Amazon’s Delusional Audiobook DRM

Headphones on Book

I decided to try out the free trial on audible.com (owned by Amazon) a few days ago. So I signed up and grabbed my free audiobook, choosing Slaughterhouse 5, written by Kurt Vonnegut and read by James Franco. £15.69 on the store page (or $19.95 for those in the colonies). I thought the price was a typo at first. How can they justify charging so much for a book reading? If I didn’t get the thing free with a trial I would’ve just laughed and walked away without a second thought.

With the book added to my account library, I was told I needed to install the audible software to download the file. Immediately I was suspicious – why do I need specific software to download an audio file? I grudgingly installed the software. I figured I could always just uninstall it once I had the file. But I quickly found that the audiobook was protected by digital rights management that prevented me from playing it on anything other than the audible software.

What a joke. While the idea of DRM sounds great in theory – a way to stop people stealing the product – my years of experience with gaming has taught me that it is counter-productive. Someone looking to download a digital product, whether it’s a game or an audiobook, can find a pirated copy of what they’re looking for within minutes. And unlike the person that purchased the product, they’ll have the convenience a version that comes without any DRM restrictions and plays freely on the computer or device of their choice. There have even been instances of game developers releasing pirated copies of their games to the community, generating goodwill and even boosting their sales significantly. Turns out that people want to support companies that don’t try to bend them over a barrel.

In the end, loading products down with DRM only hurts legitimate customers and drives away potential sales. The publisher Random House ditched DRM on their audiobooks eight years ago. It’s an outdated and ineffective method to protect copyright, and Amazon are victims of their own delusional greed by forcing it on to their customers.

(Rant aside, Slaughterhouse 5 seems like an intriguing book from the little I listened to. However it seems that audiobooks just aren’t for me – as I listened, my concentration wandered and I found myself zoning out constantly. I’ll be sticking with the printed word then, at least until some corporate shareholder finds a way to shoehorn some bastardised form of DRM in to print books.)


© 2016, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by jeff_golden licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

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