Wal-Mart Podcast

by Russ Roberts on October 6, 2005

in Work

I did a podcast this morning with Kevin Brancato on the Economics of Wal-Mart.  I have opened up the comments section to hear any reaction you might have about podcasting.  The podcast (which is just an MP3 file you can listen to on your computer) is here, or go to Radioeconomics (hosted by James Reece—thank you, James) and click on the title of the podcast.

I’ve opened up the comments because I’m interested in podcasting and curious as to whether anyone really wants to go to the trouble of listening to them.  Let me know what you think of the general idea as well as this particular effort.  Do people out there want more economics available via MP3 to listen to either on their computer or on the go?

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{ 27 comments }

Andy Wink October 6, 2005 at 4:19 pm

Russel-

I like the podcasting thing. I bike to work and I just load the podcast onto my Ipod… and presto – something for my morning commute.

If they can ever get that down to a one button click… it might really pick up. As it is, most people wouldn't go through the trouble, I'd guess.

Mike Rizzo October 6, 2005 at 9:30 pm

Russell,

I think it's a great idea – I just need to get an iPod. I never listen to radio while at work – just too much going on here. I would, however, really like to hear it in my car.

I do have satellite radio in my car – where I spend a good deal of time. So I would love to see an EconChannel on XM or Sirius. I'd pay for that premium channel.

It certainly beats listening to the NY Mets games like I did all year this year!

xteve October 6, 2005 at 10:25 pm

I spend much of my days at work (at a job where I otherwise wouldn't have to think) listening to podcasts, particularly from the Mises Institute. I think podcasting is the most promising development to come out of the internet in quite some time.

Matt M October 6, 2005 at 10:28 pm

'Do people out there want more economics'? Heck yes they do!!! Well, maybe not everyone, but podcasts are a great development. I listen to 2-3 hours of podcasts daily while I wait & ride on the bus and other various downtimes throughout the day. It is a great way to make that time much more valuable. Podcasts should also be praised for their virtually eliminating the barriers to producing audio entertainment. Their existence allows far more people a chance at expressing themselves, which I believe is a good thing. A huge variety of niches can be served because of the low costs. These ideas come straight from Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture. A future edition could use podcasts as yet another example of how capitalism encourages culture to thrive.

Andy, iTunes v4.9+ will automatically download your subscribed podcasts for you. If you hook up your ipod then, it will automatically update the ipod with the latest podcasts. Thus this is really a zero mouse click system. How are you doing it otherwise?

Mike, I know that a lot of people without ipods burn podcasts onto CDs to listen, perhaps you could do the same? If you catch a sale and order CDRs in bulk they are ridiculously cheap, especially relative to what you'd be willing to pay for an EconChannel on satellite radio.

And finally, Dr. Roberts: I think podcasts are just another way of reaching out to new people to teach them the simple but important insights of economics. They are certainly a benefit when trying to show people that economics is not all about constrained optimization, etc. I really enjoy everything I read coming out of GMU, keep it up!

justin s October 6, 2005 at 11:00 pm

I absolutely love this idea. I am currently and economic student and can't get enough. Please give us more! I am going to tell friends/ faculty about this!

Pedro Bento October 7, 2005 at 1:00 am

Russ, the Radioeconomics link is broken.

Jayakamal October 7, 2005 at 4:36 am

Hi Russ,
I had already listened to Don's Interview on RadioEconomcis, I very much enjoyed it. Podacasting is simply great. As Matt said it can be burned into Cds and listened on traditional cd players. It just can be a bigger medium than blogs. Keep it going.

David Fleck October 7, 2005 at 8:14 am

Just so you have at least one wet blanket, I personally would much rather read arguments than listen to them. I don't have an iPod, and don't feel downloading / burning to CD is worth my time (which the podcast would further waste – I can read much faster than people talk).

So here's one old fart voting in the 'no' column.

