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Audible.com: The Audiobook Service I Love and Hate Simultaneously

audible.com-logo1

audible.com-logo1

Audible.com has been serving up audiobooks since 1995, so it’s hardly new. I remember checking it out when it first came out, thinking it would be something cool to try out and then realizing, “Oh dang, that’s crazy expensive.” Well, guess what, now that I’m older and wiser, it still seems crazy expensive, but I am about to pay for it.

Membership plans start of $14.95 per month, for which price you will get 1 (that’s right, 1) lousy credit. If you pay $22.95 per month, you can get 2 credits. A credit is essentially worth 1 audio book download. So there you have it. You can also pay for annual plans that are much more expensive at around $150-230 per year for 12-24 credits.

Here’s the thing though: as I contemplate doing more exercise in the morning and the length of my soon-to-be commute, I figure these are great times to pack my head full of knowledge. I also do a fair amount of traveling so I decided to give Audible a chance, via their free trial offer, to show me what they got. On a long trip up to Wyoming, I plugged my iPhone into the rental car’s AUX input, fired up the Audible app and started listening to Who Stole the American Dream? by Hedrick Smith (very interesting book by the way, even though I am a business lover I found this to be quite eye-opening).

As soon as the audio started, I could tell the quality was far, far better than the quality of any free audiobook you can get from iPhone apps like Audiobooks which has a large selection of public domain audiobooks read by volunteers. To be fair, I do appreciate that there is an app that makes great books like Treasure Island available for free… I just wish the quality was better. I don’t like hearing the crackling of microphones and every gulp and swallow of the reader… artifacts which are pleasantly absent from the Audible.com recordings I have tried out so far.

One thing I can tell you for sure that bothers me about Audieble.com is the terrible user interface. The branding and UX design is lacking throughout the entire Audible.com experience–it’s like it is geared for a total ignoramus that wouldn’t know the difference. Get this: you can’t search for/shop for any audiobooks from within the iPhone app. It actually makes you go to the mobile version of Audible.com to see the selection and then transfer back to the app to download it/listen. Talk about inconvenient.

The long and the short of it is this: Audible.com has a vast selection of high-quality audiobooks you won’t find anywhere else, but the quality of the interface and shopping experience leaves a lot to be desired. I guess that can be somewhat understandable since Audible.com was bought by Amazon.com who isn’t exactly the Apple of design (I’ve always thought Amazon.com’s site design was disgustingly bad–it works, sure, but it’s ugly). If there was another show in town, I’d pack up my business and move elsewhere. For now I guess I’m in a sort of audiobook limbo.

What is your experience with Audible? Have you found any decent alternatives?




10 comments

  1. The high cost is because of the publisher royalties (have you read about all the antitrust stuff that just came out with all the big publishers keeping prices high) and the costs of the actors reading the books. Actos get paid hundreds of dollars per hour of reading because of union contracts (i have friends that do this for a living) and so it costs thousands of dollars to produce audio as opposed to ebooks.

    And remember that Apple takes 30% of anything sold through their phones which is why so many companies with low margins had to stop selling through the apps and only direct people to their sites. This issue is well documented all throughout the web.

    so i’m a huge audible fan and have been listening since 2005 (pre mobile apps!) and i can tell you that the app may not be pretty but as a power user you don’t have to even look at it to hit certain spots. It may not be sexy but i can keep my eyes on the road and still control it.

    1. Yes, audiobooks are very expensive to make… and you pay for quality (or lack thereof in the case of free ebooks). Great points and thanks for reading!

  2. I’m an audiobook addict.. and as such I have been an audible.com customer for several years. I agree that it can be a pain that you can’t shop for audiobooks directly from your iphone but that is more of a problem with Apple’s policy. I don’t blame Audible at all for not giving them a cut. If they did then it would probably just make everything more expensive for us.

    So I usually just browse the website and place orders using my computer and then download them directly to my phone using the app. Not all that inconvenient after you get the hang of it.

    Another service you may want to try is audiobooks.com. They have an unlimited audiobook plan that might appeal to you if you are listening to a lot of books/month. Their app allows you to select any audiobook you want to listen to directly from the app on your phone. Since you aren’t really making a purchase.. just a selection then it doesn’t violate any of Apple’s terms. Their audiobook catalog isn’t nearly as extensive as Audible’s but they are adding more every week.

    I currently have an Audible Platinum Membership with 2 credits/month and the Audibooks.com unlimited plan. Between myself and my wife we take full advantage of both memberships.

  3. I have been a member of Audible since 2004. I have around 700 books now. I don’t think the interface is horrible. Yes it is simple, yes it hasn’t changed much since 2004 when I started. But on the positive side, the DRM is reasonable. I can play the books on almost any device imaginable (I primarily use my iphone).

    And with the annual plan (go for it) I am only paying $9.58 per book. That is dirt cheap, usually cheaper than either kindle or paperback.

    And there are lots of sales and promotions. I got nearly 100 books last year for less than $300. A good number of them were public domain, but they are still well produced. There just is not a competitor with Audible that is anywhere close to as easy to use, as cheap, or with the selection.

  4. Audible iphone app USED to have store link, but Apple changed their rules and so Audible was forced to create an app that links to the web store.

    As a listening app, the Audible app is pretty good, imo. You can fast-forward at several speeds, which I like when things get boring.

    I hope the recent advent of acx.com, a “marketplace” which is basically for indies to connect with narrators and producers and self-publish audiobooks, will not cause a precipitous drop in the quality.

    Narration is an amazing and awesome skill, not every actor can do it. Add to that studio and editing costs, and yes, high quality audiobooks are expensive to make.

  5. Just a note the Audible app for IOS USED TO allow for purchasing audiobooks directly within the app, but this was removed when Apple instituted their draconian 30% tax on in-app purchases. Most businesses don’t operate with enough margins to let Apple take 30% off the top. This is one of many examples of Apple’s business decisions ruining user experience and restricting users choice.

    The Audible IOS app actually works pretty well and has been steadily improving over the years.

    My biggest complaint is that while Audible has been owned by Amazon for about 5 years now, they still have not benefited from Amazon’s technologies. The website is often slow and unresponsive, the search UI is often tedious, and we still get none of the great discovery tools from amazon.com. What REALLY irritates me is that misspelled titles or author names in searches don’t offer suggestions that will lead you to the right book, even though every other website has this technology for years now.

  6. Audiobooks.com

    Cloud syncing across all platforms. Great selection. IOS and android apps. Its great, I love it way over audible.

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