Audible.com doesn’t Say what they mean

Now, I know this entry wont appeal to many, but I had to write it, so I decided to post it as well.

Apple computer, a little while back, created a fantastic application for organizing music and creating MP3s called iTunes. iTunes revolutionized how mac users organized and stored their digital music. MP3s became the audio format de jour for computer users. I, myself, started to encode all my CDs to MP3s like a wild-man, hoping one day to have all my music surgically implanted into my brain, so much like fine lady upon a white horse, I will have music wherever I go.

So, in Apple’s latest revision, iTunes 3, they added support for Audible content. Audible.com is a website that offers audio books, that have traditionally been available on tape and CD, through a very legitimate downloadable MP3 like format.

Audible charges a monthly fee [$14.95 or $19.95] to access their books [1 book and 1 subscription or 2 books and 1 subscription respectively]. This service, if you are familiar with peer to peer file sharing, is completely unlike Napster and the like, because it is licensed by the audio book companies to deliver their content. You are not breeching copyright laws with their downloads.

I signed up to investigate for myself Audible’s service, here is what I found:

  • The sound quality is good, not great. They encode their content at 32kbs which is suitable for voice only and bottomed out when listening to Garison Keiller’s News from Lake Wobegon, when the audience laughed or clapped it sounded like I was listening to the radio through a fish bowl.
  • They have a lot of content. I was delighted to see that they had such a wide variety and selection. I was particularly impressed with their unabridged section.
  • Very easy to use. On Mac OS X (Jaguar) I didn’t have to install a thing, it worked flawlessly — which brings up a very good point.
  • This is no MP3. Don’t think, that just because this looks and feels like an MP3 it is one, it certainly isn’t. Your fist tip off should be the .aa file extension. Your second tip off should be the prompt in iTunes for a username and password. This baby isn’t your old play me whenever, wherever you want and burn me onto whatever you want format, oh no, i’s the download me, play me whenever, but only be able to bun me on to a CD once format. That’s right. Only once and only as an audio CD, no MP3 CDs here, as I said earlier, this is no MP3 and it wont play, unless your MP3 CD player supports the Audible format, which at the time of this article none of them do, for distribution reasons.

If you are an avid iPod user, you will not notice any of these restrictions, you can put them on and take them off your iPod as many times as you like and the iPod remembers where you are in each individual track, so even if you start listening to another story, it can come back to the exact spot you left off. I don’t know, however, what happens if you stick another iPod onto your computer, the audio file may not copy.

This is what disturbs me about the Audible format, the audio files don’t feel like they are mine. If I went out to Barnes & Nobles and bought Catch Me if You Can on audio book CD [$44.95] it would be better quality, I could back it up onto another cd, make MP3s of it, load it onto my iPod, whatever, it’s my audio.

With the Audible format, Catch Me if You Can [$29.95] is approximately a 25 minute downlad on a DSL connection, if you have a modem, don’t even think about it. The 117Mb file is a heafty little bastard, but does contain over 8 hours of audio. The plus is, you get to hear your book almost imediately and it’s not taxed (sorry NJ residents). If you are a Member, you are saving almost $30 off the Barnes and Nobles price, which is nice. Unfortunately, Audible’s advice to “Download this program to your computer and then burn it to a CD or transfer it to your iPod.” doesn’t work, because it’s over 8 hours and won’t fit onto a CD, nor can I cut it up, because iTunes won’t let you. No CD for this track, oh well, there goes that flexibility.

The service does have it’s benifits over the audio book CD, but it also has some major disadvantages. I think the most pronounced flaw is the only allowing you to burn 1 audio cd of the content you legaly purchased from a liscenced merchant. If the audio track is not that big, that is.

Sure, there are ways of getting around this format’s copy protection, that any hard-core computer user can figure out in no time, but we shouldn’t have to. If we buy content online, we expect to retain the flexibility that we are accustomed to. In the long run these proprietary features of the Audible format hurt its acceptance in the marketplace and frightens away would be consumers.

I may stay with Audible.com, I may not, but I thought it important to share my experience and inform yall with the help of my meddling.

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