My (bad) experiences with Audible.com

Audible Problems I’m a fan of Audio Products. I’m daily listening to Music and Podcasts produced by both, amateurs and professionals. In preparation of the upcoming vacations, I decided to finally make a step out of the Itunes store and to signup for an Audible.com account.

24 Hours later I’m deeply disappointed up and I just canceled my membership.


My story: How I got addicted to Podcasts & co.

Round about one year ago, a purchase of $149 USD introduced an significant change in live. On the way back from a conference in Las Vegas I had to spend some time in the Airport of Atlanta. For the first time in my live I saw a wending machine selling consumer electronics, in particular, Apple Ipods. Being without an MP3 player for quite a while I spontaneously decided to buy an Ipod Nano (4th Gen). The purchase opened another world of information for me. I was used to consume information by reading. However, you can’t read always, especially not while driving the car. Discovering podcasts, finally eliminated this restriction. Now I am the one who decided WHEN, and WHAT kind of content I want to consume. With earplugs and an FM-transmitter nothing will “steal” my valueable free time anymore. Literally there exist podcasts for basically all knowlegde areas, produced by amateurs or professionals. The seamless chain of Apple (Itunes + Ipod) makes it so easy to educate myself everyday in little doses. No more manual downloads, no more manual file transfers. Itunes & Ipod manage everything automatically.

My problem

Now, one year later after the purchase, I don’t know how I could survive without my little Ipod anymore. Exactly this fact made me worry in respect of my upcoming vacation. I’ll be for a longer period without Internet access and without the possibility to download podcasts and synchronize them with my Ipod.

The idea

If I can’t synchronize my Ipod, I’ll just put enough content on the Ipod so that I don’t run out of new content.

The solution (?)

Apart from the Itunes store I heard alot of Audible.com. Audible is currently the biggest audiobook producer, offering currently more than 60.000 titels. Audible is an Amazon.com company. Since I love Amazon for its awesome service and website, I had similar expectations for Audible. Unfortunately I was deeply disappointed. I signed up to Audible using one of the promotions of the TWIT Network which offer a free 14 day trail with one audiobook free of charge.

The webpage of Audible is slow and is by far not as intuitive as Amazon’s great shopping portal. However the search works well and it is possible to listing for a view minutes to the Audiobook. Being excited, I selected What would Google do written and read by Jeff Jarvis. From this point on, it started getting bad.

I wasn’t aware that Audible audiobooks are protected by Digital Right Management (DRM). DRM brings complexity and user frustration. In this case, I needed to download two applications which download and “activate” the audiobook. Audible stores the audiobooks with the .AA file extension which of course, can’t read by any application. Since I wanted to import the songs into Itunes, I had to download an additional application. Audible only support MP3 Players which can handle DRM.

Bad written Software

Having to accept all this hassle, one would image that the software is well written, but it is not. The Audible application always crashed with a “buffer overrun” message whenever I launched it manually or automatically after a reboot.

audible buffer overrun

This was too much. I respect intellectual property and I always pay for content and software which I download and use. But if I pay for something I want to be treated as a customer and not as a criminal or a suspect. Due to DRM you even can’t create a backup of the files you purchased. How important backups are to protect your digital assets was recently discussed in another post.

Who wonders that people keep on sharing and distributing the stuff as long as this industry (or here in particular Audible) treate us like this.

Audible membership

Audible offers several membership models. If you don’t like to become a member, you still can buy an audiobook for an extraordinary amout of money. In my particular case the non-membership price was at 27 USD, thats 10 USD more than the paper copy! Audibles selling model “forces” you sign a membership subscription. Monthly memberships start at 14,95 USD and you can select monthly a book to download. If you pick a yearly subscription, the price drops to round about 10-12 USD per audiobook but you need to buy at least 12 audiobooks.

Cancel Audible membership

Audible promises on their website, that membership subscriptions can be cancelled anytime. Well, I spent about 20 minutes searching the “cancel membership” button, but I couldn’t find it. I can’t say if this button is hidden due to a bad web design or deliberately, in any case, I have a bad gut feeling about this company. I wrote an email to their customer support. Hopefully they will cancel the subscription before they start charging my credit card.

