I've been a subscriber to Audible.com, an excellent audio book distributor, for over a year now. I receive one book and one subscription service per month for the low-low price of $15. I am actually behind on material, since I end up choosing rather lenghty works (such as George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire saga. I also get This American Life, from NPR, which removes me from the problem of having to remember when its on the radio, catch it, or deal with RealAudio files that I can't save and listen on my iPod later.
There are some serious shortcomings however. Each month, when my subscription automatically renews, I have to remember to go to Audible.com and choose my new "subscription choice" (This American Life) and my audio book. If, after a month I don't choose these, they are gone. Just like that, $15 down the tube, thank you, you may now choose next month's if you remember.
Audible.com has recently added the feature "My Next Listen", where I can queue up audio books that will automatically be purchased at the end of a month. However, this can't be applied to the subscription choice. Furthermore, many times This American Life is a repeat (at least on Audible's listing), so it's like I lost a week in there with no new material. I also have to deal with Audible's sometime slow download system, get it into iTunes, and then sync it to my iPod. This can be cumbersome, annoying, and difficult to remember. I just want to have new material with me when I get into the car/bike/foot/chair/plane/state of choice.
Enter the new-fangled (though not really) Podcasting (or here). As much lauded as this new technology is, in reality it is not a new concept, just a new mechanism. Using the magic of RSS feeds, MP3 enclosures, periodic updates/checks via nifty sofware and wonderful (though sometimes troubling) iTunes, sound files can be automatically grabbed from the web, downloaded and put to my iPod the next time I connect it. What did I have to do for this magic? Install iPodder, add the feed to iPodder, and set it to automatically check the sites. From then on, new material shows up with no sweat and much reward. Yay unto technology.
This seems like an excellent tool for businesses such as Audible.com to use, or even NPR itself. With Audible, I would subscribe to my own Audible.com RSS feed. Each month when iPodder (or similar magical-app) checked the feed, it would see my monthly subscriptions and next listen book and grab them, put them in iTunes, and make it available on my next Sync. NPR could either provide this service for free, or even charge micro-payments (which still have never taken off) per download to cover the bandwidth. I definitely would be willing to give ~$1 (or more) for each show I downloaded. Make it similar to grabbing an iTMS song.
Well, I'm still looking for that "This American Life" podcast, if anyone has a link. Fortunately, Rizwan Kassim has made them all available via MP3, but I still have to remember to go and grab them. Now to figure out where to send my donation check to TAL/NPR.