The Problem With Audiobooks

Brown_Zune I don’t listen to audiobooks all that much. I have nothing against them or anything like that. It’s just that I don’t have a commute to work, indeed it only takes me 15-20 minutes to get there from home. I don’t do a lot of driving other than that because it seems that every time I get on the road, I get pissed off.

So I don’t listen to audiobooks for the same reason I don’t use diesel fuel; I simply don’t have a use for them.

But I find it weird that the audiobook model seems to be so incredibly broken for today’s audio and media devices. If you subscribe to Audible, there are things they have you download to put the audio on your iPod, Zune, or whatever MP3 device you’re using. You could go through an Overdrive account if your library has one, but chances are you’re going to have to fill your device at home unless the library ponied up the money for a “digital download station.” The reason? Well, it works like this. The standard agreement for using Overdrive says that patrons can use their computers at home to put content on their devices. They cannot do so in the library, even on a public machine.

ipod_touch To me, this is the equivalent of saying that yes, you can check out that book. However you’ll have to take it home to read it because it’s against our contract that you even open inside the library walls.

Anyway, the methods one has to use to put a simple audiobook on a media gadget are strange at best and tortuous at worst. Loading audiobooks onto a Zune is a chore, especially if you’re pulling the audio from CDs. Now, I can see the Apple and iPod fans sitting back and nodding and saying things like “Well, what do you expect from Microsoft?” Sure, fine. Say what you want, but the fact is that it’s no easier to do the same thing on an iPod.

It’s not exactly difficult to do these things, but it’s also not something you can do quickly or easily. Indeed, if you were importing a few audiobook CDs onto either device, you’re going to have to set aside an afternoon. That’s pretty lousy considering how easy it is to place content from regular audio CDs on either device.


  1. It is tortuous to get audiobook cd’s xfer’d to an iDevice to use via iTunes. I have done this for many audio books, and the process is NOT point and click. I doubt a non-technical person would want to go thru the process. I actually do mine on Windoze, but it’s just as bad on MacOSX. But I don’t shout about this much b/c it’s an area that could be closed up and I don’t want to lose my ability to xfer my audio bits from CD’s to iTunes.

  2. Oh it’s horrid. I did it myself once on iTunes for Windows and it seemed like it took hours. Keep in mind, this was for a small audiobook. I couldn’t imagine doing something for Pillars of the Earth or a Harry Potter novel. It’d take DAYS! 🙂

  3. I have a subscription to Audible, which I have to access through iTunes. It’s a byzantine process, but I love audio-books and I can’t get some British out-of-print recordings another way w/o paying through a very small orifice. As much as I complain about this, and as much trouble I have had with download and burn cock-ups, I have to say that Audible has been really sweet about letting me have another stab at it and then another stab … anything to keep me from cancelling my subscription. I am addicted to audiobooks, which do not replace my real-life, hard-copy reading, but augment it. I will buy audio versions of books I already love and want to wallow in. They are excellent for roadtrips (although I instantly fall asleep as a passenger) and just the ticket for those times that I’m working with my hands that don’t require brainwork. Oh, and if I ever work out again on dry land, they’d be pretty handy – if they are on an iPod or mp3 player, but I haven’t had much success with managing those … notably the SanDisk I wrestled for a while that refused to erase some sample tune I hated and instead allowed it to replicate everytime I wiped the memory. Can’t imagine trying to put a book on that.

  4. Two comments: First, Audible really is not so bad, if you skip their software. That’s right, ignore what they’re telling you to do, and just use the manual download interface to download the audiobooks from links in your browser. Then simply drag the downloaded files from your Downloads folder into your iTunes Library window. iTunes will add them into your library, and you are done. (Depending on your iTunes settings, you may want to delete the files from your Downloads folder; with the default settings, iTunes will _copy_ files dragged into the Library window.)

    Second, with a dedicated audiobook importing tool, the process for importing audiobooks doesn’t have to be as bad as my instructions (linked to in the original article, above). Especially if you’re on a Mac, where Audiobook Builder makes it straightforward (though still time-consuming):

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