Summary

Audible offers great products which I would love to purchase. However I disagree with their selling model. I don’t want to wear shackles and be treated like a criminal as a customer. Their technical solution contains major bugs and doesn’t work on my standard PC.

I believe that prices should be equal or slightly lower than the the paperback editions. A higher price isn’t logical. Amazons Kindle (eReader) Strategy makes much more sense. Kindle Books are often a few bucks cheaper than the corresponding paperback edition. However, I hate membership subscriptions. The only reason I see, why Audible forces it’s members in a  membership subscription, is to rip off it’s customer.

As long as they don’t drop DRM and provide MP3 Files I don’t believe that will make any business with Audible anymore. Instead I’ll download now podcasts episodes I haven’t listened to so far. I already started downloading episodes of Security Now, Skepticality or ChaosRadio.

About Tobias (DH1TW)

Self-confessed Starbucks addict. Loves to travel around the globe. Enjoys the technical preparations of Amateur-Radio contests as much as the contests themselves. Engineer by nature. Entrepreneur. For more, follow him @DH1TW

Comments

  1. Sorry you had such a lousy experience with Audible. My own has been the exact opposite…once we stopped using Audible’s software. The secret to easy use of Audible with an iPod is to simply use their web site to download your books, in your standard web browser. Then drag the downloaded files into iTunes. You _don’t_ need Audible’s software, at all. I don’t even have it installed on my computer.

    As for your complaints about their business model, after you exhause the possibilities (and low production values) at LibriVox, and get tired of manually importing audiobooks you borrow from the library, there’s not a lot of options available that are less expensive than Audible. You complain that an audiobook is more expensive than a paper book. Welcome to the world of expensive audio production and lower volume sales. I find that the price of audiobooks on Audible is at least competitive, and generally cheaper, than anywhere else.

    And if you listen to them regularly, signing up for a subscription is by far the cheapest way to keep yourself in spoken word content. My wife and I are signed up for their 2-books-a-month plan (~$12/book), and while that’s a fine pace for me, she usually finishes them before we’re halfway through the month.

    Audible isn’t for everyone, but I think your experience is atypical. You might give them a second chance, and skip their software. We’ve been happy customers for 4+ years, and we’ll be subscribers for many more.

  2. Hi Michael,
    I can import the Audible Audiobooks directly into Itunes. They appear in my Audiobook Library, but it is not possible to play them. In order to authorize the audiobooks (damn DRM), an administrative account is necessary. For IT-security reasons, I’m working in WindowsXP under under a user account with limited permissions. The Administrator Account is only used when required (SW installation, system maintenance, etc). It seems that there is no workaround available. Audible knowledge base confirms (http://bit.ly/4JM3ND) that an administrative account is required. Being a IT-security sensitive person, this is unacceptable. I will not jeopardize the security of my system just because Audibles mistrust against it’s clients.

    Don’t get me wrong – I really like Audibles Products and I would even accept their monthly membership model in order to get access to their products. I’m willing to pay 10 USD – 15 USD for an audiobook. Unfortunately, for the mentioned reasons and the associated frustration I can’t recommend them to anybody currently.

  3. Martın Holloway says:

    I have only had bad experiences so far with Audible. As you say, the breadth of titles is excellent. However, their software is so poorly written, and in so many places, broken, that the privilege of being custodians of audio books should be removed from them. As a software developer myself, I am horrified at almost every stage of using their system – from the install through to the download (if I can get any of those stages to work correctly)

    I expect however, that like the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, their customer complaints division is so successful that they will stick around unless enough of us shout Emperor’s New Clothes.

  4. Matt says:

    As an audiobook producer, with titles on Audible, I appreciate your comments on their service. We will take them into consideration. I would share that the expense of creating an audiobook is much more than most would guess. Most audiobooks, if they were sold for a few dollars more than the paperback, would not sell the volume needed to recover production costs. Hopefully, that will change as the format matures and digital delivery becomes more common place. Until then, realize that audible and we producers are keeping costs down as much as possible and seeking to find new ways to increase the volume of sales while still keeping the creation of audio titles financially viable.

