Dear Jeff, Please fix Audible.com and, oh yeah, make the Kindle stop hating Mac users

Here’s some big news for audiobook listeners (I’m one): Amazon has announced this morning they are buying Audible.com. If you’re an audiobook listener, you probably already know that Audible serves as the back-end for audiobook downloads for Apple’s iTunes Store. However, as I’ve said on this blog before, it’s crazy to purchase audiobooks via the iTunes Store rather than directly from Audible.com as the direct purchase allows re-downloads of any books you buy — and the iTunes Store doesn’t. Amazon.com has a similar “library” backup feature for digital media purchased there (except MP3s), like Kindle eBook files.

I have some problems with audiobooks via Audible.com, however — some problems Amazon could solve. First, audiobooks are incredibly expensive — just like the inflated cost of eBooks before Amazon stepped in with the Kindle and a price around $10 for best-sellers. An audiobook of a bestseller is more likely to be more expensive than the print version — and in the same range as the cost of an audiobook you’d purchase on a CD in a bookstore.

To get around such inflated pricing, I have a subscription plan on the service that provides one book credit per month. I never go over the limit as the per-book cost can be stratospheric — as in, provide me all the incentive necessary to drop by the Nashville Library and check out the book on a CD. Oh yes, and on a CD, those audiobooks don’t have all the DRM one finds on the same aduiobooks one downloads from Audible.com. Let me translate this: I can drop by the library and transfer DRM-free audiobooks to my computer. Gee, that sounds like the same issue Amazon.com fixed when they started offering music downloads recently. Hmmm. Dear Jeff: You can do it dude. Cheaper audiobooks. No DRM — just like the same books on CDs. Hey, you da man.

Speaking of audiobooks and Amazon and Audible, here’s a suggestion for Amazon: Quit locking out Mac users from using their Kindleto listen to audiobooks from Audible.com. Here’s what I mean: The only way to transfer an audiobook to the device (precisely, a DRM-ladened audiobook purchased from the leading online retail sources of audiobooks — Amazon, Apple or Audible.com) is via a computer. The only computer operating system with which one can authorize a Kindle to play an audiobook purchased from Amazon, Apple or Audible.com, is with software available only on the Widows operating system.

How did I discover this? I have both an iPhone and an old-school iPod nano for listening to audiobooks, so I hadn’t previously taken much of a look at the audiobook capabilities of the Kindle. And frankly, while the device has a headphone jack for listening to audiobooks, that feature wasn’t heavily touted in the roll-out of the product. After a bit of struggle recently, I can now understand why this little-touted feature is so little touted.

The first problem has been noted and is what the pundits would call “the elephant in the room”: While you can store the text and black/white graphics from 100+ books on the 256 MB of a Kindle, the number of audiobooks is considerably less — say, less than one, in some instances. In my experiment, on a Kindle with about a dozen text books already loaded on it, I was limited to one Audible.com file containing an eight-hour recording.

However, I couldn’t listen to any of that file, as I discovered the following message buried in the directions found on Amazon.com regarding using an Audible.com file on a Kindle (something allowed) if that file is transferred to the Kindle using a Mac:

“In order to play audiobooks on the Amazon Kindle, you must first activate the device to your account (using the Windows software, AudibleManager)…If you are a Macintosh user, you need to connect your Kindle to a Windows-based computer running AudibleManager to authorize your Kindle using the above instructions. You may be able to authrize your Kindle running AubibleManager on Windows on your Macintosh is you have your Macintosh configured to run Windows. Once authorized with your Audible credentialis, you can then use audible files downloaded through Audible Manger under Windows or itunes by copying them to your Kindle via USB.

Uh, no thank you. I’ll just use my iPhone.

Sidenote — a positive word about the Kindle: As I’ve written before, I have one and despite its god-awful hardware design and some of the most incredibly bad user-interface ideas I’ve ever witnessed (see earlier review), I like the convenience of having dozens of books in my briefcase and I especially like the think-it, buy-it instant-shopification features it offers with an EVDO-powered access to the Amazon store. Oh, yes, and I’m big fan of the way your ebook purchases are backed up on Amazon.com. Unlike most badly designed things — say, the QWERTY keyboard — the Kindle’s bad features never get easier to use with experience. Almost daily, I’ll pick it up to put it away to discover I’ve advanced dozens of pages in the process. It boggles me that its designers failed to take into consideration how people hold a book when they read it.

But that’s not what I wanted to rant about this time.

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  • And a business policy that Amazon can fix: When you sign up for an Audible account (in my case, about $23 per month for two books), apparently the fine print says that when you cancel your account, all your accumulated credits go away. In my case, ten books worth of credits, that I had already paid for, were wiped off when I canceled and I cannot get them back. If you start paying the monthly fee again, only four credits will be restored – and this means paying to get back what I’ve already paid for. Though missing the fine print was at least hypothetically my error (though I can’t find the fine print on the website), I would like to warn others. Customer support would not refer me to anyone else to protest.

    Any suggestions for other places I should post this warning? I would like for it to get wide exposure. Thanks.