Skip to content

Dear Audible: Your DRM sucks, posted by CJ Ovalle

I would love to have the opportunity to easily buy and listen to books in my car. We have a fairly long drive to and from work, and we occasionally take very long drives to visit our families. On the audiobook front, the most popular website appears to be Audible. I tried it once before on a trial basis, and disliked-it-with-prejudice for reasons that will become clear, because not a lot seems to have changed from my earlier experience.

Recently, my wife found a book that we’d like to listen to in the car available through Audible. Because of some technological restrictions on the computer she was using, she could not download the file herself. She asked me to see what I could do on my computer. And I could get it to work, for certain definitions of work. It works, as in, it sorta-mostly does the things that Audible says it will do… but only after I had to install software, clear caches, delete cookies, and do a few other things. And, it is completely, completely, completely, totally encumbered by a horrific proprietary format and DRM.

I listen to podcasts. It’s easy. I download the MP3. I copy it to my USB stick. I put my USB stick in the car. Done.

To get an Audible book to work in the same manner… well, I’m grateful that someone else already purchased the book so I avoided any of those steps. Here’s where I started…

  1. Sign in to Audible.
  2. Find my library.
  3. Install annoying mandatory software necessary to download file
  4. Be forced to restart browser by said installation
  5. Return to site and continue to be prompted to install annoying mandatory software after browser has been restarted
  6. Search Audible help pages to figure out how to resolve said prompt
  7. Follow help page instructions to no success
  8. Search Internet instead
  9. Resolve problem based on Internet forum suggestions
  10. Unsuccessfully search for a way to download file as a well-supported, non-proprietary format
  11. Use help pages to discover that while some cars are supported, mine isn’t
  12. Unsuccessfully attempt to add book to a device using “MP3 Player” option (specific device not supported)
  13. Learn that because I attempted to add to a device, the “burn to a CD” option is gone from the Web interface (really?) and so it attempts to download book again in earlier manner
  14. Watch annoying software crash as it fails to comprehend adding two of the same book to a library
  15. Attempt to burn book to CD/DVD (unsuccessful; software already installed in my computer not supported)
  16. Install burning software that’s supposed to be supported
  17. Unsuccessfully hunt for options to burn book to a CD/DVD through the original annoying software (because it’s not there)
  18. Go to help pages to try to figure out how to burn a CD with said software
  19. Realize that while it instructs you how to burn from your new software library to CD, it does not tell you how to get the book into your new software library
  20. Figure out how to to add book to new software library
  21. Authorize new software to work with Audible
  22. Wait for something to happen
  23. After successful authorization, return to earlier “how to burn a CD” instructions
  24. Realize that because I only have burnable DVDs and nary a single burnable CD I’m SOL. (really?)
  25. Beg a CD-R from a friend
  26. Find out the book will not fit on one Audio CD
  27. Beg for another CD-R
  28. Find out that I will need even more CD-Rs
  29. Find more CD-Rs
  30. Encounter a problem with the burning software; while it isn’t made by Audible, Audible still shares culpability for making me use it
  31. Insert steps to resolve problem
  32. Successfully burned book to four CDs. (1 DVD would be FAR less wasteful…)

And now I’m actually going to need to verify that said CDs work in the device that I want them to work (my car), which will have to come later.

This list wasn’t all of the steps- that’s from memory, and I obscured several steps with things like “resolve problem,” “find” and “figure it out.” This process was also the first in YEARS in which I could not substitute a DVD-R for a CD-R, which I found rather jarring.

So… yeah. I’ve worked in IT for nearly two decades. I’m getting a PhD. I study technology, copyright, and a host of other things directly related to books and DRM and technology. And it’s been one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in some time. =P Admittedly, many of these problems will not occur again. Even given that, as-is the process will never be as easy as the one I use to listen to podcasts. It will never allow me to listen to files on the devices I choose in the manner that I want to. And while some will argue that it’s the right of the copyright holder (and keep in mind, that is not uncontroversial, if by nothing else demonstrated by this year’s DMCA rule-making procedure), in this context, the copyright holder and Audible have both lost. If I didn’t care, I could have pirated the book. Simple. Easy. Done. I don’t, for many reasons. Others do, for many reasons. These are some of those reasons.

And down the line, as the years pass, and technology changes? I work with digital archives. My short response: Good Luck.

I may write more that topic later.