  5. Vicky says:

    I recently purchased an audiobook from audio.com. I will NEVER buy anything from audible.com again.

    1. I do not want to have to install special software in order to download, authorize, and/or listen to an audiobook. This is ridiculous. I agree with Tobias; I don’t appreciate being treated like a criminal.

    2. The proprietary software is not user friendly whatsoever. It took me almost an hour just to get my download to show up in the proprietary software. Downloading is slow, burning to CD is slow.

    3. I was able to burn the audiobook to CDs – 17 CDs! That is absolutely absurd! audible.com will not provide an mp3 format, so I have to buy a spindle of CDs in order to make my audiobook portable.

    4. During the burn to CDs, the proprietary software chops up the original files. The first CD stops right in the middle of a word, then the second CD starts at the last half of the word. This is not a quality take.

    5. The online help desk is useless. There is no technical information.

    The price of the audiobook is not the issue for me. It’s the service, product and support I don’t like.

  6. Jake says:

    Thank you, Matt, for your perspective as a producer of audiobooks, some of which are offered on Audible.com. Your point that if audiobooks priced only a few dollar more than printed version wouldn’t produce enough revenue to pay for the production cost assumes that you’d sell the same number of audio downloads. I honestly believe that if you lowered the regular price of most audio books (and did away with the subscription model), you’d sell many more downloads and earn more then enough to recover your expsenses.

    The biggest hurdle I have to using Audible is the subscription model. With my busy life I may go through a book a month. The format that I choose will vary based on the book itself. Most books would be fine as an audiobook, but some I’d prefer a kindle edition; others I prefer in printed form. The subscription format would force me to either get all of my books in audio format, or have unused Audible “credits”, or use credits on audiobooks that I really don’t want or won’t have time to consume. Just let me buy alacarte at a reasonable price and I’d be a happy Audible customer. Make it easy for the consumer. Ease is one reason the Kindle format is so successful.

    Another idea, if Audible won’t abandon the subscription model, is to roll Audible into Amazon (Amazon does own Audible, after all), and allow me to use my “credits” on kindle or print editions.

    Something else I’d like to see is an edition that combines audible and kindle into one item. There are times that I may prefer to read a book in my kindle (like in the evening in bed), and other times that I prefer or have no other option but to listen to the audio (like in the car). A combined audible/kindle edition would recognize the bookmark I placed in my kindle the night before, and when I get in my car the next morning to go to work, the audio would pick up right where I left off in the kindle edition. And when I’m ready to read in bed right before going to sleep, the kindle will pick up the bookmark I left in the car in the audible format. I’m a genius!

  7. John says:

    I, too, believe that Audible software is poorly written. We had a fresh install of windows 7, 64bit on a modern computer. Each and every program we installed was individually updated to the latest version and all windows updates were installed. After each program was installed (Office, Acrobat, Skype, other commonly used programs, etc.) we tested the machine for a few days to see if any problems existed. Things were perfect and fast…….That is until we installed Audible software!

    It somehow corrupted the file system and permissions and security so badly (padlock symbols appeared on all kinds of folders even though I am administrator) that I decided it was easier to start all over again and format and reinstall each and every program. Hours wasted for a program I purchased.

    My Audible software is in the trash can where it belongs. This experience also helped me decide NOT to buy Amazon stock. If anyone from Audible (higher up only) wishes to contact me they can do so. (but I doubt they will. It would be nice if they sent me a check to reimburse me for the many, many hours of wasted time they caused me.

    PS – I am a computer expert.

  8. As a result of my job, I spend huge amounts of time driving. To make the hours pass pleasantly I listen to a lot of audio books and BBC radio comedy. Knowing this my girlfriend bought me a three month subscription to Audible.co.uk.
    And it’s almost useless.
    My generic MP3 player isn’t supported by them so I cannot play their DRM protected files on it. Luckily you can burn your files to CD but as been pointed out, this is inconvenient and often results in CD’s stopping mid sentence if not mid word. Luckily, because Audible will not refund the remaining three credits, there are pages of information out there on the web telling you how to get around the DRM issues. My own solution is to leave the book playing overnight and re-record it as an MP£ then use an MP3 editor to trim the couple of hours of silence off the end . . . Inefficient, yes, but costs me nothing. Needles to say, Audible will get no repeat business from me once the credits run out.

