A Looming Problem
Today I was struck once again by how pervasive DRM technology has become. I recently purchased an MP3 Player, a Creative MuVo TX. It's a fabulous little player that came with a free subscription to Audible.com. Normally I just throw out these freebies, but with an upcoming eye surgery I know that I'll be looking for things to listen to. Audio books fit the bill, and at 17+ hours, this may finally be my chance to see what all the fuss was about The DaVinci Code.
So I signed in to audible and was immediately struck by how complex it was. Rather than referring to download formats as being MP3 or OGG etc., they only mentioned "format 3, format 4" etc. After some time, I found that these formats refer to the recording quality of Audible's own proprietary format. Odd, but okay. I suppose I can deal with that.
I click on "Add Device."
One of my first options is Platform. The choices are Windows or Mac. Period.
I was doing this on my PowerBook, so clicked Mac. Next I had to choose the manufacturer. Creative wasn't listed. I went back to Platform and selected Windows. There was Creative! After selecting my MuVo TX FM, I guessed "Format 3" and put the platform back to Mac. This removed all of my device setup and once again wouldn't allow me to pick my creative player.
I went back and added my Palm Tungsten, which was available from the Mac platform. I then proceeded to buy and download my two audio books.
The files downloaded were .aa, which opened in iTunes. At this point I was fairly certain that I'd have been locked out if I was downloading from a Linux box.
When finished, the files opened in iTunes. I plugged in my MuVo, which is recognized by iTunes, and dragged one of the books to it. It copied, I unplugged it, turned on the MP3 player, and the player behaves as if the file simply doesn't exist.
Then I took a look on the net and found that many other people have had a similar experience.
One suggestion was to burn the audiobook to CD and rip it back as an MP3. For "America", the smaller of the two books that I downloaded, this was acceptable. It needed 3 CDs. The DaVinci Code, on the other hand, would require at least 15 CDs. The net result here is that one is literally tied to whatever platform and device you happened to be using when you purchased the audiobook.
As an interesting test, I fired up a P2P program and was able to find the DaVinci Code in MP3. The file was 86MB and took about 6 minutes to download.
This is what Audible is competing with. This is why it will ultimately fail.
I might actually pay $10-20 for an audio book, but I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a file that I can only open on platforms and players that Audible wants me to use. Even if you happen to be using a Mac and an iPod at this time, Audible is a recipe for disaster. What happens when your iPod breaks? What happens if you decide to switch to a PC? What about when some new player comes out and you want to listen on that? What happens when, perhaps because of a broken business model, Audible goes out of business?
Personally, I'm not too upset. The books were free. But I'll be canceling my Audible subscription as soon as I'm sure I've archived these books in a way that will let me get at them when I want, how I want. And America considers itself to be the land of the free. If I was to attempt to circumvent the copy protection there I'd be liable under the DMCA.