Audible sounds like a fantastic service: you pay a subscription fee and are able to download audiobooks. Since most audio books are longer than can fit on a standard CD, getting the book as a download is a lot less cumbersome than buying a multi-disc set, and theoretically would be more convenient to listen to since you can put it on your portable media player.
At least, that’s what I thought when I first signed up for it. Unfortunately, Audible uses copy protection (DRM) on the files they sell, and they weren’t compatible with my device, which at the time was a very popular model in the Sansa line. Their only workaround was burning the books to CD, but since I’d already moved on from that format, I wasn’t interested. I ended up going to a torrent-based piracy site to get an unprotected copy of the book I bought so I could use it on my player, and I canceled my Audible subscription.
I’ve long since ditched my Sansa for an iPod, and as a big fan of Leo Laporte’s podcasting network, I decided to give Audible another chance; they’re his sponsor, and I felt like I should support his network by using their referral link. I also thought that as an iPod owner, the DRM wouldn’t even be noticeable. I download the file and use it on a compatible device; it just works, right?
Then the news hit that Wal-Mart was shutting off their DRM servers, which would soon render the copy-protected songs they’d sold unplayable. They sent an e-mail to their customers, telling them that the songs they thought they owned would soon stop working unless they burned them to a CD. Now, Wal-Mart isn’t some fly-by-night Web 2.0 company. They certainly have enough money to keep some servers online. This got me thinking: Why should I keep paying a subscription for files that I don’t technically own? I have to rely on Audible not only to stay viable as a company, but either never to change their business model or to keep supporting their old customers if (and when) their model does change. If Wal-Mart doesn’t think it’s necessary, why would Audible? As a consumer, I don’t think I should have to buy hundreds of blank CDs just to ensure I can keep listening to my audiobook collection, and I don’t want to go through the hassle of breaking the copy-protection with third-party software — an act that, by the way, is technically illegal under a law called the DMCA, which has no exception for fair use like making back-up copies of your media.
I realized I couldn’t live with the DRM, even though I do like the service. I just don’t want to pay for things when I don’t even have the illusion of ownership. I decided to cancel my account, so I logged in to the website. Unfortunately, I found out that I’d already used the one cancellation they allow you. Yes, you read that right. As an Audible.com customer, you only get to cancel their service once by logging in. Any time after that, you have to call them. On the phone. An Internet-based company. The phone.
I still haven’t done it. I’m rarely at home during “normal business hours,” so it’s especially onerous to have to call to do something simple like cancel a recurring fee. Initially, my only thought was that I would cancel the service until they ditched the DRM. Since Audible was bought by Amazon.com last January, and since Amazon sells DRM-free MP3s, it’s not a big leap to think they might start using the same model. But now I just want to cancel, and I doubt I’ll ever resubscribe. I don’t want to have to call someone perform simple account-management tasks that should be a standard part of their website’s toolset.