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Audible and audiobooks, the fastest growing part of publishing (thebaffler.com)
150 points by amanuensis 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 154 comments

>Amazon, is to book publishing what Facebook and Google are to magazines

Unfortunately, this is a very accurate analogy.

I like listening to audio books and Audible is definitely very convenient, but I am 100% sure that in the not so distant future Amazon will completely destroy the whole publishing ecosystem in US and that will have horrendous effect on the quality of what is being written and on the availability of things to read.

Audible is good, because it's not sustainable. It's good, because it benefits from the infrastructure that would not exist if books were created for audio instead of paper.

If Audible get really popular, it will just become a centralized long-form podcast service. They're already edging that way with "originals".

It's amazing that after seeing this process repeated again and again in the lat couple decades, people still can't predict when it starts to take pace in yet another industry.

Technically, no one stops any book author from hiring a voice actor and then selling the result from their website directly. This doesn't require a middleman. Yet, how many authors do you know that actually do it?

I think Audible works though because of the monthly subscription and the fact people get credits a month in exchange for a book. This credit is purchased at a lot lower cost than paying for the book outright. But it's sold on the basis that people will stay subscribed and thus end up with books they wouldn't of otherwise bought as they are looking for something to spend their credit on this month.

A different model than someone actually knowing the author, waiting for the release and then buying it directly from them. It's essentially free money for author/publisher so they are all rushing to the platform.

> But it's sold on the basis that people will stay subscribed and thus end up with books they wouldn't of otherwise bought as they are looking for something to spend their credit on this month.

Why would someone feel pressure to use a credit? A person can have several extra credits at time. The credit system has a lot of advantages for Amazon, but time pressure isn't one of them.

Credits expire and there is a max of 6.

it's 1 year from 2 April. I was thinking about canceling with the old policy but maybe not anymore. right now I have 3 unused credits.

It is, a little. You can't sustain a listening rate of less than nine books per year. That's because there are no plans that provide less than one credit per month, and you can only put your account on hold three months per year. I suppose you could bank extra credits indefinitely, but if you only want to read six books per year, then after two years you will have a year's worth of credits banked. After four years, you'll have two years worth of credits banked.

There's a hidden 'silver' plan which is one credit every two months. The only way to get that is to talk to/chat with the customer service.

I got it as an option when I tried to cancel. Went forward with the cancellation anyway, as I found it deceptive.

Esepcially the part that canceling would lose all my credits. Didn't know what to spend them on either, so just bought random stuff to use them.

Wow - I would totally benefit from that. I need to talk with them.

I do like to re-listen to some really good classics so I'd rather not cancel my Audible sub.

You don't lose your books when you cancel your sub. You just stop getting credits.

>>but I am 100% sure that in the not so distant future Amazon will completely destroy the whole publishing ecosystem in US and that will have horrendous effect on the quality of what is being written and on the availability of things to read

I really don't think this is accurate. People that love reading will not all of a sudden stop reading because of audiobooks in the same way that people who loved music did not stop going to concerts when records became available. I have no real arguments other than to say that even though I know there are audio versions of the books I like to read I still prefer to consume them in print form. It is just a much more enjoyable experience.

Besides, turning a book into an audio format is the easy part [laughably easy when you compare it to the art of writing a really good book] Writing the book is the hard part. Really, really hard. That is not going away.

Why do you think people won't want the traditional book format any longer? I'm asking because i love podcasts, i love short stories, and i love books, and these all feel completely different to me, and i enjoy them much differently. To me it feels like publishing the business has changed, but that to us there's more great content of all these formats than ever before. I'm into it, i hope this trend continues.

People complaining forget what the industry was like before audible. It was terrible. Audiobook cost an absolute fortune, and selections were very limited. Audiobooks in the late 20th century were, I imagine, simular to paper books in 18th century. Something most of the population could not afford to own.

I have been listening, and loving, audiobook for a very long time audible was, and still is, a breath of fresh air.

Combined with the similarly lax attitude to drm as the amazom kindle, removing drm is simple.

Audible has created a market that publishers were either ignoring completely or extreme price gouging (or some of both) .

In the late 20th century I almost weekly got an audiobook in tape cassette form from my local public library to listen to in my car. As far as I can remember they cost me nothing. They had a room full of the things, so the selection was enormous. I have particular memories of listening to James Lee burke's books read by Mark Hammer. Later in the noughties I joined audible but it wasn't cheap and they had a couple of sharp practices that turned me right off. The first was that you couldn't carry over credits. The second was they made it hard to cancel. Then there was the way they leaned on the audio software guy whose software allowed you to remove the drm, so you could burn to disk in mp3 rather than the only supported way which would have required a bunch of CDs per book. Bottom line for me today is they're too expensive. Being restricted also to one book a month (was two back then) for the same cost as Spotify and Netflix combined is a joke

Scribd now offers unlimited audio books at cheaper price. Although the selection is smaller than audible, they offer books as well as music sheets.

Excellent, think I'll give them a go, thanks. Also they have time magazine and others included, looks very good

Before online audio books we borrowed then from the library for free.

True, before MP3, we used to borrow CDs from the library and copy them to tape, too. Libraries were brilliant as an impoverished student :)

I still borrow audio books from the library for free using the Libby app.

Instead of Audible, I recommend downloading audiobooks for free from your local library.

The San Francisco Public Library uses an app called "Libby." (I think most major US libraries support it.) It's free and convenient. No complaints.

FYI, Libby is an app made by OverDrive, (which is in turn owned by Rakuten).

Although OverDrive has published multiple open letters proclaiming their dedication to accessibility, they have done relatively little in this space. In one disappointing conversation with a senior executive, I was told that if they can’t charge libraries more for a feature, they won’t add it. To my mind, the definition of accessibility is making decisions that make a product more accessible even if doing so does not make more money.

