Audible, Inc. is today's leading provider of premium digital audio information and entertainment on the Internet. It's been around since 1997, starting off as a simple online audiobook shop, and has distinguished itself by adding features such as monthly membership plans, iPod compatibility, the ability to burn audio to CDs, special promotions and such. In bringing out these new properties, Audible has partnered with many highly regarded establishments including Amazon.com – which wound up acquiring the company in January 2008.
Audible specializes in the spoken experience, providing digital audio editions of books, newspapers and magazines, original programming, and TV and radio subscriptions. Content is downloaded and played back on personal computers, CDs, or AudibleReadyŽ computer-based and wireless mobile devices. Audible is also the preeminent provider of spoken-word audio products for Apple’s iTunes® Store.
Currently, Audible users have access to over 100,000 audio programs from more than 600 content providers available, including top audiobook publishers, broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers, and business information providers.
Best sellers - everything you can find on The New York Times and other popular bestseller lists is there. Mysteries and thrillers by James Patterson, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, Harlan Coben, Dean Koontz and others; romance novels by Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks... or the entire Harlequin Romance library; science fiction and fantasy titles by today's finest representatives of the genre such as Michael Crichton, Stephenie Meyer or Laurell K. Hamilton, but also classical work by Arthur C. Clark, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R Tolkien...; a bit more literary stuff by Khaled Hosseini, Ken Follett, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon...; bestselling non-fiction titles including the latest biographies or self-development titles.
Classics - no shortage of material here either. You'll find everything from classic British masters of the written word such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, sisters Bronte... via American literary legends in the shape of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Herman Melville, to the best of Russian literature represented by Fyodor Dostoevsky or Leo Tolstoy.
Business - with thousands of titles in this section alone, it's clear Audible is paying special attention to it. Learn about the secrets to becoming a successful entrepreneur or about the habits of highly effective people; peak into financial geniuses' profitable philosophies; improve your people skills or subscribe to a business magazine such as Forbes or The Wall Street Journal.
Other - there's way too much of everything to list here so we'll just note a few main categories: self-development & well being; arts & entertainment; biographies & memoirs; comedy; erotica & sexuality; health & fitness; history; language instruction; religion & spirituality; science & technology; sports; travel & adventure...
Audible is not just about audiobooks though; you can currently subscribe to nearly 2,000 newspapers and magazines and download thousands of radio and TV titles or podcasts. In short, the amount of content available at Audible is staggering – if for whatever reason you decide Audible is not for you, it will surely not be because of the lack of listening material.
Picking A Plan
The first thing you need to decide on before becoming a member is which plan you'd like to sign up for. There are two choices available, as presented in the table below:
Your decision should be based on what your listening habits are, or what you expect them to be.
If one audiobook per month will do for you, then the Gold package is the obvious choice. For the price of membership Audible gives you one credit each month, which is good for pretty much any audiobook or program – be it a latest bestseller, several episodes of past radio shows or a subscription to an audio newspaper. The membership fee is $7.49 for the first 3 months and $14.95 afterwards.
However, if you regularly go through more than one audiobook per month, then the Platinum plan will probably be more to your liking: with it, you get two credits per month for which you pay $22.95 – essentially, this means you get two audiobooks of your choice for $11.47 each.
Annual plans - once you have tried the service and (possibly) decided you like the Audible experience enough to commit for a longer period of time, you might want to think about their annual plans. Why? Well, if you pay for a year in advance, Audible gives you two months of membership free. Or, to put this in the "price per book" context, each membership book will cost you $12.46 with the Gold plan, and a mere $9.56 with the Platinum plan. Given the retail prices of audiobooks on CDs which go up to $70 and more, your savings will be simply astounding: up to 75%, possibly (probably) more.
Note that you don't actually need to stay a member for the entire year: when you sign up for one of the annual plans you get 12 or 24 credits, respectively, all at once, and you can also download your 12 or 24 audiobooks all at once and end (or renew) your membership early – so long as your financial obligation has been fulfilled, of course.
So what if you want to buy more than 2 audiobooks a month? Well, you have two options. You can buy additional programs from Audible at a 30% discount -- you are entitled to that as a member. However, for really voracious listeners there's a better alternative: sign up for a yearly plan, download your 12 or 24 books and when you're done with them simply renew your membership early (you can do this in the "Account Details" section under the "Current Membership Plan" tab) and download the next 12 or 24 programs. This way all audiobooks you buy will cost you just $9.56.
Free Trial - Audible offers a free 30-day trial period for those who'd like to evaluate the service before making a commitment. It works like this: you sign up for the service as you normally would, but your credit card will not be charged for the next 30 days. During these 30 days you will have full access to your Audible account so you can test the service properly. You will also be granted a free credit, which you can use to download an audiobook of your choice. If, during those 30 days, you decide Audible is not really what you're looking for, you can cancel your membership and that's that. No strings attached. You can even keep the book you've downloaded as a gift, just for giving Audible a try. If you like the service and decide to keep your membership, do nothing. When the 30-day period expires your credit card will be charged automatically and you'll become a regular member.
Rollover credits - if you find yourself too busy to avail yourself of some audio entertainment during any given month, you can save your credits to be put to use whenever it is more convenient for you. Of course, you could also download the book you want to your computer or a mobile device and then listen to it whenever you feel like it. It's not like it'll escape from your hard drive if you don't give it your full attention right away.
Once you've picked the plan you want to sign up for, it's time to actually do it. The process is as straightforward as can be. All you need to do is create an account with Audible; provide your name, e-mail address, payment and billing information, choose your username and password – you know the drill. If you already have an account at Amazon, you don't even have to do that -- simply use your Amazon credentials to sign in.