Mike Rizzo October 7, 2005 at 10:13 am

Russell,

One slight downside to podcasts is that I really love to use print media, books, articles, etc. in the classes I teach. It is a bit more difficult to get snippets of podcasts quickly distributed to my students. For example, when you wrote your piece for the Liberty Fund on emergent phenomena, I was able to cut and paste small excerpts and send them to my students, or even bring the article up on the projector in class.

This will be a little more difficult to do with podcasts, but I imagine with some practice I will find ways to play podcast snippets in class and be able to cut pieces and e-mail them to my students or post them on our course web pages.

Anyone know of an easy piece of software that I could do this with? I already have used Movie Maker to do a similar thing with news clips I recorded off of TV and wonder if I could do the same with audio clips?

Best,
Mike

Timothy October 7, 2005 at 10:24 am

I like podcasts, mainly because I can get interesting discussion on topics of interest without having to leave it up to chance and the random descisions of station managers.

Also, no commercials, and without the cost of satellite radio.

Slocum October 7, 2005 at 11:24 am

"Just so you have at least one wet blanket, I personally would much rather read arguments than listen to them. I don't have an iPod, and don't feel downloading / burning to CD is worth my time (which the podcast would further waste – I can read much faster than people talk)."

Well, I do have an MP3 player and use it alot, but only for music. I, too, would much rather read than listen. Not only is reading faster, but I can easily jump forward and backwards. I'd much rather have the transcript than the audio.

Matt M October 7, 2005 at 12:25 pm

It’s true that reading (/writing) an argument is very different from listening (/speaking) to one. This is not a fault though, it is a blessing. Our society has not yet given up on verbal modes of communicating ideas—just consider any classroom lecture. The professor tries to communicate ideas (sometimes intensely difficult ones) simply by talking about them. Of course the students have their textbooks, which complement the lectures (ideally).

So podcasts are not meant to replace written forms of communication but rather complement them. This is especially so if you look at when podcasts are typically used (by me at least, haha!). I don’t listen to podcasts when I am at home and busy at the computer or whatever. I listen to them when I would otherwise be doing little or nothing, on (waiting for) the bus, in the car, walking alone in huge crowds, etc. You certainly can’t be reading when you need your eyes to navigate sidewalks littered with people.

One thing I lament is the lack of coherent speaking ability among many people (myself included). A good speech should not require you to stop and rewind if you have been listening. Unfortunately this is not often the case (written media has this downfall as well). So look at podcasts as a chance to work on your oral (and aural) skills. If the podcast loses your attention or you don’t understand them, consider why and learn, so that you do not do the same the next time you’re speaking.

So in response to those who say “I’d rather read an argument than hear it” I have a modest proposal: Why don’t we just all become deaf? Sure you’d like to talk to your friends and family, but most likely your conversation will involve some argument of on sort (maybe your child explaining why they didn’t clean their room for the 16th time?), so this argument is preferred to be read. So why not just type up (faster than writing) every argument and IM/email it? In this world new products would likely come up to help is type on the go, and this would be great, right? Of course my point is that the line “I’d rather read an argument than hear it” is a shallow statement which lacks appreciation of the mutual relationship between written and spoken argument. So for all of those who assert that line, I implore you to reconsider podcasts, and reconsider the possibility that critical listening and speaking can improve your thoughts.

Now, a quick tutorial on ‘hooking up to podcasts’. It shouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes for you to download & install iTunes (if you don’t have it), search within the podcast section for economics, and subscribe to Radio Economics or whatever else you are interested in. Once you subscribe, iTunes will automatically download the latest podcast, and you can click a few buttons to download the old ones. Then make a new iTunes playlist, drag & drop the podcasts into it, pop a CD in, click burn CD, and your done. Now no excuses! Go out there and broaden your horizon. If anyone has any questions, you can definitely send me an email.

Kirk House October 7, 2005 at 3:41 pm

Great idea, jogging bores me to tears without something interesting to listen to. I hope to see more, this should be submitted to the ITunes podcast directory if it hasn't already.

