AudioPress, Packaging Podcasts & Streaming Radio For People Stuck in Traffic, Seeks to Tap Fast-Growing Market

10/19/10Follow @wroush

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the bus stop on his way to work, he’d listen to streaming radio or podcasts, but once he got on the bus, he’d switch to reading articles in a printed magazine. The idea of being able to listen to the articles too “was the initial spark to get this going,” he says.

Bollman tried starting AudioPress in Boston, but he says he couldn’t locate a technical co-founder to take on the all-important chief technology officer role in the startup. So he moved to the Bay Area, where he met Francis Lee, who was studying computer science and interaction design at UC Berkeley.

The angel-funded startup now consists of Bollman, Lee, two and a half other engineers, and a content manager, as well as partners in India who recruit inexpensive voiceover artists for the AudioArticles (they all have what Bollman calls “pretty neutral BBC accents”).

While the AudioArticles are unique, Bollman says the app is just as useful as a general Internet audio discovery and management tool. “There was a lack of products that allow you to move between podcasts and streaming radio and integrate them both into a playlist,” he says. “And oftentimes content discovery and navigation is difficult, with the exception of a few audio player apps from individual brands like NPR. So getting a combination of a mix of publishers and quality interfaces is something we’ve identified as lacking.”

Right now AudioPress’s revenue comes from in-app ads, some of which come courtesy of Apple’s new iAd platform. “We’re excited about the opportunity for ads here,” Bollman says, since the audio focus leaves room to put rich visual content on the screen—think click-to-call ads for Pizza Hut with a picture of a luscious slice. As the company adds more AudioArticle content, there might be an opportunity to charge for subscriptions to certain premium sources.

For now, commuters who want to use AudioPress will have to do so via their smartphones. (A note to drivers from a guy who just passed his California driver’s license exam: It’s illegal to drive with headphones in both ears. One at a time is fine.) Down the road, so to speak, Bollman hopes to integrate AudioPress with systems like Ford’s Sync, a voice-activated system for making hands-free calls, searching for music, and the like. The Sync system already includes an “AppLink” feature that drivers will eventually be able to use to control Pandora and other smartphone apps. “We’d like to come in as a supported app like Pandora,” Bollman says.

Personally, I’ve mainly been using AudioPress while running, not driving. For me, it’s an easy way to aggregate all the radio shows and podcasts I like to listen to, including “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me…,” “Planet Money,” “Radiolab,” “Car Talk,” “Fresh Air,” “Savage Love Podcast,” and “The Moth Podcast.” I’m not too interested in Associated Press articles, but I’ll be the first to sign up if and when AudioPress adds content from sources like The Economist.

“The end game is to be the ultimate, single source that people go to for spoken audio,” says Bollman. That’s an ambitious goal, especially in a market where big players like Harman and Apple would also like to have a role. But at the moment, with smartphone data usage increasing so quickly, there’s plenty of room for all comers.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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