NPR: It’s Not Just For Radio Any More

When I listen to the radio in the car here near DC, I’m usually tuned to WAMU on 88.5. That’s one of the local NPR stations. For readers outside the USA, NPR stands for National Public Radio. That may be misleading: NPR is not run by the federal government (or by any government). Neither is it only about radio.

NPR is also behind one of my favorite music sites. NPR Music includes such features as First Listen, which previews albums in the week leading up to release. Although there are only a few albums previewed each week, there is usually at least one to which I’m looking forward (e.g., Shearwater’s Animal Joy) or that I enjoyed, but might not have listened to had it not been featured (e.g., Grimes’ Visions).

NPR relies to a large extent on contributions to fund its programming, on the airwaves and on the web. So I’m glad to say that I did get round to contributing recently. Or rather, when told that I was difficult to buy presents for, I suggested a donation to WAMU. What do I get for the $120 the present cost? A non-lousy t-shirt. And the knowledge that I’m helping to keep NPR programs, stations, and websites going.

Do you use NPR? Do you contribute?

2011 Music

It’s mid-December, I think I have one review of the year post in me, and as you can see, that one review is of the year in music. So, on with remarks about music itself, and about how I access it these days.

I’m old-fashioned enough that I listen mainly to albums, rather than to say, playlists. Among many 2011 albums I enjoyed, three stand out. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key. If I had to choose a best, I would wonder what I meant by that, and decide that it was something to do with being likely to feature on best of the decade lists when they appear. Then I’d go for PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. Cults’ self-titled debut is the third of my picks.

Each of these three is among the top 25 albums of the year as chosen by listeners to the NPR show All Songs Considered. I hope that doesn’t make me too predictable: at least none of my three was higher than number 20. NPR Music has been a big part of my listening this year.

If you like album of the year lists, check out Metacritic’s meta-list, derived from “year-end Top Ten lists published by major music critics and publications.” PJ Harvey and Bon Iver seem to have first and second place, respectively, sewn up. If you really like music of the year lists, check out Largehearted Boy’s list of online music lists.

So, how to listen to albums these days? When I buy an album, it’s almost always in the form of a download. It’s usually from Amazon, since I get an immediate download, further downloads if I need another copy, and access via a Cloud Player stream from pretty much any device I might be using. I also use Google Music, in a “let’s try the service out, and may as well have yet another copy of the album somewhere” way.

If I want to listen to a whole album without buying or even downloading it, I usually use Spotify. I use the free version, and so can’t run Spotify on my iPad or Android. Here’s a Spotify playlist, with a track from each of the three albums I mentioned above – plus “Suck It and See”, since that seems like a good sentiment with which to kick off a sampler playlist, and I like the Arctic Monkeys and their new album.

I wish I could review some live music, but I don’t get out to see much live music these days. Nevertheless, it was a good year to be a music lover.

Changing Year: The Music Edition

Arcade Fire won the Grammy for album of the year (via HuffPo and lots of other places). Are they indie? Sort of. Did they deserve it? Well, it’s a very good album, and to criticize an album called The Suburbs for sprawling is perhaps to miss the point.

That said, I think that my album of the year was Laura Veirs’ July Flame. It was among my top 5 of the first 6 months of 2010, and overtook the midpoint front-runner by lasting particularly well. My favorite album released in the second half of the year was Lisbon, from The Walkmen.

Although there was no one release that told me in no uncertain terms that it was my album of the year, 2010 was a pretty good year in music. But it was, according to NPR and other sources, a very bad year for trying to sell music.

Which brings us to 2011, to Radiohead, and to their latest attempt to sell recorded music. I, and many others, will be downloading The King of Limbs in less than a week. The download, which costs $9, is one of two formats in which KoL will initially be available. The other is very analog, with two 10″ vinyl records, and lots of pieces of artwork. It also includes a digital download – and even a CD, to appease those stuck between the analog and download eras, and those who think that for $48 they should get a CD as well.

My album of 2011 so far is Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key, which will be released tomorrow. So today is the last day on which it can be streamed on NPR.

Parenting: Battles and Other Stories

You may have heard of Amy Chau, and her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. If so, that’s probably due to the excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. The headline was “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Here’s a quote.

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.

My wife, who is Chinese, drew my attention to the WSJ piece. It upset her. Her views on parenting differ from the views presented in the excerpt. So do my views.

In the car today, I had the radio tuned to NPR (WAMU, to be specific), as I usually do. Amy Chau was on the Diane Rehm show. That spot shows that the book is to a large extent about how Amy Chau rethought her parenting style.