Given that OverDrive has 90% market share in the US, it’s a pity that this is their attitude toward accessibility.

"To my mind, the definition of accessibility is making decisions that make a product more accessible even if doing so does not make more money."

Their clients (libraries) are the ones providing a service to end users. It's up to the libraries to determine what's important when selecting a supplier or developing a custom solution.

Imagine I download an app on my phone. And I find it can't be used with a screen reader for some reason. Who is responsible here? Me? Google Play? The app publisher? The outsourced developer who did the coding for hire?

Now imagine the same situation, but:

- the app publisher being a US entity which takes federal funds

- the app being assembled wholly from existing community-maintained open source projects

It seems obvious to me that the party providing the service, and not the developer of the underlying software, is responsible.

I agree that libraries have some responsibility here. But as it happens, my conversation with this OverDrive exec was pursuant to a letter signed by librarians representing hundreds of libraries, asking OverDrive to offer a particular accessibility feature, and giving detailed reasons for why it would help library patrons.

Even with this supporting information and the backing of hundreds of libraries, OverDrive was not interested because they didn't think they could profit off the feature.

In the letter from the librarians, was the feature described as:

A) Must-have (e.g. if we don't have it, we'll be breaking the law, and so can't/won't renew the contract to use Libby), or

B) Nice-to-have?

If A, then I'm surprised at OverDrive's response.

If B, then I'm curious to know how much the librarians offered to pay.

If OverDrive can't make a profit from a feature, then either it's not that important to the people who hold the purse strings, or the feature is too expensive/complicated to build/deploy/maintain.

Is there something stopping the libraries from using a different vendor, or developing a solution that meets their needs? (As far as consumer software goes, Libby doesn't seem that complicated at the front end, but perhaps there are lots of complex third party integrations at the backend, to support licensing/DRM/whatever?)

You are hitting the nail on the head with the latter part of your comment. The issue is licensing and content rights which is a huge mess to do without pissing off rights holders. They are all terrified someone might look at their content without paying, and make customers jump through huge hoops to pay for it.

I wish I would just pirate ebooks and audiobooks because that is the simplest and lowest effort way to see the content. It would work on all my devices and I would not have to worry about signing in or swapping apps to find which service has that book I want to read this month only.

I don't think they said it was legally required, just that it would be very beneficial. They didn't offer a price, nor were they ever asked how much they'd pay. But I'm not aware of any platforms that charge extra for their accessibility features. Are there any?

The reason there isn't much competition in the space is that OverDrive has a huge lead, and it is very complex on the back end. NYPL is doing good stuff with the SimplyE project, which they are offering to other libraries as well. Hopefully this will spur innovation in the space, in many regards!

"But I'm not aware of any platforms that charge extra for their accessibility features. Are there any?"

My point isn't that OverDrive should itemise their pricing, it's that market participants generally only invest money in R&D when it is expected to make them more money. And if customers signal that they value a feature at $0, then that feature is likely to go to the bottom of the list.

If I buy a licence to a platform, that enables me to provide services to my users, then of course I can only use the features that come with that platform. If I want additional features, of course I can ask for them. But the platform provider will prioritise things based on what will make them money (get more new customers, reduce existing customer churn, or increase revenue per customer).

From what you've said, it sounds like OverDrive has no competition, so the impact of accessibility features on customer retention and acquisition is zero.

If so, then OverDrive needs to be incentivised by either:

A) More money from existing libraries (what I asked about above), or

B) Threat of competition, which would affect future customer acquisition+retention (which the SimplyE project you mention may provide).

This has morphed into a big conversation that misses the point: OverDrive claims to care a ton about accessibility and publishes open letters proclaiming this. Then, when customers come to them with accessibility suggestions, they have zero interest in implementing them.

This wasn't based on difficulty of implementation (it was easy), and OverDrive never asked how much it would cost or whether libraries would pay extra to have the feature. They did not care enough to even have a conversation with the librarians about it.

"This has morphed into a big conversation that misses the point"

That's the nature of conversations :)

Sometimes you make a point, and people say "That's a great point. I'd never thought of it like that before."

And sometimes people have different opinions. Sometimes what is 'the point' for one person, 'misses the point' from another person's perspective.

Rakuten also owns Kobo, which sells ebooks and audiobooks (along with e-ink ereaders).

My library has Libby(/overdrive) and Hoopla. I find that Libby only has recent bestsellers while Hoopla has actual audiobooks I’d like to read. (I’ve listened to 2 or 3 on Libby and at least 100 on hoopla).

Unfortunately Hoopla charges the library for every item checked out and since it has gotten popular they reduced the monthly limit from 15 to 10 to 5.

I really enjoy audiobooks, but I dont think Audible is letting the medium flourish to its full potential.

My main concern is that audible is missing the long tail which naturally forms in any price sensitive market, where older products tend to depreciate to the point where they find a buyer. With paper books I can find an old book for cheap and that is great for a lover of words.

Audible distorts the audio-book market with its credit system: as far as I can tell they never discount older or less popular works, cutting off the long tail of potential readers. Why waste a precious credit on an audiobook who's physical cost is now fraction of its cover price?

More marketplace competition, and price / demand sensitive business models would be welcome.

There are often good deals to be had on Amazon for audiobooks, as others have mentioned older audiobooks can be found for as little as $2, though for moderately popular ones its more like $10-15.

Very popular audiobooks don't go on sale as often, but even the complete set of Stephen Fry read Harry potter 7-book-series, hundreds of hours, can be had for as little as 20 bucks sometimes.

OK maybe that's my problem, I'm browsing solely through the audible app where I do see price difference, but I've never seen discounts signaled as such. Also I'm usually racing to spend credits before they expire, so price is less of a factor.

Audible has daily deals and lots of sales. Also, Kindle unlimited + whispersync means lots of cheap audiobooks. Lots of classics are available at $0.99. I recently got latest Pride and Prejudice narrated by Rosamund Pike for $0.99

Check /r/audible

I've found books in Audible on sale for as little as $2.00.