  9. maggie says:

    I could not make head nor tail of Audible.com. I am not a computer wizard but I am able to buy books from Amazon.uk and goods from other companies. I signed up to Audible so I could listen using computer while I worked. I bought a couple of audio books. Not for a lot of money thank goodness. I downloaded a bit of software. I listened to the book of my choice for a while. Then I had to go do other things. When I came back I tried to listen from where I left off. No book. No software. I had paid for two books and subscription. But there was nothing at all left. Gone. Completely. I cancelled my subscritption straight away. I managed to do this without too much fuss, but I did have to search a bit for the off button. I got a reply saying they were sorry I was leaving. But I spent my subscription money and my two book monies for about 15 miniutes of sound. I have searched sites for comments on Audible. They are either glowing with praise or glowing with the fire of rage. I suspect this used to be a good company and an honest one but it has run away from the administrators. May be when they were small and specialist they could cope and people knew how to deal with the tech stuff. Now they are selling to the likes of point and click me and they have not caught on to how little I know or care about software and stuff. I need, see it, buy it. I am not sure they are up for this type of selling yet.

    • Hey Maggie,
      thanks for sharing your experience with Audible. I cancelled my subscription already a while ago. Its such a pitty. I love their audiobooks but their service (including DRM, their software, etc) is horrible.
      When they change, I’ll be again the first customer in line again, but currently I just receive more and more confirmations that it’s getting worse :-(

  10. Janice says:

    I first subscribed to Audible about 5 years ago. At the time, I traveled a lot by car and the audio books made long trips seem like a trip down the road. During that time, Audible was great, it was compatible with my little San Disk and I could also import the books to a digital card with no problems. After a while, I had no need for the audible books anymore. I had a quite a few credits left, so I used them up and cancelled my subscription to stop paying for credits that I’ll probably never use. No problem, right? WRONG. So, when I was ready to listen to the books that I thought I bought with the money I spent on a subscription, I can’t. The only way I can listen to these books is if I subscribe to Audible. What a vicious circle.

    So now here we are several years later, and I was going on a few long trips again. So, what did I do? I joined audible again. Low and behold my old selections were still there. Having an Ipod, I was able to download everything directly into Itunes, no problem. Well, the car we were using did not have anyway to use the Ipod with the car audio system. So I downloaded the books to a CD. Now, here we are in the middle of our trip, I put the CD into the player to start listening to the book, and I get an error reading.

    Needless to say, I’m very frustrated. I love the idea of audio books but would love to be able to listen to them, especially the ones that I bought, without the subscription.

    Anyone have any solutions?

  11. Armin says:

    I can only join the choir. I spent many hours trying to download into my
    mp3 player what I had bought and paid for as a new member of Audible.com.
    I just sent them an e-mail, asking where the cancel button is on their website.

    Companies who have absolutely no regard for their customers don’t get any
    sympathy from me when they go down in flames. And consumers should see
    the light and should not support them with their money.

    I will publish my bad experience with Audible.com everywhere I can.

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment here … and thanks to the
    creator of this website. If we as consumers stick together, we will ensure
    that abusers go out of business fast, before they have done more damage.

    This is my suggestion.

  12. Whitter says:

    Seems it’s a crowd in here: another awful experience with their shoddy software and a system that is designed entirely for them, not the customer. I pay, then they treat me like scum? I’ll not be doing that again. Good bye and good riddance. I hope they dot-com bust.

    • Mike says:

      Started using Audible whentheybstarted.

      Bought their first audio player which was great.

      Could NEVER get their software to work. When I think of Audible I picture a few kids eating pizza off the floor running Audible’s commodore server, with all the code written in basic from 1984.

      I spend nothing with them. Their customer non-support is amazing.

      The only reason they’re still in business is they have money from Amazon.

      Amazon should fire the genuine inept sub-humans who run that company.

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