Thursday, March 16, 2006

Audibly Dumb

Am I the only person who thinks Audible is stupid? I mean, I like the idea of audio books, and Audible is clearly the leader in this field, but I'm beginning to think that this is only because no one else has really offered them any relevant competition. First off, the whole proprietary .aa (AudCom) file thing has got to go. In spite of Audible's claim that many, many MP3 players work with these files, the real truth is that most of the popular MP3 players out there, aside from the iPods, do not. What's wrong with plain old MP3 files? I asked Audible about this and they said it was to ensure that copyright issues were respected. Since I use a Samsung player (which plays just about every format except Audible's) all this really did was force me to turn a third party piece of software to convert the files into a listenable format--so much for protecting copyright issues! The irony here is that I may, in the future, purchase files from Audible, but only because I can convert the files into a usable format. Had I not found a solution to the problem, I would have immedately cancelled my subscription and asked for my money back.

In the second place, the file I received was separated into two big unwieldy chunks. Using Audacity, I was able to separate the file into chapters but, Jeez, what a hassle. Now maybe this is not an issue with AudCom files on iPods, I do not know, but when will these companies stop working off of business models they borrowed from J. P. Morgan and move into the twenty-first century, and how much longer can we continue this brain-dead idiocy called DRM?

As for the book, I can see where listening to book instead of reading them has certain advantages, but not as many as one may think. Sure, you can listen to a book while driving, but you are missing huge chunks of the narrative everytime you have to negotiate a passing maneuver in heavy traffic. I'd like to see some comparative figures on listening vs. reading retention levels. For me, listening has the advantage of forcing me to pay attention. Since I seem to have a tendency to let my mind run rampant when people are talking to me, audio books are probably a good way to excercise my atrophied listening muscles. Audble is, by no means the only player in this game, and there are several sources for free audio books as well thanks to The Gutenberg Project and the Internet Archive. I can't speak for the quality of these. I suspect it is wildly uneven.