For people worried about Audible's dominance here, there's _starting_ to be a countermovement among indie publishers, and I assume big publishers would also support competition.

* Chirp, from Bookbub: https://www.chirpbooks.com

* Authors Direct: https://authors-direct.com (from Findaway Voices, which helps indies produce audiobooks)

* Overdrive and Hoopla are bringing library-purchased audiobooks to people: https://www.overdrive.com https://www.hoopladigital.com

Audible tries to get people locked into multi-year exclusive distribution contracts, and a lot of people go for it given their current hold on the market. Hopefully, demand will start rising for these other distribution channels.

For me audio books don't replace regular books, they supplement them, by expanding my reading time and by getting me to read books I'd otherwise not. I often end up with both the physical or e-book plus the audio book. Sometimes I start with the audio book, especially if the book is challenging, then later switch to the non-audio book. Sometimes I jump back and forth. Yeah, crazy.

Down sides? Choice. (You want a different translation of The Brother's Karamazov? Ha!) You still need a hand, or at least a finger, to pause or go back, like when your mind inevitably wanders. You can't share an audio book with a friend, a downside of e-books too. And then there's the whole mind-wandering thing. I can't multitask. I can't listen to an audio book at just any time I need my hands for something else. The context switch is a buzzkill.

The key to a good audio book, in addition to the book itself being good, is a good reader, so here are some of my current faves with splendid readers: A Clockwork Orange narrated by Tom Hollander; Lincoln in the Bardo, Nick Offerman; Mrs Dalloway, Juliet Stevenson; Lolita, Jeremy Irons; and Milkman, Brid Brennan.

Part of what you're talking about is what bugs me about Amazon and the publishers. When I buy an audio CD, I can have it "auto-ripped" and available to download immediately as an MP3. I wish the same applied for more expensive physical copies of books, too - I wish they would also offer me a digital copy for my own convenience.

> You can't share an audio book with a friend, a downside of e-books too

Sure you can, DRM-breakers are easy to find.

Pretty much this. If I have Tien to sit down and read it's going to be a technical book with lots of code.

Audible gives me an opportunity to read other types of books.

I'm ready for when I can have my books read to me with machine learning à la WaveNet or similar, effectively cutting out the middleman and making a very cheap audiobook version. Google Books can already do this with epubs but it's not at the same level as a professional audiobook however.

Oh please no, not for me. A well-read audiobook becomes an integral part of the art form. An example is the recent Beastie Boys book, which is read by the two of them, plus a whole host of guest readers. Some of whom completely transform the experience.

I agree, a well-read book can really make it. A bad reader not only makes a good book boring, it also works conversely. For example, Ready Player One was a mediocre movie, an alright book, and the audio book was really great (i.e. I also enjoyed the story itself much more because of the telling).

If you just want to read books without the effort of reading, and have "audio books" be cheap, text to speech is totally there. You'll miss some intonation, but modern speech engines are beyond understandable. If it would be just about understandability, try espeak (apt install espeak). An absolutely awful voice, but copy any decently sized text (maybe a pg essay) and listen to it. I find that after 30 seconds to a minute, I've adjusted enough to perfectly understand it, and after 4+ minutes I forget that I'm listening to the most horrendous voice known to mankind. And if you want to nerd out some more about our brain's capacity to understand speech and adapt to things that don't even resemble speech anymore, try whistling languages. I'm always amazed how understandable they can be.

I was thinking of Ready Player One, and how it’s reading really was part of the experience. Did you mean to bury the lede that it’s read by none other than Wil Wheaton?

That would be good for books too esoteric to justify a professional recording, but machine learning will never get as good as a professionally narrated audiobook. The form is so distinctive that the training data would need to be the very best audiobooks.

I use TTS on almost all the text I read online. I'm using it even now. I find it helps me be more engaged and follow the text at a deeper level. It's not a perfect voice, but I have adapted to it and enjoyed it for more than 10 years (Alex from MacOS). Now I find reading with just my eyes a shallower experience. The great advantage is that I can use it anywhere - on forums, articles, books and even scientific papers. Places where speech was not a choice before.

Audible's greatest assault is on my wallet. So many audiobooks on that platform are exorbitantly expensive.

Individual prices of books exist solely to push you towards the monthly x-many-books model - which is pretty good value.

I've been a member since 2005/6 (pre-amazon ownership) and I think my longest recurrent monthly thing.

Audiobooks were historically insanely expensive - I used to borrow massive folders of cassette taps from my library of 'unabridged books' back in the 90s. Staple of my family holidays trapped in a car.

Audible the company was the first/only as far as I'm aware company to work out that audiobooks were the 'premium podcast' and actually bother to sell them at a reasonable rate.

How come audio books can be as or even more expensive than the same book in paper format? There's no production, shipping, and so on involved with digital products, and the recording itself is a few hours with the voice talent, often the author themselves, and a few more people in a small studio.

I can actually answer that (due to random quirks in my life).

1) Opposite my office there used to be an audiobook company. Whole office of people built around a sound-booth where an actor would spend a week or so recording a book. I used to see the famousish coming out for smoke-breaks day-after-day. Maybe a dozen people, for a fortnight, to make 'an audiobook'

2) My wife used to work for a publishing company for hire (used to knock out Disney branded books for supermarkets and the like). Books cost practically nothing to print in China. Then could be shipped around and sold at the lowest of rates/margins.

Saying an audiobook costs nothing to record, is like saying a band could just publish their sheet-music.

So what's the approximate cost of recording an audio book then? Is it a lot more than preparing the text for print? How much does distribution cost compared to the paper version? My uneducated guess is that the profit margin on audio books are much higher than paperbacks, maybe hardbacks as well.



