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Dear Audible: Your DRM sucks, posted by CJ Ovalle

I would love to have the opportunity to easily buy and listen to books in my car. We have a fairly long drive to and from work, and we occasionally take very long drives to visit our families. On the audiobook front, the most popular website appears to be Audible. I tried it once before on a trial basis, and disliked-it-with-prejudice for reasons that will become clear, because not a lot seems to have changed from my earlier experience.

Recently, my wife found a book that we’d like to listen to in the car available through Audible. Because of some technological restrictions on the computer she was using, she could not download the file herself. She asked me to see what I could do on my computer. And I could get it to work, for certain definitions of work. It works, as in, it sorta-mostly does the things that Audible says it will do… but only after I had to install software, clear caches, delete cookies, and do a few other things. And, it is completely, completely, completely, totally encumbered by a horrific proprietary format and DRM.

I listen to podcasts. It’s easy. I download the MP3. I copy it to my USB stick. I put my USB stick in the car. Done.

To get an Audible book to work in the same manner… well, I’m grateful that someone else already purchased the book so I avoided any of those steps. Here’s where I started…

  1. Sign in to Audible.
  2. Find my library.
  3. Install annoying mandatory software necessary to download file
  4. Be forced to restart browser by said installation
  5. Return to site and continue to be prompted to install annoying mandatory software after browser has been restarted
  6. Search Audible help pages to figure out how to resolve said prompt
  7. Follow help page instructions to no success
  8. Search Internet instead
  9. Resolve problem based on Internet forum suggestions
  10. Unsuccessfully search for a way to download file as a well-supported, non-proprietary format
  11. Use help pages to discover that while some cars are supported, mine isn’t
  12. Unsuccessfully attempt to add book to a device using “MP3 Player” option (specific device not supported)
  13. Learn that because I attempted to add to a device, the “burn to a CD” option is gone from the Web interface (really?) and so it attempts to download book again in earlier manner
  14. Watch annoying software crash as it fails to comprehend adding two of the same book to a library
  15. Attempt to burn book to CD/DVD (unsuccessful; software already installed in my computer not supported)
  16. Install burning software that’s supposed to be supported
  17. Unsuccessfully hunt for options to burn book to a CD/DVD through the original annoying software (because it’s not there)
  18. Go to help pages to try to figure out how to burn a CD with said software
  19. Realize that while it instructs you how to burn from your new software library to CD, it does not tell you how to get the book into your new software library
  20. Figure out how to to add book to new software library
  21. Authorize new software to work with Audible
  22. Wait for something to happen
  23. After successful authorization, return to earlier “how to burn a CD” instructions
  24. Realize that because I only have burnable DVDs and nary a single burnable CD I’m SOL. (really?)
  25. Beg a CD-R from a friend
  26. Find out the book will not fit on one Audio CD
  27. Beg for another CD-R
  28. Find out that I will need even more CD-Rs
  29. Find more CD-Rs
  30. Encounter a problem with the burning software; while it isn’t made by Audible, Audible still shares culpability for making me use it
  31. Insert steps to resolve problem
  32. Successfully burned book to four CDs. (1 DVD would be FAR less wasteful…)

And now I’m actually going to need to verify that said CDs work in the device that I want them to work (my car), which will have to come later.

This list wasn’t all of the steps- that’s from memory, and I obscured several steps with things like “resolve problem,” “find” and “figure it out.” This process was also the first in YEARS in which I could not substitute a DVD-R for a CD-R, which I found rather jarring.

So… yeah. I’ve worked in IT for nearly two decades. I’m getting a PhD. I study technology, copyright, and a host of other things directly related to books and DRM and technology. And it’s been one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in some time. =P Admittedly, many of these problems will not occur again. Even given that, as-is the process will never be as easy as the one I use to listen to podcasts. It will never allow me to listen to files on the devices I choose in the manner that I want to. And while some will argue that it’s the right of the copyright holder (and keep in mind, that is not uncontroversial, if by nothing else demonstrated by this year’s DMCA rule-making procedure), in this context, the copyright holder and Audible have both lost. If I didn’t care, I could have pirated the book. Simple. Easy. Done. I don’t, for many reasons. Others do, for many reasons. These are some of those reasons.

And down the line, as the years pass, and technology changes? I work with digital archives. My short response: Good Luck.

I may write more that topic later.


