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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.

8 replies on “Audible.com doesn’t Say what they mean”

Intresting…I never knew such a service existed. I personally think it's kind of a gyp though. I don't think i would feel like the file was mine either if I had restraints on what I could do with it.

you only saved $15 actually, between the b&n price you quoted and the audible.com price. doesn't seem worth it to me, what with the rest of the draw backs. I'd actually pay $15 extra to really have my own copy of the audio format.

If you become a member it costs $14.95 and you can download 1 book per month, so if you wanted Catch me If You Can as your book for the month, it would only cost you $14.95. That was what I meant, by a $30 savings. Sorry, I wasn't being clear.

I actually just bought an audio book CD from Amazon called Ruby, because I loved it so much growing up. If you haven't heard of it before, check it out. I didn't trust Audible enough to risk not being able to listen to it in the future. (plus they don't carry it anyway.)

I have been looking at audible.com for about a month. I was unable to find any of the important details about the file format (such as is detailed in the first post). So I signed up. Once you are a member, you need to download the audio manager software. The long and short, it is not mp3 format and the files are not yours. I cancled (membership time 30min) screw them.

I have been with Audible since they started, two books every month for years. Mobile player, Rio 500-600, BE300 and Otis. Every once in a while go back and reload a book to catch up on a continuation, ie Ender – Speaker. Had a few problems but none that couldn't and haven't been worked out. I can't resell or let other's have the audio unless I put it on one of my players but over the years I've probably saved over a $1000.00. I think the people that complain about the way Audible handle's the downloads actually have other goals of what they want to do with the download. Recommend it to everyone, great for traffic and solitary work.

My situation is dictated by the format problem. I have a new player that does not, and will not (according to the company that makes it) support Audible's format. I won't be working with Audible anytime soon, because I plan to enjoy my expensive MP3 player for years.

I am a long-time Audible user like Neal Long (on Windows PC). I am unsure whether my comments will directly apply to Apple iTunes users but for what they are worth:

* The sound quality is good, not great." There are actually 4 different formats (plus a version of one for the Sony IC Recorder). The low end format is especially useful for getting a lot of "Spoken Word" audio into a small amount of space. I can put about 50 hours of audio onto my Rio 500 (128 MB total memory). Yes there are noticable artifacts but perfect for getting books onto my player. I now have an iPod and am reloading all the books I previously purchased in the highest quality format which is comparable to high bitrate mp3.

* They have a lot of content." Check for titles you're interested in before signing up.

* Very easy to use. On Mac OS X (Jaguar) I didn't have to install a thing,…" On Windows PC you must use Audible Manager which manages your collection, transfer to listening device and/or burning CDs.

* This is no MP3." True, it uses digital rights management, but I do burn books to audio CDs (however many are required for the length of the book at 74 minutes per CD) and listen to them on my car CD player.

* 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." Again I don't know how this works on an Apple with iTunes, but Audible Manager on Windows automatically divides the file into the necessary number of CDs.

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