> An average audiobook created with Findaway Voices has about 50,000 words and costs between $1,000 and $2,000. We can estimate the cost of your audiobook by multiplying a per finished hour narrator rate with the estimated length of your finished recording. The longer the book, the higher the estimate will be.

Playing with the sliders, they seem to estimate that a 50K-word book will be 200 finished hours. Their narrators charge a $250-$500 rate per finished hour. ("Narrators charge by the length of the delivered audio, not how many hours go into preparing, recording, editing, mastering, proofing, etc.")

Famous actors can cost arbitrarily more, of course.

200 finished hours for a typical book seems very high to me. I'm listening to a lot of audiobooks from the library (free) and most non-fiction books are between 10 and 30 hours.

An audiobook takes about six hours [1] to nail down one hour of final recording.

[1] https://audible-acx.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/664...

I've read and recorded books for fun in my free time for friends and the best I could manage (on my own) was about 2 to 4 hours per hour of completed recording. From sentences I had to re-record over and over again (either due to me not being able to get it right, or the cat intervening) then cutting, re-listening whether the pauses are okay, etc. For a professional recording six hours sounds about right.

it sounds exhausting.

Titus Welliver has started performing the Harry Bosch novels from Michael Connelly. The first half of his first performance was pretty rough and sounded like an in-store reading. Over the course of that book and the first bit of the second he really found his groove.

With this in mind, I never would have guessed that it took this long for the full process, but once its broken down into pieces, it makes sense and doesn't seem like a lot of time at all.

A little off-topic -- years ago This American Life had a short piece about an audiobook performer who used a closet in her hotel with a bunch of pillows as a booth... and she found herself locked in.. alone.

>Carin Gilfry explains how she once accidentally locked herself in a hotel closet, and because today’s show is being broadcast from an opera house stage, Ira is able to take the story to a place he never usually can. (18 minutes)


The usual 200pg bestselling fluff usually comes in at 5-6hrs unabridged.

”A few hours with a few people” is

- often multiple hours in the studio because people make mistakes, they get tired, they want to re-do passages etc.

- during recording you want at the very least a sound technician, the voice talent, and a director/author/producer to listen in and give direction/corrections/adjustments on the reading

- after recording you need at least an editor, a director/producer to make sure the recording is cut correctly.

And then off to the presses (that is, converting RAW audio to whatever digital formats).

A designer may also be involved if the book requires a different cover.

Disclosure: I work at Storytel though not anywhere near (other than physically) audiobook recordings.

People do Librivox recordings free of charge as volunteers. Those recordings are just as good as Audible recordings. I myself, with rudimentary gear and a free DAW, can create an Audible level recording for the mere cost of my time. I'm going to have to totally reject your list of expenses. Sounds like a bunch of superfluous positions and bloat.

If you can't tell the difference between the average LibriVox recording and the average commercial audio book, there is no way you can produce an Audible level of recording.

Even if half the volunteering recorders and their gear were as good as those of the commercial offerings, just sitting and selecting those that are not good enough for publishing and those that require some re-recording is a massive extra work.

What is so special about Audible recordings that is unnattainable by Librivox? You mean sound quality? You mean some holy grail vocal mics? Or vocal talent? I don't get it.

Mostly talent, production, and editing.

I've listened to a few Librevox recordings. They're usually (though not always) tolerable. Occaisionlly good, but that's exceeding rare.

Good audiobooks -- and a friend listens to many -- are far more often vastly superior. Even then, a poor reader is exceedingly grating.

Libravox may improve with time. History of volunteer efforts has been compeling. But not yet.

Its not that high quality is unobtainable, it's that nobody at librivox seems to try to attain it. Sound quality is definitely uneven at librivox, ranging from poor to middling, and passages composed of multiple tales are rarely mixed together smoothly. The vocal talent is mostly adequate (I certainly find plenty of narrators I dislike on audible) but it also seems sort of unsupervised -- narrators who encounter unfamiliar words will mispronounce them. I honestly think they'd get more even results with TTS now that WaveNet is so good.

I'm impressed by what librivox has achieved with just volunteers, but the production values are nowhere near as high as most books on audible.

Ratings could be a partial fix for quality control but they have been opposing them for years (because they want to keep it fun and motivating for volunteer readers..): http://piratelibrary.com/2010/05/on-the-absence-of-ratings-a... (ratings are now available in some LibriVox apps though)

IMHO they are just doing injustice to a number of good readers in their catalogue who put real effort into their recordings, but get buried under those one can barely listen to.

Partly true. I've listened to a handful of excellent readers on LibriVox. For audiobooks I don't care if audio quality is sub-par as long as I understand every word and the reader is good.

There were even these incidents with people ripping the best recordings off LibriVox and selling them on Audible where they ended up achieving high ratings..

However, bad LibriVox experiences were one reason why I didn't truly "get" how superior audiobooks can be for years. Enduring their endless copyright and chapter announcements also hampered the experience a bit.

LibriVox derivatives have now fixed the problem of finding good readers in some of the apps with simple user ratings. I believe a similar project based on WaveNet will make much of LibriVox obsolete soon by being better than many readers there, which saddens me a bit since in principle LibriVox is a good project that simply promoted free sharing of information and knowledge.

Both AI and most of LibriVox have a lot to learn to even come close to the quality of the professional Gert Westphal reading of "The Magic Mountain", or to anything Stephen Fry has read.

Isn't this the equivalent of "I can do Dropbox in one weekend"?

Or, more recently, "someone with one week of JavaScript experience can replicate Airbnb."

> Those recordings are just as good as Audible recordings.

No. They are not. I tried listening to Don Quixote Librivox. While a couple of readers are tolerable, several are terrible, and none are close to professional voice actor level. Which makes it really hard to get through. Check out the comments here too if you don't want to subject yourself to listening to the reading itself:


Audible recordings in general are vastly superior.