Downloading And Installing The Software
For license control purposes (and also to keep the size of the files down to the minimum), Audible files come in a proprietary format, which means you can't just download and open them in your favorite media player – unless you are a Macintosh user and your favorite player is iTunes, which comes with the required software pre-installed.
If you are a PC (Windows) user, however, you will need to install a small application called AudibleManager first, which allows you to download Audible audio to your computer, transfer it from your computer to your mobile player, burn audio to CD, listen to Audible programs on your PC and manage audio on your mobile audio player. It will also automatically synchronize subscription content, such as the morning news, with your portable player.
Alternatively, you can download audio directly into either Windows Media Player (11 or greater) or iTunes for Windows (4.5 or greater). The prerequisite for this is to install Audible Download Manager for either WMP or iTunes, a very small application that makes this option viable.
As mentioned, Macintosh users need not install any additional software. Audible files will download directly into iTunes, which is also fully equipped to manage the downloaded audio further on.
For more demanding users there is software available for playing Audible files on Windows Mobile Pocket Devices, Palm OS handhelds and mobile phones. Also, third party software exists which, in addition to basic functions provided by AudibleManager, adds some advanced options such as the ability to connect your PC to your home entertainment hardware and control it all with a remote, stream Audible files to your TiVo® series2, organize your audiobook collection with its powerful database features and more.
Audible works just like any other online store: you browse or search for a title you want, then add it to your cart. When you check out, the content is added to your online library. Then you simply click on "Get It Now" and your software of choice (AudibleManager, iTunes or WMP) will download the file to your computer and transfer it to your mobile player (if it's connected to the computer) automatically. And that's it; you can start listening. The downloaded files appear in your chosen media player just like mp3 files, so listening to them is no different than listening to music. Audible's patented technology allows you to bookmark your position so it's saved when you turn off your audio player. When you're ready to listen again, your selection will resume right where you left it – a nice additional feature and at least one advantage of the proprietary file format.
Wireless operation -- if you're a user of iPhone / iPod Touch, BlackBerry or an Android powered smartphone you can get the full Audible functionality by downloading and installing the Audible app onto your device: wirelessly download audio content right to your mobile phone without being connected to your desktop; shop the mobile store; easily set up a schedule for automatic wireless delivery of your audio programs and subscriptions etc. For older mobile phones, AudibleAir provides similar functionality.
Free daily newspaper - both Gold and Platinum members are privy to this very cool benefit. You can choose between The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and have it delivered to your Audible Library each weekday.
Free audio each week - free titles handpicked by Audible editors are delivered to your library each week. The content varies from interviews to audiobook excerpts to comedy programs.
30% off all purchases - if you've used up your available credits for the month, but would still like to get some more listening pleasure, note that you get a 30% discount on Audible's regular (non-member) price for each additional program you buy.
Exclusive email-only promotions - sales, discounts and content deals available only to members. Savings of up to 50% are a common occurrence.
Immediate Availability - no waiting for books or CDs. Audible downloads are available immediately after purchase.
You can cancel your Audible membership any time, either online or over the phone. If you've agreed to an annual plan, you have the option of fulfilling your financial obligation and terminate your membership early. On the My Account page, locate the link "Change My Membership" and click on it. Scroll to the bottom of the page that appears and click on the "Cancel Membership" link.
Note that there is also an option to suspend your membership (instead of canceling it completely) for up to 3 months. If you are canceling because you are backlogged on audiobooks and need some time to go through them, this might be a better option. You can take up the service again any time, or it will resume automatically after 3 months.
The majority of Audible members prefer to consume their audio entertainment on the go, so Audible makes every effort to enable their content to be playable on as many devices as possible. The list currently includes hundreds of MP3 players including all iPods, plus the majority of players from SanDisk, Creative, iRiver, Samsung, Philips etc. In addition, Audible works on iPhone, BlackBerry and Android powered smartphones. It is also compatible with several PDA devices (Palm OS, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile), a selection of mobile phones, a number of GPS devices, and Amazon Kindle.
Audible Without Subscription
It is entirely possible to avail yourself of Audible's comprehensive library of audiobooks and other programs without subscribing to either of the two membership plans described above. In this case Audible.com can be used as any other online store. If you only want to buy an occasional audiobook every now and then, this might be a preferred solution for you. Downside is, prices for nonmembers are quite a bit higher.
If you: are looking at extending your reading opportunities (would like to avail yourself of either some entertainment or education while commuting, exercising, traveling...); have impaired eyesight and therefore difficulties processing traditional paper books; just plain prefer to lay back and listen to written text to avoid straining your eyes – then joining an Audible.com membership plan is certainly worth a serious consideration.
The advantages are many, from great selection to savings to free stuff, and, what's best, with the free trial available joining is completely devoid of risk.
There are only a couple of drawbacks to the whole deal that we can think of. The first is, you can only choose between two membership plans. Two credits per month just might not cut it for some of the more avid listeners. You might very well want to listen to 4 or 5 or 6 audiobooks per month. You might want to combine 2 or 3 audiobooks with some radio shows or a newspaper subscription. There is a workaround for this issue -- the yearly subscription/early renewal procedure described earlier in this article -- but still, an additional plan catering to heavier users would make the service even more appealing.
The other thing is the copyright protection. As mentioned earlier, Audible files come in a special proprietary format, and one of its purposes remains to enforce licensing control – which is so 2004. Trying to protect copyrighted digital media from unauthorized use this way has proved both ineffective and inconvenient to legitimate users. The music industry has realized this and moved away from DRM and there is really no reason why spoken audio industry shouldn't do the same, so, hopefully, Audible will follow suit sooner rather than later.
That said, there's absolutely no doubt that the benefits of the Audible membership plans outweigh these small inconveniences by a large margin: the simple truth is, you will not find such a vast amount of listening material at such low prices anywhere else.