October 15, 2007

Books audible.com is the main sponsor on the TWiT (This Week in Tech) podcast network, the mainstay of my podcast listening schedule, so I’ve been getting audible ads and Leo Laporte‘s audible book picks in my ears several times a day.

All this advertising has taken its toll. I succumbed. I ran out of podcasts the other week so signed up with audible.co.uk (us Brits get no choice) to fill the silence while driving to work, etc.

Unlike TWiT listeners in the US you don’t get the option of keeping a free book by cancelling the trial before the first subscription payment is due. In the UK you pay straight away but get 2 book credits in the first month, then one a month thereafter on the basic plan.

I messed up straight away. The book I chose for my first download was Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson but hadn’t realised it was the abridged version until after I’d spent my credit. It turns out that by convention books listed on audible are abridged unless the website explicitly states they’re unabridged. I really can’t be doing with abridged books. I rang up audible.co.uk expecting to be put through to a soulless call-centre, but found myself talking to a charming gentleman. No background call-centre hubbub – he might have been speaking from his kitchen. Maybe he was, except he had a computer to hand. When I explained my mistake and that I hadn’t completed the download, he reversed the “purchase” there and then, and gave me my credit back.

That’s the good. The bad is the very annoying DRM. Audiobooks from audible come as “.aa” files, not mp3s. You can only play them on supported devices such as PCs and iPods. You are allowed to burn them to CD but that uncompresses the audio, so the typical book gets spread over many CDs. The idea was to let my wife use some of my credits to listen to books in the car, but she is not an iPod person. I’d hoped to burn the audiobook files in compressed (mp3) format as the CD player in my car (and I think her’s) can play them. But the DRM put paid to that. Luckily I was able to bring my son’s old defunct iPod back from the grave. More on that in another post.

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