Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dear Maintaining your DRM system for Audible audiobooks is a mistake.

audiobook-builder-icon-512x512 If you have any sense, Amazon, you’ll do the right thing and release all your downloadable audiobooks as mp3s.

I am your customer – an average, well-read, college-educated young adult. I frequently shop on your website, and often browse it to break the monotony of my job, which is absolutely mind-numbing. Add that to my 60-90 minute commute via public transit and I am left with a deep, dark void of boredom that fills me every weekday.

Luckily, I am independent at work, and if my project is done at the end of the day, no on one questions how I spend my time. To offset the painful, drawn-out leeching of my soul, I recently ordered (from you, Amazon) a cute little off-brand mp3 player to listen to during the day.

For four weeks it was my savior, but I quickly realized that listening to nine hours of music a day/five days a week simply wasn’t going to cut it for much longer. Music was good, but I needed more to keep the restlessness at bay.

Then inspiration struck me. It was perfect! I could stimulate my brain, occupy my need to multi-task, expand my literary knowledge, utilize my new player, and still leave my hands and eyes free to work on my computer!

I could download and listen to audiobooks!

At first I was hesitant. What if I didn’t end up liking audiobooks that much? It’s quite a commitment to fork $35.95 over to iTunes for my favorite fantasy novel. Was there any way I could try it out first?

Then I learned about, and it seemed meant for me. For a small monthly membership fee (less than 30% of the cost of a one audiobook on iTunes) I could download one free book a month and purchase others at a huge discount. I could listen to them on my computer, a CD if I felt inclined to burn one, or even my portable mp3 player!

Oh wait, not on my portable mp3 player.

My hopes and dreams were crushed when I discovered that my first generation Sansa e260 did not support Audible’s proprietary file format, the .aa file. Even though touted the five hundred devices it was compatible with, mine was not on that list.

To add a facial-punch of irony, I then learned that Audible had been purchased for three hundred million dollars in 2008 by none other than you, Amazon, the company I bought my mp3 player from (from you directly, not from a third-party seller through you). This move bolstered your online distributing empire and pitted you firmly against audiobook-distributing giant, iTunes. It was a brilliant and bold move.

iTunes, infamous for slapping DRM formats all over their music store, seemed like a weakened opponent. You have always received my support, Amazon, and the support of much of the internet’s youth because you offer your downloadable music in the universal mp3 format. Riotous bloggers and audiobook fans were anxiously waiting for you to do the same with Audible, but you never did. You hinted that someday, you might, if enough people raised their voices, but was that true?

I hold out hope that it is, and I want to add my blogging voice to the masses.

I am a firm believer in fiscally supporting artists and their art, and I believe the audiobook industry is one worth supporting. It’s always been a small-audience industry, but a worthy one, nonetheless.

Writing and publishing a good book is praiseworthy enough, but reading its entirety out loud? It’s really hard. Just talking for eighteen hours straight will strain anyone’s voice, and these narrators do it with extraordinary skill. A narrator has to learn a book well enough to read it fluidly, and with the proper inflection, character differentiation, and emotion as envisioned by the original author. Audiobooks offer literature in a medium that is accessible to the blind, the illiterate, and those who drive long distances for a living. I will gladly invest in its cause, and I predict that a good audiobook, just like a beloved printed book, will prove to be a more-than-worthy personal investment.

My file-sharing friends (without comment on the questionably legal nature of their choices) tried to pressure me into downloading these audiobooks for free off various host sites (who would offer them as mp3s), but I refused. I want to pay for this.

Do you hear me, Amazon? I want to give you my money! I’m clutching it in my hand, arm cocked and ready to throw it at your feet. If you offered Audible mp3s, device compatibility wouldn’t matter, and I along with many others would rush to sign up. What I don’t want to do is to further invest into another more mainstream digital music player after I just bought this one from you. I like my player, and I want to listen to your legally downloaded audiobooks on it.

The DRM format does so little to prevent illegal pirating that it’s not worth the loss in clientele. Though cracked down hard on digital music converters that allow .aa to .mp3 conversions, you have allowed your users to burn .aa files onto CDs for versatile listening. Determined members motivated by legality can rip these CDs back onto a computer using mp3 decoding, and voilá! A legally obtained mp3 audiobook that they can then illegally share wherever they want!

I really don’t want to be forced to invest in that many CDs (one book could take as many as twenty), and if I did, I would rip them using iTunes just to spite you. AND THEN I WOULD GIVE MY CDS AWAY TO PEOPLE WHO DIDN’T PAY FOR THEM!

Do you see the flaws in your ignorance? You’re alienating faithful customers like me, you’re indulging in hypocrisy, you’re sending mixed messages about your priorities, and you’ve made it possible for people to illegally share these files anyway. I implore you, Amazon: make it easier for humble, law-abiding consumers like me to support both you and the artists you represent.

The ball is in your court. Hundreds of wannabe audiobook listeners and I are waiting.