★ 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.

Published by Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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  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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