If you are going to make money as an independent news publisher on the Web, you’re going to have to be ruthless about keeping your production and publishing costs low. As the major publishers have discovered, its tough to lay out big bucks in your newsroom and stay in the black in the hypercompetitive publishing market online.
One of the big unexpected expenses that slams many new Web publishers is bandwidth. When you’re publishing on a freebie blogging service, you probably don’t need to worry about how many MB, or GB, of data your site is sending out to readers each day. But when you move up to your own Web domain, heavy traffic can mean expensive bandwidth charges.
Audio and video files hog bandwidth at exponentially greater rates than even the most image-laden static webpages. In my experience, one minute of a decent-quality interview in MP3 format runs up to about 1 MB. So if you have 200 listeners for a five-minute audio feature posted on your site, you are looking at an extra 1 GB of bandwidth just for that feature alone.
That adds up quickly, and can easily put you over your hosting account’s monthly data transfer limit. Even the Big Boys worry about bandwidth. Major online news publishers routinely look for hosting solutions that allow them to better distribute both the load and expense of multimedia content.
Indie publishers, just starting in multimedia, are not likely to move straight into an Akamai or a Brightcove account. But that doesn’t mean indies do not have options to offload the expense of hosting online video or audio.
The obvious solution for online video is YouTube. But is there a YouTube-style solution for audio files?
One that I’ve found, and been happy with, is Houndbite. It’s a hosting site and social network community that encourages people to “listen to and share the audio clips from your life.”
Much like with YouTube, you sign up, upload files, then get HTML code with which you can embed the audio clip on your website. The Houndbite front page features most popular clips measured in hundreds of listens, not the hundreds of thousands of views that one finds on YouTube’s front page. And the top clips on Houndbite tend to be prank calls, and not, uh, NPR-quality interviews. So, to date, there’s no grassroots-marketing value in posting to Houndbite, as there can be in posting your site’s video to the community on YouTube.
But they’re picking up the bandwidth cost, so the value to the news publisher is in holding down publishing expenses, as well as the ability to embed audio in standard blog or discussion forum content management systems, with having to install additional extensions.
The catch? Size. Houndbite currently limits each uploaded clip to 8MB in size and 15 minutes in length, so this isn’t the place to stash super-long-form narrative audio. But for a few audio clips to enliven a blog post, Houndbite provides a quick and handy solution. I used the service last week to add audio clips to blog posts I filed after a couple of interviews for another website.
I slapped a Belkin TuneTalk to the bottom of my iPod, recorded the interviews, downloaded them to my MacBook Pro with iTunes, clipped them down to size with Audacity, then saved them as MP3s for upload to Houndbite. (The service currently accepts only MP3 files.) Copy the embed code, paste it into the blog entry, and it’s done.
I know that some online journalists are concerned about the reliability of third-party hosting. (For what it is worth, I would never suggest uploading content to a third-party service without maintaining the original in your own possession — preferably, backed up at multiple locations, such as on a local machine and on a remote drive or DVD.) Some publishers also do not like the look of a third-party embed within their webpages. But that asset and design control comes at a cost.
If you are just starting out, that cost might be one worth cutting in an attempt to get your online publishing efforts into the black as soon as possible. Perhaps, some day, if you’ve got the revenue rolling in, you can revisit this decision and look for a more integrated hosting solution. But, for now, Houndbite might be worth a look by independent online news publishers looking to keep their bandwidth costs to a minimum.