I listen to a lot of librivox books. There are some talented volunteers, but there are many that are just not that good.

Plus all their text is on the public domain.

you are making a good point imo. strange to me to read that audiobooks cost so much more than printed books. about the same amount of work goes into both. and i don't think people buy audiobooks because their favorite actor is narrating it. if they do then yes, they should be charged a lot. i also think maybe text to speech software makers need to get into that business. will drive the cost down a little.

I assume the price of audiobooks reflects the fact that far fewer are purchased, so all of the engineering and voice work has to be recouped somehow.

I've done a little voice work before. It is insanely tedious, even for a book I loved.

Depending on how many books you read, it might be well worth buying a Platinum Membership. It costs $229.50/year and it comes with 24 credits, which means you pay $9.56 per book. After that you can buy additional credits for roughly the same rate, based on my purchase history it varies between $9.56 and $9.37 per credits.

I definitely wouldn't have bought as many as I have if it wasn't so cheap. I just recently passed my 400th book, which is pretty insane because there's still TONS of stuff for me to work through. Assuming each book was priced at $9.56, my library would be worth around ~$3,800. That's an amazing price! That's less money than I paid for my car, and the audiobooks have greatly enriched my life in all sorts of ways.

I do the same thing and have ~500 books so far. I started in 2014, so I buy around 100/year. The overall price is actually cheaper than buying paper/ebooks, considering I buy many new releases.

Also getting longer books is a really good value, since they cost the same. Just get Infinite Jest instead of 5 separate books.

Yep. Fifty hours of Netflix is fifteen dollars a month. Fifty hours of Audible content is close to a hundred bucks. Now, two dollars per hour is cheap compared to traditional entertainment like movie theaters and DVDs but downright insane compared to YouTube and Spotify.

Hmmm, 100 hours of audible content would run me about 3 books. So around £18 when buying bulk credits. Or £24 when buying monthly.

But I was taught to buy books by weight. Which has turned out to be good advice.

I'm currently listening to The Power Broker (over 65h of narration) and it only cost me one credit (so, about $15).

You could get a library card and checkout DVDs, audiobooks and books for free. Podcasts are free. Network television is free. Assuming you are working and middle class the expensive part about consuming fifty hours of entertainment isn't spending $15 or $100. It's spending fifty hours of your attention.

People buying audiobooks aren't suckers, and most of them are spending much less than $2/hr.

Have you checked your library? It's not perfect but ours has a digital app with a large selection of audiobooks, all for free. It has greatly reduced my need to buy audible books.

Many comments on this thread seem to be confusing cost with value. I have both Libby and an Audible subscription. Libby - free, limited selection, clunky weird interface, long waits for books, production glitches. Audible - nearly every book, available now, good production, return any book anytime, fairly good app, costs $ every month. Up to you which is the best value.

Libby has a "clunky weird interface"? It's different, but it works really well. I think it's fantastic, and it's certainly better than the old Overdrive app.

As for a limited selection, that depends entirely on how many licences your library buys. My local library has a very good selection. Alas, it also has a lot of users, so some of the more popular books will have long hold lines.

Audiobooks in general are pretty expensive, especially when compared to the price of a print/digital book. The costs to produce one are higher, and the market is smaller (though the latter is changing, as the article shows).

Why are the costs to produce audiobooks higher? Librivox has public domain books for free, submitted by volunteers.

Yes, you've been plugging this throughout the thread.

I've been working on writing a book and want to sell an audio book alongside it. Could you go ahead and record it for free for me so I can sell it to recoup my own costs?

No? Why not?

I'm glad there are volunteer projects out there, especially keeping public domain works available and accessible to more people. I'm even more glad that you feel that the quality of your work stands up to the quality of commercial work, as mentioned in other comments in this thread. I've not heard your audiobook recordings, so I'll abstain from comment on that front.

But why are you in here claiming that your volunteer work diminishes the paid work of others? Is that something to be proud of?

It's a variation on the theme "I own a DSLR camera and am capable of pushing the shutter button, therefore I don't understand how professional photographers can charge $$$$ for wedding photographs"

I've never recorded for Librivox. I just record music and have gear so I know what the work entails. I couldn't provide a voice actor's inherent vocal quality, which seems to be some neutral everyman's voice you could'nt put a face to. But if you want to pay someone so much money to read your book into a mic and do some basic editing that they could purchase a brand new car at the end of a weeks work then be my guest.

If you are in the US, check out Hoopla digital for quite a few good audio books you can borrow. Bonus: you’ve already paid for it through your local library.

Do they have any artificial restrictions? Last time I tried a similar app (it's been a few years), I wasn't able to get an audiobook because someone else already had it "checked out".

Just like a regular book in a library.

That's what feels strange to me, though. It's not a physical book that can only be in one place at a time, so why are we holding ourselves back with artificial limitations?

I suspect it has something to do with licensing, but I don't know for sure.

Of course that's the reason. And I have no problem with it.

You may want to live in a world where a publisher sells a twenty Euro book exactly once, but that's not sustainable.

If you want more concurrent users, pay for it. The library has decided which level of concurrent users to buy.

I buy the Kindle copy and add the audiobook to it, it's usually at least half the price.

I just love audio books. I listen to them while walking the dog, working out or doing chores around the house.

I've tried it a few times, but I have a few problems with them:

I can't skip boring parts, like long descriptions or other annoying parts.

I zone out from time to time when doing other things, and I have to skip back and try to find where I lost track.

Sometimes I have to go back and reread numbers, names, and other important info, but that's much harder with audio.

Boring parts are the reason I do audio books (which in my mind I still call books on tape). I listen primarily to massive ancient works like The Illiad, Parallel Lives, and Herodotus' Histories that are impenetrable to me in text because they have enormous sections devoted to lists of ancient names or inaccurate dimensions of Egypt that I can just zone out to during a drive.