Kirk House October 7, 2005 at 3:43 pm

Forgot to say, the link is broken.

If you have ITunes click "Advanced" "Subscribe to Podcast" then paste in the following link:
http://feeds.feedburner.com/RadioEconomics

Ben Pratt October 7, 2005 at 3:50 pm

Big hit in my opinion — brings a richness of expression that compliments your written material. This specific session was engaging and information. Thanks for doing it. I'd love to hear you do more of them.

Michael Stack October 7, 2005 at 4:09 pm

I personally find them too slow. I love the interviews, but I can generally read an interview in about 1/10th the time it takes me to listen to it.

Paul Philpott October 7, 2005 at 4:15 pm

I plan to get your podcast and listen. Some comment seem to think that you must provide us either a podcast or a written essay, and that they as consumers must pick one. I think that each serves you the producer and we the consumers differently. Surely it is easier for you to create a 30 minute discussion/podcast than to write essays in certain circumstances, and it is easier for us to consume a 30 minute podcast in certain circumstances. I listen to the radio at least an hour a day while commuting. Podcasting lets me load "radio files" onto my ipod and then maximize my car radio listening time. I would like to get some cafehayek into my drivetime listening! I predict that this activity will grow; it is like "tivo" for radio.

Eli October 7, 2005 at 4:59 pm

Audacity is a free audio editing software that could be used for snippets.

I think audioblogs/podcasts are a great complement to blogs and papers. While reading is pretty active (I can't do it while driving, working out, shaving, walking the dogs, etc.) I can listen to a podcast. It allows me to absorb a variety of information that I would not otherwise have time for.

Also, it is the ultimate in decentralization. Anyone with a computer can set up a podcast for tens of dollars. Lots of room for different points of view and no government agencies limit bandwidth and handing out (or not) licenses.

Personally, I would love to see a Cafe Hayek podcast in the future.

jomama October 7, 2005 at 8:46 pm

"The future is text-based."

Somebody else said that and I agree but I can see the value for those who are always on the go and like the audio "dope".

I don't and I'm with the others who don't want to wait for the spoken word.

Ken Willis October 8, 2005 at 12:28 am

Podcasts, by all means. I love 'em. Can't get my iPod to recognize them as podcasts, but I can load them onto the iPod like any mp3 file and listen to them.

I think a podcast is technically supposed to download itself automatically to your computer, store itself in the podcasts floder in iTunes, and transfer automatically to a podcast folder or playlist in your iPod when you connect it to your computer. Doesn't seem to work llke that though. I have to make iTunes my default player, then start playing it on the computer to get it into iTunes. I can stop it one second after it starts and it will then be in iTunes and transfer to the iPod automatically, but not into a podcast folder or playlist, I have to make a playlist for it. Anyway, it works, just not like it is supposed to.

Slocum October 8, 2005 at 9:00 am

"Our society has not yet given up on verbal modes of communicating ideas—just consider any classroom lecture. The professor tries to communicate ideas (sometimes intensely difficult ones) simply by talking about them. Of course the students have their textbooks, which complement the lectures (ideally)."

Well, I'm also not a fan of being lectured at – too often, the lecturer is convering things that I already know or understand. My attention drifts and I end up daydreaming and waiting for the time to be up rather than listening.

"So in response to those who say “I’d rather read an argument than hear it” I have a modest proposal: Why don’t we just all become deaf? Sure you’d like to talk to your friends and family"

I didn't say I'd rather read than have conversation, discussion, or debate. But a podcast (like a lecture) is none of the above. Podcasts and lectures are not interactive, they don't respond or adapt to what I already know (or what I find confusing), the pacing can't be adjusted.

For me, the issue is not so much spoken vs written, the issue is one of flexibility. In a conversation, the spoken word is better (I would rather talk on the telephone than type back and forth via instant messanger), but I would rather read an article than sit through a lecture (whether pre-recorded or live).

