PRX: online audio market begins beta test this month
Originally published in Current,
May 12, 2003
Creators of Public Radio Exchange (PRX) plan to launch their service this fall, opening a new channel for independent producers to sell work to stations.
PRX operates somewhat like an Amazon.com of the indie world. A subscribing station gets an account and uses a web-based interface to browse and search for pieces uploaded by producers. They can consult background information provided by producers and reviews written by other users.
Independent producer Jay Allison hatched the PRX idea in late 2001, hoping to ease indies’ ordeal of getting their work aired. Only a fraction of the vast indie output ever lands on programs such as NPR newsmags or This American Life, leaving producers to sell the rest door to door. Allison, who also developed Transom.org, an interactive audio digest and support group for producers, wanted to blaze a path circumventing national gatekeepers while creating a one-stop shop for stations.
Allison’s Atlantic Public Media partnered with the Station Resource Group to develop PRX. Based in Cambridge, Mass., it aims to start beta-testing May 30, with full-fledged operations beginning in September. Funding came from CPB, the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
PRX could break ground on several fronts. It could lend new assistance to programmers navigating a vast array of indie material. It also provides a central payment and billing shop for the two camps.
Subscribing stations will pay a flat fee for a set amount of programming—say, 120 hours a year. PRX will dole out a corresponding number of points to stations, with each point worth a minute of programming. Stations exchange points for producers’ work, and PRX pays the producers out of a central pool of funds according to the points they accumulate.
Grants and user fees also go into the pool of funds. Stations will pay a base subscription fee on top of their points charges, and producers will pay PRX to store audio files on its servers. That charge will probably be under $100, says Jake Shapiro, PRX’s executive director.
Producers may earn little at first, Shapiro says. But he doesn’t expect PRX to become a lifeline for them. Most will probably include programs already taken by other outlets. “It’s not like the PRX is an acquirer actually purchasing work and then reselling it at some production cost,” he says.
Money isn’t the point for independent producer Barrett Golding. What does matter is access to stations, particularly non-NPR stations that do not subscribe to the Public Radio Satellite System. “That’s worth more money to me, because I can then go get funding,” he says.
Producers will be encouraged to upload works in MP2 or MP3 formats. MP2 offers higher sound quality, but producers may be less familiar with encoding files in that format, Shapiro says. Some stations are comfortable airing MP3s. For customers not yet encoding or playing digital files, Shapiro says PRX may encode files for producers who submit CDs, and conversely burn discs for stations that request them.