Of course you can skip those parts in text but if you half listen to them you get to say you heard the whole thing and you begin to appreciate the role they played in the work and the influence they had on later authors and politicians.

I have the same issues. My conclusion is to listen to things that were intended to be heard (e.g., speeches, plays, etc.).

That said, I've read / heard that if you want to increase listening comprehension, speed up the play back. The novelty + speed forces the brain to focus more and listen closer.

Moi? For listening, I listen to music. I still read paper books because I already spend too much time gazing into a screen (writing code).

Just posted about this as a top-level. But might be worth trying Spokn.

In general I usually have 10-15 mins in free time increments. Audio books don't work for me for that reason. Narrated articles do.

There are often abridged versions of audiobooks, where they skip stuff like that and shorten the book considerably. Maybe worth a try.

I do the same but with podcasts, silence bothers me now, like wasted time.

re: " Audiobooks are the fastest growing part of publishing..."

I hate to jump in and jump off topic but statements like that really annoy me. First, when a market is tiny but growing even small increases look amazing as a percentage.

And then there's the maturity of the publishing market itself. Anything new that's growing is going to be growing more than the otherwise mature no-growth market.

The question here is: How much new incremental business is this actually creating? Or, much like music CDs years ago, are most people simple trading one format for another newer one?

Yes, those re-sales still count but it also creates a false sense that the market itself is actually growing; that new buyers are coming on board. Again, ask the music industry if they regret getting hooked on the "bonus" revenue from CDs. And how that not only drove people to downloads, but that false growth created a false peak that made the digital crash hurt even more.

Again, please pardon the somewhat off-topic-ness.

Audible alone did over $3 billion last year.

"Major publishers have confirmed to Good e-Reader that 1 out of every 10 books sold is in the audio format ...

HarperCollins stated that downloadable audio accounted for about 25% of all digital revenue in the recent first three months of 201"


Hardly tiny.

For context, the entire US publishing industry is only 26Bn.


Thanks. You missed the point. Good job.

This comment breaks the site guidelines. Would you mind reviewing them and following them when posting here?


I just wish Audible had adopted a Netflix-style distribution system rather than an Amazon.com style one. Watching all the Netflix I want costs me fifteen dollars a month. Listening to all the Audible content I want would cost me hundreds if not thousands of dollars a month because I'd have to purchase each piece of media individually.

Hoopla and Overdrive have audiobooks through your library or some just for using their service. Costs you nothing. Having it through your library gets you more options though. Might help you lower your costs. Aside from Audible you could check out Downpour. Similar service to Audible but less restrictive on ownership.

Until you want to read a book that isn’t currently available. Maybe it’s different on the American Netflix (and similar), but currently none of the streaming services in Denmark have all seasons of x-files.

I prefer buying things to renting them, but of course with modern digital distribution you often end up renting them even when you “buy” because of DRMs.

Maybe I’m old, but I just don’t get modern media consumption. I mean, if we look beyond DRMs (and maybe you can crack Amazon’s), then you’ll own 120 books in 10 years as opposed to the Netflix model where in 10 years and the same amount of money, you’ll own 0 books.

Some of us don't care about owning. I always gave 95%+ of my paper books away, long before I started reading digitally.

This is what Storytel and others provide in Sweden. The price is 169 SEK per month for as much listening as you want. The English spoken assortment is quite big but uneven, there are gems there. I believe the Swedish spoken assortment is quite close to cover all there is.

I subscribe to Storytel and use it mostly as background listening. It is not worth it to pay by the book.

Have you tried scribd?

Scribd used to be really good, but then they switched to a model where a small number of books are in the "all you can eat" pile and the rest are on a credit system like Audible.

The best "all you can eat" plan I've seen is from Playster. A very decent selection around the same price as Audible.

My problem with audio books is that they are long, and I can't skip around, and listening in bursts of 10-15 mins ends up being inefficient and disorienting.

I've been using Spokn, which provides narration of high quality articles from HBR, NYT, etc. Works a lot better for my schedule.

I have used Audible for a long time, but have recently switched to Libro.fm. Pricing is the same as Audible, and my local book store gets a cut.

Does it have drm?

I’ve been an Audible subscriber for a fairly long time (2011), and really enjoy the format. I really wish it wasn’t tied to Amazon, though. The recent increase of their “digital book burning” is pretty egregious, and it’s weird to own books on Kindle and Audible that are no longer even available for purchase.

There are, fortunately, some authors that publish their audiobooks direct, and others that put their work free on archive.org. However, the vast majority are Audible-exclusive, and it keeps me locked in.

I absolutely love Audio Books, I think I went through maybe 25+ audio books, mostly non fiction, in 2018 alone. It is a fantastic way to maximize dead time, but generally I think non music audio is going through a sort of renaissance.

While the author of this post is really distraught about Amazons dominance with Audible I do think in some ways non music audio is much bigger than just Audibooks for example Podcasts are on the rise and at least for the moment they are totally open. I also think Amazons hold with audio books will be difficult to maintain especially as technology and AI gets better. Why pay them when a great sounding AI could read your book to you.

As a little shameless self promotion I have been working on a side project that does exactly this, it takes any Article or PDF from the web and converts it to great sounding audio so you can listen to it on the go. It sounds pretty good, and it’s a great way to maximize your dead time and stay informed on the go.

If you want to check out my project you can find it here:


I’ve been using your app for 2 months on the free plan after seeing you link it here.

The site dailymaverick.co.za which I frequent has built in AI-read voice for articles provided by a third party service. For some reason, Articulu fails to convert some of the articles, which curiously also do not have a converted audio for their third party service. The failure state is not very graceful.

There’s a couple issues with organising my recordings (there’s just a queue at the moment), the seek bar, continuing where you left off and renaming recordings.

Also why do I use up credits in the free plan when I listen to the same article more than once?

Thank you for using the app, sorry that your having those issues. I will look into all of those.