This is a story about media, as well as about parenting. Here are some headlines I could have used for this story/post.

  • WSJ shows only one side of a story.
  • WSJ and NPR show different sides of the same story.
  • Guardian writer lazily mistakes WSJ excerpt for book.

The trouble with the above headlines is that none of them is surprising. I wish that the last one was surprising. But there is an article in today’s Guardian that seems to mistake the WSJ excerpt for the book, and even for the author herself. The Guardian article is open for reader comments, and many of them based on the assumption that it’s fine to insult an author based on a Guardian account of a WSJ article.

Confession time. I haven’t read the book either. I did think unkindly of Amy Chau on the basis of an excerpt in the WSJ, which appeared under a headline almost certainly provided by a WSJ staffer, rather than by the author of the words selected to appear under the headline.

Perhaps, as we move from January 1 to Chinese new year (of the rabbit, not of the tiger, by the way), a resolution to cut back on jumping to conclusions about people might be in order.

Funnels, Donations, NPR, and Apple

National Public Radio offers its radio shows at no charge, and hopes that enough listeners will donate enough money to make it viable. More broadly, NPR offers its content for free, on a variety of platforms including radio, the web, and iPad apps. There is the potential for more platforms to mean more consumers and hence more donations.

NPR has much in common with for-profit freemium services (such as WordPress.com). It can therefore use some of the same analytical tools, such as funnel analysis.

We can think of a funnel with NPR listeners toward the top. Fans of NPR, or of a particular show, are at a lower and narrower part of the funnel. Some of those fans donate; we might think of donations as money emerging from the bottom of the funnel.

What effect will iPad and iPhone apps have on NPR’s funnel? That’s what this 3-minute video is about. If it makes you want to donate to NPR, that’s good. The Changing Way Multimedia Studio is not currently seeking donations, despite this production’s use of crayon and handheld camera. The producer, however, is seeking work in the DC area.

The video illustrates, using the funnel model, an argument I made yesterday: that NPR was rather hasty in getting on the iPad bandwagon. I was prompted to make the video an following an exchange with Beth Kanter. We seem to agree that someone should write a post living up to the title: Apple or Android? Which One is More Nonprofit Friendly?. Neither of us has done it yet.

I’d be interested to see comments (or external posts) on the comparison of Apple and Android for nonprofits, on the use of the funnel model by nonprofits, on Apple’s policy toward nonprofits, or anything else arising from this post/video. Over to you…

NPR: Bitten By Apple?

NPR is a fascinating business. Yes, the word business is appropriate for a nonprofit like NPR. How can it bring in enough money to fund its radio shows and other activities?

This particular post was prompted by a remark about “Apple’s wrongheaded policy of prohibiting donations.” That’s from Jake Shapiro, CEO of PRX, writing at Ars Technica. One of the things that PRX does is develop apps for NPR shows such as This American Life (by the way, that last link currently goes, not to a home page, but to a donate page).

Apple’s app policies deny nonprofits access to 1-Click payments: “the most powerful direct-payment platform in the mobile marketplace.” Apple does provide a payment infrastructure, but takes a 30% for itself.

I don’t want to bash Apple. Well, I do, but there are other posts for that.

If there is bashing to be done, at least some of it should be directed at the people at NPR (and PRX?) who rushed headlong to kiss the iPad’s touchscreen: “we’ll be there for you Day 1 with a fully redesigned app and a Web site that’s optimized for the platform.” NPR made it a priority to expend money and other resources on iNPR.

I can see that the iPad audience is a desirable one. We might call them ABCs: affluent, brand-loyal, connected. This audience benefits from iNPR. I hope that NPR benefits as well, in terms of contributions from the ABCs.

But I suspect that most of the benefit goes to Apple. NPR has packaged its content for the iPad, thus improving the already-lauded tablet. Perhaps even more important, NPR’s eagerness to support the iPad, and to be seen to be doing so, is free publicity: something that Apple doesn’t lack, but can always use more of.

Here’s an app promo image. It’s linkjacked from NPR’s tablet page. But it links to NPR’s donate page. If you’ve used iNPR, and haven’t yet donated, please do so. No, I don’t want a cut of your donation.

I found Jake’s editorial via Beth Kanter. Her post has the title Apple or Android? Which One is More Nonprofit Friendly? I think that’s a great title, and a great topic to explore. I don’t think that the post really explores it, though, consisting as it does of little more than an approving pointer to Jake’s article.