Open letter to Audible and Amazon: Stop the DRM

Open letter to Audible and Amazon: Stop the DRM

Summary: Audible - Amazon - has a near-monopoly on the world's audio books. Author Violet Blue argues that its DRM harms authors, readers - and Amazon.


Audible, owned by Amazon Inc., has the largest catalog of audio books in the world. Its DRM only allows consumers to play books on three "Audible Ready" devices.

Audible's DRM is a greedy, outdated way of cheating customers

When Audible was purchased by Amazon Inc. in 2008 most authors and audio book consumers hoped that Amazon would stop Audible's widely-hated practice of crippling the use of authors' audio books with Digital Rights Management (DRM).

audible drm amazon

Amazon didn't.

They're now one of the last DRM hold-outs.

After conducting tests with DRM-free audiobooks, in 2008, mega-publisher Random House abandoned DRM on its digital books altogether.

In early 2007, an open letter from Steve Jobs called on record companies to stop using DRM on their audio files; in 2009 Apple officially abandoned DRM for its iTunes music store over two years ago.

Amazon's own music downloads don't have DRM - this made big news when they ditched DRM in 2008.

So if consumers want to buy books to use on various, specific devices, why would Audible (Amazon) stop them?

As the EFF explains DRM,

Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies attempt to control what you can and can't do with the media and hardware you've purchased.

  • Bought an ebook from Amazon but can't read it on your ebook reader of choice? That's DRM. (...)

Corporations claim that DRM is necessary to fight copyright infringement online and keep consumers safe from viruses.

But there's no evidence that DRM helps fight either of those.

Instead DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition by making it easy to quash "unauthorized" uses of media and technology.

Audible disallows conversion of audio book files into MP3 files, telling customers that Audible's DRM prevents this to ensure the Audible experience of playback performance on its approved list of "Audible Ready" devices.

Now that Amazon is also Android, and Amazon's digital books have text to speech options in Kindle devices, it remains to be seen why DRM is still part of any kind of long-tail business plan.

Three devices: re-purchase is a certainty

A limitation of three devices is unrealistic, and by now Audible - Amazon - knows it.

A reader (listener) buys a book and wants to listen to it on their home computer.

And their tablet, away from the desk or in the kitchen while cooking. In the cafe on their laptop.

On their phone during a train or bus commute. In their car during a drive. Or at the gym, or a maybe flight with their iPod/mobile MP3 player.

That's six everyday use devices in typical situations.

Audible's DRM is bad for readers and consumers

DRM makes buying and using audio books harder.

If a reader (listener) wants to enjoy their book they're only able to chose three out of six of the above everyday device scenarios - for a book they purchased, and should rightfully own.

An audio book is still a book. It's just 'printed' on a different kind of paper.

All rights to the buyer should apply, and a buyer shouldn't have to buy a book twice just because the bookseller says so.

In 2007, I worked with my book agent on a potential deal with Audible. I said that if I were to agree to Audible's terms, I wanted to know about their DRM policy, as I was well aware of the customer anger Audible's DRM had engendered - and did not want my reputation tied to it.

We had a conference call with reps from Audible. I asked them about their DRM policy.

I was told it was important to keep because they needed to protect against file sharing. One person on the call casually commented, "We're really kind of hoping some kid doesn't hack it."

Except it's not 'some kid' who wants to listen to The Omnivore's Dilemma on the way to work, at their desk, on the plane, when someone else is on the computer and they have to multitask, or when their hands are full with the baby.

The people who listen to audio books are also people who are blind or have limited sight, are dyslexic, are ADHD, are people who have limited mobility - and access on multiple devices means so much more than anyone will ever know.

The people who listen to audio books are are fans of books. They are all of us.

Audible's DRM is futile

Search Google, look at Reddit and other forums and sites, and you'll find dedicated readers and listeners who simply want to put the books they purchased from Audible on their MP3 player.

You'll also find out quickly just how aggressive and litigious Audible is to protect its DRM.

Over the years a number of software makers have come along to remove the Audible DRM encoding to make audio book files user-friendly.

Audible has always been swift to threaten software makers, devs and bloggers with lawsuits for promoting - or even discussing - the ability to remove Audible's DRM.

As one commenter put it on Reddit in a thread about trying to listen to their Audible book outside the DRM, "It's easier to torrent and steal the book than to play it on my car stereo."

Thanks for that, Audible (Amazon).

Audible's DRM is bad for authors

Audible's DRM poisons my relationship with my readers and fans.

I'm the 'little guy' whose work is traded off of in this ridiculous charade wherein companies use dated, anti-consumer and anti-artist racketeering-style business tactics instead of evolving their business models.