Scott October 8, 2005 at 10:11 am

I like having the podcasts available, and welcome the day I get my car's radio configured so that I can listen to them while driving.

Just a comment on the content: I would have much preferred to have heard a discussion which included a serious WalMart critic. I don't know that there are any, since, to my mind, the economic case is so clear.

By "serious WalMart critic" I don't mean "famous WalMart critic", or "glib Walmart critic". I'd rather not get bogged down disentangling obviously specious arguments that are made exclusively for their sound bite qualities.

Are there any serious economists who can make anti-WalMart cases that have some intellectual heft behind them?

Matt M October 8, 2005 at 7:43 pm

Slocum, my reference to lectures was meant to convey situations where the audience usually doesn’t know what the lecturer is discussing (like a classroom). If you (anyone) are in the situation where you are not gaining anything from a lecture, then leave, that’s fine. Of course I meant to convey my regret that this situation is even possible (be bored with a lecture), but people are far from perfect.

You argue against podcasts from the consumer side. But listening to podcasts is not what they are all about. This is one of the greatest things about them; they are extremely easy to produce.
We don’t have multiple economics podcasts yet, but there are other niche subjects which have many different podcasts. In these subjects, the podcasters regularly appear on each other’s podcasts and discuss various things, much like the way the blogger networks work. I suppose I should have been clearer: if you produce a podcast, you can improve your speaking and debate skills immensely, just as blogs can help you improve your writing. Podcasts are nearly as simple to create as a blog, and this is their importance.

Anyway, we should at least agree that podcasts and reading are not typically meant as substitutes. You may prefer to listen to music instead of speech during your commutes, etc. but I don’t, I like listening to music at home, while I read. So we have an aggregation issue if we want to determine whether podcasts will take the leap or not. Of course our opinions don't matter at all, but we'll all fnd out who is right once the markets decide!

Slocum October 10, 2005 at 8:46 am

"Slocum, my reference to lectures was meant to convey situations where the audience usually doesn’t know what the lecturer is discussing (like a classroom). If you (anyone) are in the situation where you are not gaining anything from a lecture, then leave, that’s fine."

Well, it usually isn't the case that I'm gaining nothing from a lecture. Everybody shows up with different existing bits of knowledge and different propensities to integrate new ones. If I already know even a substantial fraction of the material or can understand in one minute what the lecturer continues to explain for five minutes, I am likely to disengage, start thinking about something else, and actually miss the point where the lecturer starts talking about something I don't already know or haven't already grasped. Conversely, the lecturer may skim over something I didn't quite get in the brief presentation, and this is frustrating as well.

"You argue against podcasts from the consumer side. But listening to podcasts is not what they are all about. This is one of the greatest things about them; they are extremely easy to produce."

True — but not necessarily easier to produce than the equivalent written piece.

"Anyway, we should at least agree that podcasts and reading are not typically meant as substitutes."

Why not? Many bloggers seem to be experimenting with podcasts as an alternative to normal postings. I'd hate to see this become more and more common — not only for the reasons I've already mentioned but also because podcasts are completely opaque to Google and other web-indexing services. If more and more of our web-based information appears in podcasts rather than text form, we'll all be the poorer for it, I think.

speedwell October 10, 2005 at 11:22 am

Personally, my retention rate is very bad when I have to listen to something. I may be in the minority, but if an article or presentation was offered in both written and spoken (podcast) form, I'd go for the written text every single time.

john henry October 11, 2005 at 4:42 pm

I sent you and Kevin a rather lengthy note on the Wal-Mart podcast. All good, I loved it and look forward to more.

I like to read and read a lot. I am also a very fast reader. But I also spend 2-3 hours a day driving and much better to listen to you and Kevin discussing W-M than the same old music over and over.

More podcasts, please.

John Henry

Blair October 17, 2005 at 12:37 am

Love Radioeconomics and podcasts in general. Itunes updating is very automated, though can be painfully slow if you have many subscriptions and miss a day or so. As in most things "web" my biggest challenge is being selective enough.

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