★ Audiobooks and DRM

For those of you who don’t know — and there’s no reas­on, per­haps, that you should — DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and it is a tech­no­logy by which con­tent dis­trib­ut­ors (record com­pan­ies, for the most part) attempt to con­trol how a cus­tom­er exper­i­ences their product.

Now, audiobooks.

The start­ing pis­tol for Internet-dis­trib­uted audiobooks has been fired and Audible.com is at the ‘b’ of the bang. They have a huge selec­tion of titles read by great act­ors and if you go for one of their monthly plans, like I do, you can enjoy two books per month for very little cash. Top draw­er.

The trouble? Audible’s titles are DRM’d. That is, they are locked down tight. Countless are the times I’ve said to a friend of mine, ‘Oh, you’d love this book I’m listen­ing to…’ and then trail off because I know I won’t be able to lend it. The DRM means only a few machines I’ve nom­in­ated can play­back the audio.

Well, this stinks. That much is obvi­ous. But you’d think that Audible are doing this because of the pres­sures put upon them by pub­lish­ers. It turns out that this is not neces­sar­ily the case. In an art­icle for Publisher’s Weekly art­icle, Cory Doctorow (whose book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, I review here) relates the saga of try­ing to get (i) his pub­lish­er, then (ii) Audible, then (iii) the online Apple iTunes store to offer his new book without DRM. Thus far, he’s only man­aged to con­vince the first two.

Audiobooks are fant­ast­ic. They are unabridged, high-qual­ity record­ings of stor­ies that you can enjoy when you’re out walk­ing, doing the dishes, or work­ing out. If Steve Jobs — and there­fore Apple — is ser­i­ous about his atti­tude towards DRM, he should make sure the online Apple store sup­ports pure, unfiddled-with MP3s for both music and the spoken word.

I’m pretty sure this is what read­ers want. It’s what I want.

As a coda, you can down­load an audiobook of the first edi­tion of Déjà Vu here — for £500.

H’only jok­ing! It is, of course, free as in air.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

4 thoughts on “★ Audiobooks and DRM”

  1. So what is Apple’s stated reas­on­ing for con­tinu­ing to demand DRM on audiobooks? I mean they ditched it for music. I always thought it was Audible that was the stick­ing point.

  2. Yes, that’s what I thought, and that’s what makes this so sur­pris­ing. It sounds to me like the mech­an­ism they have in place just pre­sup­poses the exist­ence of a DRM policy and they don’t have a work­flow altern­at­ive that lacks it.

  3. I was not much of a fan of audiobooks up until recently. I often felt the nar­rat­or didn’t fit “my vis­ion” of what the char­ac­ters should sound like and that sort of spoilt it for me. Stephen Fry doing H Potter was an excep­tion and maybe I was just unlucky because recently I’ve been listen­ing to the abridged ver­sion of Iain Banks’ Transition read by Peter Kenny. It’s avail­able as a free non-DRM pod­cast at iTunes Store, and it’s really a great listen. The story is good, and the nar­ra­tion superb. If stand­ard audiobooks were like this (I mean unen­cumbered by DRM, and great qual­ity) I would cer­tainly buy a lot more.

  4. I have to say that while the nar­ra­tion of Transition was very good, I was under­whelmed by the book itself. It seemed rather rushed.

    I was really look­ing for­ward to an Audiobook of Wordsworth’s poetry — until I listened to the nar­rat­or. He sounds like an American put­ting on a camp English accent. In that case, though, I gave Audible a phone call and they let me send the book back, vir­tu­ally, which was nice.

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