Audible nabs popular podcast

Ricky Gervais' show, very popular on iTunes, moves to paid-only format through audio book specialist Audible.

The Ricky Gervais Show, one of the most popular podcasts on Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, is moving to a paid-only format to be sold by audio book specialist Audible.

Audible plans to announce on Tuesday that it will start selling episodes of Gervais' show beginning with a new "season two" collection of episodes, which will begin next week. Audible will charge $1.95 per episode or $6.95 for the season, which will include at least four episodes by the creator and star of British television's "The Office." Audible's exclusive deal also runs for a "season three," which will start in the fall.

The move is the first major example of a free podcast attempting to go paid, said David Joseph, Audible's vice president of corporate communications and strategy. "We're helping Ricky to build a business so he can pay his people."

The move is part of Audible's pitch that it can help create more revenue for podcasts than is possible from a free MP3-based model. The company also claims technical advantages, such as the ability to easily move through chapters and the ability to have smaller file formats by using greater compression than is possible with MP3.

"There will be a little bit of controversy because everybody wants something for free," Joseph said. Gervais' half-hour show was the No. 4 most popular in Apple's Top 100 rankings on its podcast directory as of Monday. Audible said it expects to be able to sell the show through iTunes in addition to its own Web site. Apple partners with Audible to stock the audiobook section of iTunes.

Currently, Apple provides its podcasts and video podcasts for free, though it charges $1.99 an episode for TV shows and other video programs and 99 cents for music tracks.

Audible's software allows podcast creators not only to charge for their work, but alternatively or in addition, to definitively track how many free subscribers they have and include advertising based on their subscriber figures. Audible announced new podcast creation tools in November, though iTunes remains the hub of much of the podcasting world's attention. Gervais' show will not carry advertising, Joseph said.

In January, Apple added its own tools for making podcasts as part of GarageBand, the company's consumer audio editing program.

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