audible

Audible.com

Audible.com is an Internet provider of spoken audio entertainment, information, and educational programming. Audible sells audiobooks, radio and TV programs, and audio versions of magazines and newspapers. The company is listed on NASDAQ and operates under the corporate profile, Audible Inc , a Newark, New Jersey-based company. The approximately 200-employee company was incorporated in 1995 in Delaware, went public on July 21, 1999. On January 31, 2008 Amazon.com announced it would buy Audible for about $300M.

History

Audible introduced one of the first digital audio players in 1997. The following year it published a Web site from which audio files in its proprietary .aa format could be downloaded. Audible holds a number of patents in this area.

In 2000 Audible licenced the ACELP codec for its level 3 quality downloads.

In 2003, Audible made an exclusive deal with Apple to provide their catalog of books on the iTunes Music Store. Books purchased on iTunes have a .m4b extension (a variation on MP4), and contain AAC audio covered by Apple's FairPlay Digital Rights Management.

Its founder, Don Katz, gave a talk on May 9, 2005 that is recorded on IT Conversations about the early history of Audible. There is a brief profile of Katz in AudioFile magazine. Katz gave a Keynote address at the Podcast Expo on November 12, 2005. He was also featured in the March 2006 issue of Business 2.0.

In 2005, Audible launched Audible Air, software that makes it possible to download (copy-controlled) audio books over the air - wirelessly and directly to devices such as a smartphone or PDA. This eliminates the need to download copy-controlled audio books first to the PC or Mac and then transfer it to Palm OS, Windows, and Symbian Mobile devices. Audible Air content updates automatically, chapters download as required and delete themselves after they have been listened to.

The company also launched Audible Education, based on the notion that listening to texts can be a powerful way to learn. The service offers lectures, study guides, skill builders, teaching aids, and test preparation resources, across a wide range of subject areas.

Website, Pricing, and Catalog

Audible's content includes over 50,000 titles by more than 293 different providers, amounting to over 125,000 hours of audio programming. Content includes books of all genres, as well as radio shows (classic and current), speeches, interviews, stand-up comedy, and audio versions of periodicals such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to the regular price charged for audiobooks, Audible offers subscriptions with the following benefits:

  • Credits: For a monthly subscription fee, a customer receives one or two audio credits. Most titles can be purchased with one of these credits. Some titles (usually larger books or collections of more than one book) may cost two credits, while others (usually very short works) cost only a third of a credit. (Users may also purchase a year's subscription at a time, for a discount, receiving all credits at once.) Platinum subscribers also receive a complimentary subscription to the digital audio version of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
  • Subscriber Discount: A subscriber may choose to purchase books without credits for a 30% discount.

Additionally, some content -- particularly political speeches, government hearings, content such as the 9/11 Report Speech, excerpts, and short stories from books -- is available for free.

Once a customer has purchased a title on Audible, it remains in that customer's library and can be downloaded at any time, or the customer may listen to the file directly from the website, regardless of whether it has been downloaded before.

Device Support

Audible audio files are compatible with over 500 models of audio players, PDAs, mobile phones and streaming media devices. Devices that do not have AudibleAir capability (allowing users to download content from their library directly into their devices) require a Windows PC or Macintosh to download the files. Additionally, titles can be played on the PC (using iTunes, Windows media Player, or AudibleManager), streamed directly from the website, or burned to CD with AudibleManager. (The DRM generally allows a title to be burned to CD once, although the resulting CDs can be played in any CD player and have no copy prevention.)

Prospective buyers of media players should check the audible.com "Device Center" to verify whether the device will play .aa files, as well as play them at the desired level of audio fidelity. Taking the time to research devices will allow buyers to identify equipment compatible with Format 4 (highest quality), and/or compatibility with bookmarking which allows the device to store its current location within an Audible title.

Digital Rights Management

Audible's .aa file format encapsulates sound encoded in either MP3 or the ACELP speech codec, but includes unauthorized playback prevention by means of an Audible user name and password, which can be used on up to three computers at a time. Licenses are available for schools and libraries. Audible's software does enable users to burn a limited number of CDs for unrestricted playback.

Audible's use of digital rights management on its .aa format has earned it criticism. While multiple software products are capable of removing the Audible DRM protection by re-encoding in other formats, Audible has been quick to threaten the software makers with lawsuits for discussing or promoting this ability, as happened with River Past Corp and GoldWave Inc. Responses have varied, with River Past removing the capability from their software, and GoldWave retaining the capability, but censoring discussions about the ability in its support forums. But there are still many other software tools from non-US countries which bypass the DRM control of Audible either with a sound recording or virtual CD burning method. Typical examples are TuneBite, SoundTaxi, NoteCable (sound recording) and Phantom Burner, NoteBurner, Tune4Mac (virtual CD burning).

Many Audible listings displayed to non-U.S. customers contain the following text: "We are not authorized to sell this title to your geographic location." According to Audible, this is because the publisher who has provided the title does not have the rights to distribute the file in a given region. When a user is logged in, titles that he or she cannot purchase will be hidden. However, Audible does not make this clear to international users before they sign up.

References

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