by James Wallace Harris, 1/1/23
Daniel Greene just posted The Audible Situation on his YouTube Channel. Greene is not attacking Amazon/Audible, but he is reporting on a controversy that began when author Brandon Sanderson posted “State of the Sanderson 2022” about why Sanderson wanted to publish his audiobooks first with Speechify rather than Audible. Amazon/Audible is moving towards becoming a monopoly for indie publishers and Sanderson wants to counter that and give other publishers a chance. Greene sides with that idea, and I sympathize completely. However, I need to explain why I and probably many other readers will stick with Amazon/Audible.
I’ve been buying audiobooks for maybe thirty years and buying them from Audible for twenty. I’ve been buying ebooks since the Rocket eBook came out, which was a little over twenty years ago. I have over a thousand Kindle books in my Amazon library and seventy-four pages of audiobooks (20 per page) in my Audible library. That’s a huge library of digital books I want to protect, and Amazon/Audible does a fantastic job of helping me. If my house burned down I’d lose all my physical books along with my iPad, iPhone, and Kindle. But I could buy a new iPhone, log in and have instant access to all my Amazon/Audible books.
Over the decades I have bought ebooks and audiobooks from companies not owned by Amazon/Audible. Nearly all of them have been lost as I moved from computer to computer, or forgotten the places and accounts I bought them from. I’ve bought books from Kickstarter, Apple, Barnes & Nobel, Recorded Books, Downpour, Humble Bundle, Phoenix Picks, O’Reilly Books, and many other publishers. I also bought audiobooks on cassettes and CDs, For example, we bought all the Harry Potter books on CD as they came out, but recently when my wife wanted to hear them again, she rebought them on Audible because it was convenient and because they will always be in her library.
Some of the ebooks I bought I sent to a Kindle device, but they don’t stay there as I’ve moved to new devices. And they don’t always look right in my Amazon library.
Years ago I realized that the only secure way of “owning” a digital book was to buy them from Amazon/Audible. I know they could change their policies or go out of business, but since Amazon is so big I’m betting they will be there until I die.
Amazon/Audible has become my trusted library to store digital books. They keep them fairly well organized and easy to find. They bought Goodreads and that helps me remember and review my books. That ecosystem makes for a very good digital library system. Even when Audible stops selling an audiobook I still have my copies. Of course, with thousands of books, some may have been deleted and I haven’t noticed.
There are times when I remember owning a book and going to Amazon/Audible and not finding it. When I search my mind I realize it’s missing because I bought it elsewhere. Sometimes I can still find them on my computer or remember the publisher and my account, but as time goes by, that’s becoming rarer.
If we thought of books like buying a movie ticket and watching a film, then buying books from any publisher wouldn’t matter. It would be a one-time experience. But if you buy books to build a library that doesn’t work.
I often see wonderful deals on Humble Bundle. I would buy them if they instantly became part of my Amazon library. And that’s true for deals from other publishers. But I’ve stopped getting those deals because I can’t easily keep up with their books for the long haul.
I do agree that it’s wrong that Amazon/Audible has gotten such a stranglehold on the industry. And I don’t see why Amazon/Audible must demand exclusive deals from authors. Amazon/Audible should stop that practice just to show goodwill to the book world.
I can think of some farfetched solutions to this problem. If there were an international registry of digital ownership that was separate from the publishers and sellers that would track what digital works a person owns, then that would break the monopoly. Booksellers would offer readers the best deal, and readers could pick from whichever seller they liked. But their purchase would be added to the registry. And they could then always download a copy of that book even if the bookseller or publisher went out of business. Such a system would even allow readers to leave their library to someone when they died.
Of course, Amazon/Audible has already created such a registry, and that’s why they are so successful.