Any chance you can shot an email to support@articulu.com, so we can see the account, and let us know if your on iOS or Android. Any of the Failed URLs will also be really helpful so we can make the scraping more resilient. We are working hard to add features that help organize articles better.

Sweet project! There's also https://curio.io which I stumbled across reading Aeon, and it's got high quality but pretty low volume of content so far (I'm sure they're working on that).

Sure I follow them but their issue is it’s human read articles which is why the volume is so low.

Articles unlike books are being produced in the millions everyday and so it’s really hard to find the best pieces to read over.. which is what they have to do.

I think there is room for letting people listen to anything and AI/ML advancements allow us to get pretty damn close.

I can't hear any samples without downloading the app, I would recommend adding a few.

I used to really love Audible because they had excellent customer service. Now I only tolerate them. One more instance of needing to send a dozen back and forth emails to their so-called customer support repeating the same message over and over and getting increasingly frustrated and upset because not a single goddamn one of their offshored drones actually bothers to read what you write before responding about something entirely unrelated and I will terminate the service I've had with them since 2002. Watching a company you loved dealing with destroy the human side of its service makes me very sad.

I hate Audible, with a passion. They have drm, so I can't listen in the app I like, and the prices...Back in secondary I've been listening to audiobooks at the rate of approximately one book a week. I've used polish libraries for the blind which were legal, free and had everything I wanted (almost). I can't even imagine how much money I'd spend if I had to use Audible instead. Actually I wouldn't even be able to, as I'd been listening on a Rockboxed[1] player, not a smartphone. [1] https://rockbox.org

Technically you can download audible .aa files and convert them to whatever format you want, default ffmpeg can handle the conversion.

How does one do that?


Then I wrote a script.



Audible (audiobooks generally, but generally just Audible) is my primary form of long-form media consumption. I don't watch TV, I don't watch movies, I don't listen to very much music. I probably consume 100-150 Audible books per year, on top of another ~50 Kindle books, and 20-30 pdf/paper books.

With promos and everything else, my average cost per Audible book is about $5. I guess I spend about $1k/yr on books, maybe a little more. Some people spend about that much for cable tv. I feel like I get a lot more value out of books.

Well, you are free to not do it

In fact I can't stand podcasts or similars for the most part as I can't do some things while listening to it. Maybe driving but that's it.

As much as it's nice to learn stuff, at some point it is just shallow edutainment (as much as I like some of the science yt channels)

I like podcasts because it turns things that I used to absolutely hate doing like dishes or gardening into somewhat enjoyable for me.

I could not agree more.

Audiobooks and podcasts are one of my favourite things. If I need to concentrate there's music - if I have to do some mundane physical task that used to bore the bejeezus out of me, I now have them.

I even enjoy the mundane tasks - as gives me time to enjoy the information pumped into my ears, and actually get something useful done at the same time. (Today I decided as spring was hear, I'd spend an hour removing the worst offending weeds from my garden).

I'm a bit confused about your complaint. Do you dislike podcasts because they demand too much attention and feel like educational content or because they're shallow entertainment? Because those seem like two opposite problems.

They are not exclusive, because I can't concentrate on some tasks while someone is speaking in the background, regardless of what's being said.

Microsoft had ebooks until pretty recently but I only found out about it because of the news about the cancellation of the service. Google Books added audiobooks a while ago but why they don't advertise on YouTube videos and podcasts I'll never understand.

I am a real big fan of audiobooks but unfortunately am forced to pirate them because Audible only works with DRM. I would love to buy audiobooks legally but even if I consented on principle to DRM (I do not), my MP3 players do not support DRM.

Here you go: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19768543

No excuse now :-)

We run an ebook to audiobook conversion service and most of the growth comes from places like web serials and fanfiction:


Imagine finding out that the New York stock exchange were buying and selling shares on their own account. They see you bid, execute a trade in between, and then fill your bid. This is fundamental, you can't be the global marketplace and be a trader.

Take this one stage further, imagine finding that companies listed of the NYSE had NYSE directors on their board? Imagine finding that this year's hot IPO is a company owned by NYSE. This is what happens when Amazon become the publisher.

It is time to break up Amazon

I can’t resist the temptation to ask given this thread is on HN (a community I love) and Audible is a passion... for those who love Audible and Audio books, would you mind sharing 2-3 you particularly enjoyed? I’m always hunting for new ones. Here are some I would recommend:


1. Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People

2. Getting to Yes Great book on negotiation in life and business

3. The Hard Thing About Hard Things On management

4. Influence The psychology of persuasion

Non-Fiction Recommendations

1. River of Doubt True story of Teddy Roosevelt's exploration of a previously unchartered region of the Amazon River where he and his team almost perished.

2. Endurance True story of Sir Ernest Shackelton's journey to be the first to reach the south pole. Arguably one of the greatest survival stories of all time.

3. The Disappearing Spoon Story behind the periodic table, the elements, the people who discovered them and the context under which they were discovered. Learn a lot about day to day things you don't put much thought into.

4. Business Adventures Bill Gates was interviewed and asked what his favorite business book is - this was it (out of print for 40 years until 5 months ago). It's a collection of about a dozen 1-1.5 hour true business case studies (20th century). A lot of them were seminal events in corporate America (for example, the event that resulted in modern day insider trading laws, the creation of the income tax, etc). You'll enjoy this if you like business books.

5. Creativity Inc by the cofounder of Pixar. Good story.

6. Alchemy of Air Story of the investors of the Haber-Bauche process to convert nitrogen in the air to ammonia (the key component of artificial fertilizer, gas and gunpowder). Arguably the greatest discovery of the 20th century if you take into account the fact without this process, Earth's arable land mass can only sustain 2bn people. It also has resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths by allowing wars to wage on indefinitely

7. A Short History of Nearly Everything A fast pace, well written science book by Bill Bryson that covers what we know about the creation of the world thus far. You'll enjoy it.