In addition to being a tech journalist, blogger and podcaster, I'm still an author and anthology editor with dozens of books in print in many languages - the old fashioned way to be a writer. 

My main print publisher is an indie, women-run small business. Making a deal with Audible to get their titles into the audio book game was a necessary step to expand their catalog into a digital goods market that an indie can't afford not to be in nowadays.

When a consumer buys one of my books on Audible, my indie publisher and I get some change - and that's great.

But my reader, who now has a direct relationship with me, the author, gets a bag of digital candy mixed with arsenic.

As an author it is embarrassing that someone would purchase my book knowing that instead of enjoying the work freely, they will almost certainly soon have a technical experience of frustration, anger and disappointment - an experience that has nothing to do with me, or the book.

Why would I send anyone to Audible and do that to my readers - especially if I want them to ever buy my work again?

Oh, right. Because Audible is pretty much the only game in town.

The DRM on my books as distributed through Audible is placed there without my consent.

Dear Audible, Amazon: stop the DRM racket. Now.

Topics: Amazon, Android, Apps, Data Management, Software, Travel Tech

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  • DRM

    Bravo! I would most likely be considered an Amazon fan boy but, so far, have resisted the use of Audible.
    Reggie S
    • Prices

      I find Audibles prices quite irresistible, since if you buy audio-books using points from the 1 year platinum plan all books are around $10. The problem for an audio book is that not only the author has copy right, but also the one that payed the audio-production. I don't find the DRM that of a big problem, since I can listen on phones, tablets and computers. DRM does not protect much against serious online piracy, but it protects from normal people spreading the books for free to all relatives and all friends.
      • "Spreading" books to your famili and firends is CRIME?

        So I have to cover my books with my BODY when my sister enter my room?
        LOL. LOL. LOL.

        And in addition that DRM make it impossible for you to download that books to other audio players...

        And God forbid you from burning them on CD...

        Oh. And DRM revokes most of your FAIR USE rights (and yes in some countries sharing with your FAMILY and FRIENDS is FAIR USE. Do not be so dumb to through away your rights...)
        • Copies

          Making a photo copy of a whole book and giving away that copy is a crime in Sweden. You can make some copies of music, but you are limited to very low number of people whom you can legally give a copy to. If your friend make a new copy and give it away, it is a crime. You have to own the original to give a few copies away to close friends.
          • Fees

            In Sweden they also charge a fee on empy tapes, CDs, DVDs and hard drives, to compensate rightholders for "legal private copying". The term "fair use" does not exist in many European countries. If you for example show a picture in a youtube video, that is not protected by law, since fair use does not exist in law here.
      • drm forces you to use approved devices

        this is where it ticks me off, DRM on audible forces FORCED you to buy devices on their support list, and they are VERY slow to add devices.

        I have a Cowon c2 16gb with a 32gb card, its been out a while now(years) and Audible keep telling me they are working on adding it, mind the player, like all past cowon players I have owned actually has support for audible in its firmware(infact its a featured-feature) but, audible cant be arsed to add the device ID to their software...

        they also allow you to burn cds free, that you can then rip back to the computer, but, you know how long that takes?

        one of the drm removal softwares out there for audible does just that, it makes a virtual burner,then burns virtual cd's, that it then rips back to the system......alot of hassle for something that should JUST BLOODY WORK!!!

        if you want a better option then audible google "Drm free audio books" also check out emusic's selection, I have infact sent randomhouse and some others on emusic emails thanking them for not treating me like a thief...

        drm is such a pain, its driven me to infringe copyrights just to get apps I have paid for working....(apps and games), it should never be easier to get something illegally then to buy it legally.....

        steam for example has drm, but valve also dont spend much time worrying about how many people are playing their games illegally.....because most of those people either would never buy them Or they will buy it when they can afford it(steam sales ROCK!!!)

        but then, i also have drm free games on sall good in that case....

        as to audible my personal stance has been for years that i wont buy their books because I refuse to pay to be called/treated like a thief. (same reason I refuse to buy from EA.)
        Azure Sky
  • Other options are available

    I use eMusic, which has a decent-sized audiobook library, especially when it comes to mainstream books. Every time I'm tempted by an Audible "try for free!" add, I remember the DRM and stay away. I would definitely be counted as a disenfranchised potential customer because of the DRM -- last year I read more than 70 books, half of them in audio format.
    • Greate score.

      But where do you find all that time for listening to audiobooks in such amounts? :D

      Anyway, you can help a bit, and write nice letters to Amazon support about availability of those promotions without DRM.
  • It Should be You Choice: to Go Somewhere Else

    If you do not like DRM the use somebody else service or get a web host. You have to your own promotion (blogs, doing conventions, podcast). The idea Audible is the only game in town is ridiculous.

