Lexus Sponsors Slate ‘Textcast’ on iPod

NEW YORK First audio, then video—is text next for iPod?

In what is probably a first, Slate plans to begin “textcasts” of stories delivered directly to the ever-popular portable media player. Users can receive the full text of its daily “Today’s Papers” feature, which aggregates the days news. The downloaded story will appear in the iPod’s display window. Slate will deliver the text attached to 15-minute silent audio file.

Lexus, which advertises on Slate podcasts, is sponsoring the textcast, with its logo appearing where the album art is usually shown and in a text ad within the story. Slate plans to advertise the Lexus-sponsored textcasts on its site next week. It experimented in recent months by including text in the feed of its “Explainer” podcast.

Slate publisher Cliff Sloan said the effort arose from its frustration with the slow pace of adoption of electronic-book technology, which the site began making its content available for in 2001. E-book readers, however, never proved popular.

“What’s been missing has been the ubiquity of the device,” he said. “With the iPod there is a ubiquitous device.”

The workaround is not without its drawbacks. Since Apple did not design the iPod for displaying text beyond simple information, scrolling to read stories using the navigation wheel can be difficult, early testers reported. Text on the iPod’s display window is not large, but it is surprisingly readable, said Andy Bowers, a senior editor at Slate who oversees its podcast initiatives.

“What we’re doing is providing a new use for the iPod,” he said. “We’re not trying to replace an old use.”

Slate’s two daily podcasts, “Explainer” and “Daily Podcast,” draw about 800,000 monthly downloads, Sloan said. The site might make other stories or regular features available as textcasts in the future, he added.