8. The Boys in the Boat Very inspiring story about the men's 1936 olympic gold metal rowing team

9. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight Very inspiring story by the creator of Nike. One of the best memoirs I've ever read.

10. Lessons of History by Will Durant Short and extremely thought provoking. Stylistically tough to get into but once you do it is quite good.

11. Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World The first half of this is better than the second but overall a very enlightening book about the impact of the Mongols, broadly considered to be Barbarians but in actuality far ahead of their time (first to broadly use printed currency, a postal system, a judicial system, military engineers, etc).

Fiction / Fantasy Recommendations

1. The Martian Awesome story and as realistic as fiction can get. Was a great listen.

2. Theft of Swords great story about two lovable characters. It is part of a trilogy

3. Red Rising Part of a trilogy, great listen but worth caveating it is an extreme hunger games like story that is quite violent

4. Name of the Wind Epic fantasy adventure, one of the highest rated books on Good Reads. Absolutely worth it but at 30 hours may be a large commitment as a first book

5. The Way of Kings This book gave me heart palpitations... again, a large commitment but I can't drop it from the list

6. Lies of Loch Lomura A very fun adventure story; reader's voice takes a moment to get used to but once you do it is very fun and endearing

7. Mistborn Great story in a unique world

Science Fiction: The Bobiverse Triligoy [We are Legion (We are Bob)] is a hilarious story about a character not unlike the average Hacker News reader that finds himself in the enviable position of having his consciousness uploaded into a Von Neumann probe (self replicating space exploring robot). It has a good humor, the same attention to details The Martian has, nerdy pop culture references, and several moments of philosophical musings. Ray Porter does fantastic narration.


Looking at your list with so many historical books in them you should absolutely try Malazan Book of the Fallen. It's require tremendous commitment, but it's deliver way more than even most of non-fiction books do including great characters writing and on lot's of wisdom. Best of both worlds.

The story of the Endurance on its own is edge-of-your-seat stuff, but the audiobook is absolutely top notch. The story is woven perfectly and the narration is perfect. It's probably the best audiobook I've listened to.


Is it legal to read a book outloud on Twitch?

This article has taken the thoughts right out of my mind. I struggle, as an achiever type, to "waste" time and therefore fill my mind with audiobooks from the library as well as audible.

The need to unplug is real.

I think that article would have been better in audible form ;)

Tried parsing through the first few paragraphs; can someone offer a tl;dr of how Audible is assaulting leisure time?

Is it because Audible can be listened to while performing other tasks or going about your day, and it removes the previously quiet, uninterrupted time of the day to ponder?

The article looks like a profile of Audible and the growth of the audiobook market, as well as some sort of critique of it. Let's not focus only on the critique part. Titles tend to do that—focus attention on too small a spot—so we've replaced the title above with a wider phrase from the article. Actually, we already did replace the title with the subtitle in the hope of widening the focus, but it didn't work.

Kinda, but I admit to being confused as well...

'It’s simplistic but not entirely inaccurate to say that Audible’s parent, Amazon, is to book publishing what Facebook and Google are to magazines: the troll under the bridge whose idea of a toll is to devour consumers and competitors whole.' and

'On the train to get coffee with a well-meaning writer twenty years your senior who will advise you to “climb the ladder” like she did. By listening, you partially reclaim the lost hours, preserving some ghost of an alternate universe where you don’t have to do what you’re doing, and you’re on the couch reading the old-fashioned way instead.'

Personally, I find audio-books almost completely different from active reading... mostly distracted entertainment rather than true immersion.

Audiobooks are rather unique in that you have to maintain a degree of mental discipline to avoid giving into the temptation to treat them as background noise. My personal strategy is to stick to lighthearted podcasts when I'm doing something that requires cognitive attention like web browsing or gaming and save the audiobooks for truly routine tasks like commuting to work or cutting the grass. I've also gotten good results from reading the first chapter of a book to firmly place the characters and setting in my mind and then switching to the audiobook.

I'm similar, except when I'm at the computer I only listen to music. I could turn on a podcast, but will hear absolutely zero of what is said.

Podcasts are great for the gym, drive, and yard work though.

For books, I prefer to read. The pacing of reading allows me to think more deeply about the content. Admittedly, I do not read a lot of throw away novels. If I did, maybe they could take the place of podcasts.

I don't find that with audiobooks at all. When I commuted regularly they were a good source of ad-free interesting content on my drive. (Though some books work better as audiobooks than others.)

I pretty much never listen to them now. For occasional drives, podcasts are a much better fit because it's hard to dip in and out of books with multi-week gaps. But, then, I mostly don't much care for random background entertainment--even music much of the time and certainly not talk.

My problems with Audible

- I cannot search for a new book on Audible - I need to go to amazon, buy there and come back.

- I cannot get my podcasts on Audible app.

- I cannot manage the books on Audible (same issue with kindle). There is one screen for seeing the whole library - sometimes I want to put books on a high shelf cos I know I won't go back to them ... ever.

- Why can I not get a text version of each audible book for free? and vice versa. It annoys me to pay twice - especially when there is explicitly a kindle / audible sync designed to allow you to listen to page X then read from page X. It's like they thought it would be good but then failed to sell the idea to publishers.

- Why can't authors put out their own readings (I think this is a publisher issue - but I think the whole market could 10x if authors just released audible books like podcasts, polished or not)

- Listening takes longer than reading. So there is a big incentive to write scripts for audible only books - shorter and more radio play like. But mostly audible is just the after thought.

- Frankly I know there is something there - it's just hard to see what the real market will look like when we find it.

Part of these issues are due to the in-app apple tax. Audiobooks and ebooks would be 15% more expensive.

Searching and buying audiobooks and ebooks works fine on Android where Audible is allowed to provide their own in-app payment system.

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