  1. Tried Audible earlier this month. Immediately saw the problem. Removed it.

    Posted on 25-Oct-12 at 7:11 pm | Permalink
  2. To be fair, the CDs worked in the car. Hooray? ^_^;

    Posted on 15-Nov-12 at 11:10 pm | Permalink
  3. Jordan Smith

    Ya I got a free trial offer for a book from Audible and good lord it was the most annoying process trying to get the file into .mp3 format. I had to download several special audible apps which upset me because I don’t like installing unnecessary garbage on my computer then I had to install itunes (more unnecessary garbage) then I burned the book to like 4-6 cds and then ripped it back to mp3 and converged the files into one mp3. I then cancelled my free trial and tried to explain why and that their software annoyed me and the drm annoyed me but they had to short of a charcter limit and I could not post. Never again bittorrent all the way.

    Posted on 27-Dec-12 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  4. Bryson boylen

    wile id really like them to go the drm free rout its really easy to play the books back from a android or ios smartphone you just download the app.

    ive been using audible for a wile now first on an ipod touch and now a htc rezound works well egnuf for me. ive never tried to burn a cd from them before so i can see that being a chore though.

    last thing theses are perfectly valid reasons not to like something just thought id chime in with my mostly positive experience

    Posted on 25-Apr-13 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  5. Sean

    I avoid audible like the plague. I had an account for a year and the DRM just drove me crazy. I want it in mp3 format so I can listen to it anywhere. I want to pay the readers and writers but I hate rewarding audible for all the rules/flaming-hoops around playing their audiobook files.

    Posted on 23-Nov-13 at 12:58 am | Permalink
  6. sam

    Just tried Audible today. I paid $4 for an audiobook but I’m already so fed up with the service that I’m just going to forget about the purchase and never use them again.

    Posted on 02-Mar-14 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  7. Audible Really Sucks

    Audible you guys suuuuuuuuuuuuck. Simplicity is king, you guys don’t seem to understand that.

    Posted on 01-Apr-14 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  8. DigitalReaper

    My steps:

    1. Sign up for free Audible Trial.
    2. Install software
    3. Turn off option “prompt software installation”
    4. Purchase Book
    5. Download book from Library
    6. Realise none of my mp3 players are supported (samsung s3 worlds most popular phone, not supported? ok..)
    7. Google how to get .aa file to mp3
    8. Download cd burning software
    9. Remove viruses and other programs that came with the free software
    10. Download daemon tools to create a fake CD image on my harddrive to burn the disc image onto
    11. Burn the image
    12. Try and ‘rip’ it with windows media player 12, but fail as the option doesn’t appear. I guess it’s not tagged as a ‘audio CD’ since it doesn’t know wtf a .aa file is.
    13. Google some CD ripping software other than windows media player
    14. Get frustrated and uninstall everything I downloaded over the last 2 hours.
    15. Load up Piratebay, download my book as .mp3, copy to phone, listen to book.

    Do yourselves a favour, skip to step 15.

    Posted on 30-Apr-14 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  9. Bill

    I bought a book on Zen Meditations today through Audible. After two hours of not being able to get my book on CD, I got so frustrated that I went to Barnes and Nobles and bought a CD on Anger Management. Thanks for the wasted day Audible.

    Posted on 05-Nov-15 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  10. Sno

    It is actually very easy IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE ITUNES (I still feel it is the most unintuitive program ever conceived). But yeah, iTunes will burn your audible books to CD without a problem, and if you’re already used to it, it’s your best bet. It’s still annoying that you can’t just use the format on “dumb” devices with USB support (like your average car) without burning it to CD and ripping it first. That’s just wasteful.

    Posted on 27-Dec-15 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  11. Rand

    Yes. I also have a long drive and I was checking back with the hopes that Audible had resolved their silliness. I would gladly pay the subscription to have the convenience of listening to audiobooks on my jumpdrive in my car. But this website tells me that nothing has changed. In the end, Audible will be just one more of those companies who is driving themselves out of business with their highly restrictive distribution practices, e.g. MatLab versus R.

    Posted on 23-Mar-16 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  12. Marrt

    Dear Audible:

    Your Software sucks so hard. When it is 10 times easier to find a fukin torrent than to pay and use your drm infested garbage you have a problem. I bought like 4 books there but ended up downloading them through torrent because that is the only way to actually get the file without shooting myself.

    Posted on 06-Jun-16 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  13. Brad

    Exactly my experience. What garbage.

    Posted on 24-Dec-16 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  14. Just got through spending a day getting a refund for an Audible book I wanted but could never play. Their Whispersync was brilliant for about a year, then never worked again. Someone at the top needs to be canned.

    Posted on 24-Sep-19 at 11:27 am | Permalink

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