher: Naxos AudioBooks Ltd.
Author: Darren Henley
Narrator: Marin Alsop recorded at Room With a View

Solo Narration – Male
Moby-Dick
Publisher: Naxos AudioBooks Ltd.
Author: Herman Melville
Narrator: William Hootkins

Narration by Author or Authors
The Tender Bar
Publisher: Hyperion AudioBooks
Author: J.R. Moehringer
Narrator: J.R. Moehringer

Audiobook Adapted From Another Medium
Hidden Kitchens: Stories and More from NPR's the Kitchen Sisters
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Author: Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva
Narrators: Frances McDormand, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva