Audible.com

I promised to write a little something about audible.com a while back, and to be honest, I forgot to do it. I remembered in the middle of a pretty rough week a while back and it’s been on my mind ever since, but I hadn’t made the time to sit down and do it. So today, sitting in the gloomy back office listening to a thunderstorm rumble overhead and nursing a late-afternoon cup of coffee, I’m going to write it!

I will admit to having something like hero-worship for Stephen King. It’s kind of hard not to, really. I’ve been reading the man’s books and stories since I was a teenager and I’ve read most of his work, and there are still a few sitting in the stack waiting for their turn in the reading queue. His success is something many writers dream of achieving, and when he puts out a whole book of advice, it’s hard not to internalize it and really take stock in what he’s telling you to do or not do.

One piece of advice he gives is to read, read and read, and when you get done reading, read some more. The man said that he read (an impressive, imposing and somewhat intimidating) 70-80 books a year. Ouch. I was excited when I got to 35, and I consider myself a reader of average speed. My synapses got to firing pretty hard. How could I possibly squeeze more reading into my life? When I got the Kindle, I realized that the text-to-speech allowed me to get an extra hour of reading in per day if I listened to and from work. The problem with text-to-speech is the goofy pronunciation and the laughable voice that taps on my eardrums. When I realized that text-to-speech wasn’t going to be a viable long-term solution, I happened to see a commercial on TV for audible.com offering two free audiobooks with a new membership. I figured, what the heck. If nothing else, I’d score an audio copy of On Writing and see how things worked.

Much to my surprise, it’s been better than I expected. Audible.com is easy to use, has a great selection and now, has the ability to link to your Amazon.com account. You can, now, download content directly to the latest generation Kindle, or you can download to your computer and listen on a pretty wide variety of portable media. I’ve got books on my iPod, my iPad, and on my computer. I’ve listened to several and the quality of the voice talent is really good. I’ve only come across one that has been…challenging to listen to. Invitation to a Beheading by Nabakov is read by a man with such a deep voice, I vacillate between being sleepy, or daydreaming of what he’d look like and lose the story. Perhaps it’s just too complex to listen to and it’s one I need to read more slowly than he does to really absorb the imagery, or maybe his voice is too damn sexy to be reading classically written, complex literature. 😉

But really, I was talking about audible.com. (See! I’m telling you, his voice is insidious and will distract you from any attempt at focus! I can’t even hear it and I’m distracted!)

Audible.com is easy to use and gives several account options. You can choose a monthly or annual subscription that will automatically bill to your credit card. The monthly accounts give you a choice of one or two credits per month or, if you’d prefer instant gratification, the two annual account options give you all of your credits for the year upfront. Their audiobook prices are competitive with hardcover versions of the books being offered, but usually a little less expensive. They have frequent sales which allow you to maximize your credits. If I remember correctly, I got “The Passage” for one credit (a monthly charge of ~$15 vs the $27 hardcover cover price). Their download manager is simple and easy to use, automatically importing my audiobooks into iTunes.

I’m such a brat when it comes to technology that there are a couple of things that bug me. One, it doesn’t automatically sync to the last listened-to position. When it’s my iPod, yeah, I get it; it doesn’t have any kind of wi-fi connection. When it’s my iPad or computer, I’m sorry, but that bugs me. It’s not an irritation that I can’t overcome, but I’m so used to the ease of my Kindle which will automatically take me to the last page I read no matter which device I read it on, that I find myself grumbling when I’m trying to figure out what minute in what chapter I left off on so I can keep going. I think I’m going to dedicate my nano to audiobooks so I won’t come up against this as often, but again, this is me being a brat and it’s not an insurmountable inconvenience.

The second irritation is that the availability of audible content to Kindle only applies to the newest generation. This makes me sad. I was so excited to learn I could pull audiobooks to my super-portable slim little e-reader…only to find out that my device isn’t new enough to get the perks. I’m hoping that they’ll upgrade the software to make this available to those of us who didn’t wait until the Kindle was available in brick and mortar locations…basically, those of us who saw the value in it before the masses figured out it was cool. Are you listening Amazon and Audible?

While it does help me boost my reading, it’s not going to get me to 70-80 books per year. I work customer service, and I listen to people all day long either on the phone, in class or monitoring calls. On rough days, when I get in the car, the last thing I want to do is listen to someone else, even if they are telling me a story. Some days, I just am too unfocused to give my attention to a story, and trying to break through that will only frustrate me when I realize I have no idea what I’ve been listening to.

Where audiobooks, or any digital content, fall short of the printed version is resale. If you buy a book, when you discover that it no longer is a must-have and is taking up precious shelf space, you can bundle it up and take it to your local used-book store, donate it to the library or sell it second-hand. With digital content, that’s not as easy, if at all possible, so you don’t get the auxiliary benefit of turning in books to get more books. It does make digital content infinitely more expensive, but aren’t we really paying for convenience anyway? As I said before, digital content will never completely replace dead-tree versions for passionate readers, but it can make our techno-centric lives a little more convenient and significantly more portable for the tragically distracted.

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