Amazon vs Hachette is nothing: just WAIT for the audiobook wars!


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As an audiobook narrator & producer, I do wish that Amazon/Audible didn’t have quite as much of a stranglehold on the industry — I do appreciate how easy they make it for someone like me to audition for, and create new audiobook titles (including the opportunity to work with name authors like Clive Barker & Hugh Howey), but having other options and avenues would be very welcome, too.

However, I should like to clarify (or perhaps “add to” is a more accurate phrase) a few points you made in your article.

When a rights holder/author begins the process of creating an audiobook, through Audible’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), they have the option to choose a non-exclusive distribution deal. This gets their audiobook distributed by Amazon & iTunes, but also allows the rights holder to distribute it themselves via any other media they wish, including hard copies sold at brick-and-mortar stores. So, while the DRM is still there for Amazon’s distribution, the version distributed by the rights holder need not have any restrictions placed on it whatsoever. Yes, Amazon does still maintain a lot of control over the titles, but it’s not worldwide domination, if you will.

Further, while audiobooks purchased through Amazon/Audible must indeed be played on proprietary devices or applications, both the Windows and Mac programs do also offer the option to burn the audiobook to CD once purchased. This effectively gives an “opt-out” of sorts to the restrictions, if you’re willing to make that extra effort of transferring the audiobook to compact disc.

As I said, I’m very glad to have the opportunities that Audible/ACX provides to me as a narrator. I think most authors who use the service would agree, despite the realization that the model is far from perfect. Whether any other entity would have the clout to go head-to-head with them and offer a competing service is another question, but I do hope such a scenario comes to pass, eventually. I can only think that such competition would benefit not only the end users & consumers, but in the long run, the companies themselves.

Does the burned CD include DRM? That is, can I rip it to other computers using standard non-Amazon software, play on any device, convert to other file formats?

I have long been a fan of CD and of John Scalzi, both of whom struck me as authors well ahead of the general curve on digital publishing issues. But I was reading and listening to ebooks and books very early on and a few years back, IIRC, both Scalzi and Doctorow had very serious reservations about those emerging markets and their embrace seemed reluctant, at least to me. I am an end-user, a consumer of books. As such, I never saw the emergence of digital publishing as a publishers vs. authors struggle. I saw it as digital publishers opening up new markets for authors and making books more accessible than ever to “readers”. I still sense that many authors under-appreciate just how often they capture new readers through the use of new technologies. I don’t know that I would have read either CD or JS but for, dare I say it, Amazon. Or some other “business entity” providing the same service to readers,and to authors. (And it should also be noted that Hachette is also a “business entity”). The work is still CD’s and JS’s, even if Amazon is instrumental to their being able to realize maximum market reach.

At least in so far as the face Amazon turns to its public, Amazon certainly appreciates and promotes the authors it is in business with. There is real and effective effort to distinguish books for sale according to their critical and popular merit. There is no aspect of Amazon/Audible holding “their” authors in contempt, as if they were a necessary evil. At times it seems as if it is the strident authors who elevate “maximum gain” over the merit of their own work, rather than Amazon. At the end of the day, Amazon has succeeded commercially because it has been willing to incur more costs in getting more product to its customers more quickly than its competitors. I would hope at the end of the day Amazon will be similarly willing to incur more costs through greater payment terms to its authors, as a means of keeping them under the Amazon brand.

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A couple of months ago I bought a whole bunch of audiobooks on CD because we were travelling a lot. Before buying my discs I signed up for a free Audible trial and cancelled the same day when I realised how draconian the DRM is. It’s obvious though when you try and buy CDs on Amazon (UK, at least) that this isn’t a format they’re interested in selling.

Y’know, TBH, I’ve not actually done it myself, but I have to assume that if you can play it in your car (which I think was one of the reasons given for them offering that service), you should be able to rip it like any other CD.

It burns as a standard CD. I’m not sure if this is still possible, but Audible’s program would burn using Nero. Nero had a built-in way of “burning” a CD as a disc image instead of onto an actual physical CDR.

So if your end goal was to get MP3 files, you could burn the audio book to CD images, mount those images using something like daemon tools, then use whatever CD ripping software you wanted to turn them into MP3s. No wasted CDRs and way quicker.

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It’s true that you can burn Audible audiobooks to CD and re-rip them, but it’s a pretty terrible out for people with even medium-sized Audible libraries.

First of all, you can’t burn an MP3 CD, which would likely hold all the audio on one disc. You have to burn standard audio CDs, and when I tried this with my Audible collection, a single audiobook could run to 30 (!) discs, which would have to be manually swapped in and out of the drive, then re-ripped. What’s more, the discs cut into the audio mid-sentence, and there were often gaps in the resulting audio.

Multiply this inconvenience by a modest, 10-title collection, and you might have to burn 300 CDs, then rip them. If you’ve bought a hundred audiobooks – and the 20% of Audible customers who account for 80% of their sales surely have bigger collections than that – and you’re into the thousands of discs.

The switching cost here, assuming you price your own time at half of minimum wage, rapidly approaches the cost of buying all those titles again at Downpour, without DRM.

Not to mention sacrificing a computer to serve as round-the-clock rip/burn station.

When I switched from Mac to GNU/Linux in 2006, I used Audiohijack to rip my extensive Audible audiobook collection. It took a month of round-the-clock playback on three old Powerbooks, but I got all of it. But I had three extra Powerbooks around the house AND I knew how to script my OS.

Sure, if you burn actual CDs instead of CD images. I had 60-something books to do. It was a pointless pain in the ass caused by Audible’s stupid policies, but it was done at the speed of my hard drive rather than the speed of optical discs or real-time playback. It even preserved the Track #, Title, Artist, and Album data.

I’m assuming the way Audible burned CDs on a Mac would’ve been different. Especially in 2006.

Audible and iTunes? An unholy alliance of Amazon AND Apple! Alarming, given the still largely untapped potential of audio books in the modern world.

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