    My problem with the anti DRM Is I do not trust the current society to play fair and pay before using and not rip off the producer. I see too much of the morally depraved, entitlement generation think those who should produce media shroud do it for free. I see at the exclusive right of the author to decide to sell it or give it a way. With the internet it ease for new authors doge from establish book corporations. One reason I love my Kindle. I can support the interdependent SF authors.
    As for device lookout, I see this as an opportunity for and entrepreneur to market and open independent reader.
    • Ricard B

      So you be for gun control laws, as the fact is that Guns in up in the wrong hands? Is that a fair analogy?
      • Sorry

        error: analogy dose not follow
    • armchair remarks

      You're not getting the big picture. Author is saying Audible owns the market and Audible does not let the author choose to DRM or not. So going somewhere else is not really much of an option and there is no practical choice. Audible is the biggest game in town, making them the only practical game in town... and personal web hosts wouldn't have the mass exposure. So it's not ridiculous.
      So you see society as a bunch of thieves... why are so many other content producer/distributors dropping DRM then?? It's not the right of the author to decide when there is a virtual monopoly on the market which does not offer choice.
      There are open independent devices already... but a lot of people have multiple devices, which are used... they are different scenarios. From laptop to desktop to iPod/iPhone/iPad to MP3 player to wherever the purchaser wants to hear the audio. One device does -not- 'fit all'. You can't work on an iPhone and you can't tote a laptop around when you're jogging (not even an open independent ereader), etc., etc.
      Audible allows for burning CD's which can then be ripped, or you can just record audio from within a PC playing the audio book, so it's just very tedious but simple to defeat the futile DRM, for personal use (not mass sharing). Pirates would do that for mass distribution... so the DRM only hobbles the consumers from listening when/where they like. So article author is saying Audible's DRM is anti-consumer, not anti-piracy.
    • Because blind who NEED special devices and special software


      And those who share how to do it are also MORALLY DEPRIVED even if they share tips on how to download your 12 y old sister music on her mp3 player.

      Black and White is nice name for furniture shop....

      DRM NEVER WORKS. DRM ALWAYS collide with FAIR USE. DRM should never be enforced by law.
  • There can be a balance....

    Bottom line is the DRM for Audible is already hacked and has been for several years. This is also true for Kindle Books.

    That being said, they could use the iTunes approach where there are unique identifiers that cannot be removed embedded within the file, meaning that if it gets posted online somewhere, it can be traced back to the original poster.

    Another alternative would be to require entering a password on each device before it will play.

    This does not need to be an all or nothing deal.
    • Re: where there are unique identifiers that cannot be removed embedded with

      Yes you can find and remove any such identifiers.

      Hint: consider what you can do with two copies of the same file with different identifiers.
  • Amazon DRM

    In the pre-kindle days, Amazon used Adobe DRM for their e-books. They no longer support that, so that their old e-books can no longer be read. I have several of those.

    Adobe says that they are hard-coded to a DRM server that is no longer in service, but that I can ask Amazon to replace them with files that will work. Amazon will not do that, but will be glad to sell them again in Kindle format if the publisher makes them available.

    I'll try to be charitable and assume that they are just too stupid to drop DRM.
  • But is sure is easy...

    To impulse buy a book on Audible, download it to my iPhone and listen to it on the way home from work. In fact I do that several times a month. It's seamless and easy and presents no issues whatsoever. I agree that DRM is futile but you have to admit that the Audible business model does work for the consumer in general.
    • I agree

      I have Audible on my laptop, my iPhone, my Android phone, my MP3 player, they all "just work". I can buy from one device and download it to another.

      I have never experienced "problems" with the DRM. I agree, DRM is futile and I would prefer it without, but the way it is implemented hasn't affected me, so far.

      The Windows client, on the other hand...
  • Open letter to Audible and Amazon: Stop the DRM

    stop treating consumers as bunched of thieves ... in the olden days recording companies are begging/paying radio stations to play their artists' songs in the hope that the public would hear and love their works and buy them and may even attend live performances. now we have the internet to advertise their works for free and they are not taking advantage of it. day in and day out people are receiving tons of flyers on their mail with the hope for those companies to have at least 5% conversion rate ... and print ads cost a lot of money to boot.
  • What about Video?

    I buy a lot of Season Passes for TV shows and a lot of HD movies on iTunes. I used to buy them on Amazon and Vudu but I started having trust issues about the long-term availability of the files. Even when downloaded, Amazon's videos require authentication to play, and their player is kinda sucky in my opinion. Somehow I trust Apple to make my purchases continue to play more than I do other companies. Vudu's prices on 3D stuff just go too high for me :-(