Abhi 2.0 on Technology

Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan’s Tech Archive: Columns, reports and video

Posts Tagged ‘amazon

Tech Tonic #3: (Audio) Book Worm

with 2 comments

It had been a while since I’d done a 10-hour long road trip and options to keep myself busy such as reading a book or watching a video on my iPod Touch had been ruled out because of motion sickness. The only alternative was audio but listening to music for more than half an hour, isn’t really my thing. I decided that this was the time to try out Audible.com – the world’s leading ‘audiobook’ provider. I’d read that Amazon had just announced it was buying Audible for 300 million dollars and I’d made a mental note to try out the concept of “listening to a book”.

The night before the trip, I logged on to Audible.com and punched in my credit cards details and other information. The site has a nice clean design, loads quickly and the registration process, at first seems smooth. I initiated the one-time download of the Audible Manager software and while it downloaded in the background, I got down to making the tough choice of picking my first audiobook. You can chose books by category or look at the bestseller lists or even the site’s own recommendations. The most brilliant part about the interface is the ability to hear how the book is going to sound. Under a small image of every book cover is a play/pause button that on clicking, immediately starts a sample excerpt. You get a feel of the narrator’s voice and style which is critical to the selection process. For instance, listening to Lord of the Rings could be a disaster unless you’re a certified Elvish speaker! The narrator pronounces all the names and places using the exact guidelines laid down by author JRR Tolkein himself for these (fictional) languages, which is mind-bogglingly confusing compared to reading it yourself and mentally pronouncing stuff however you want. On the other hand, something like The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss had narration which sounded easy and conversational. I decided that this was my pick and clicked the ‘purchase’ button.

“This title has not been authorized for sale in your geographical region”, was the response – ouch! It became pretty apparent soon, that almost nothing had been authorized (by the publishers who hold the rights) for India. I decided on a whim to try a fabricated address. I didn’t think it would work since many similar services (eg. Apple iTunes store) are able to detect your country from the credit card number itself. Anyway, I made up a posh California residence – hey, it’s the only place in the US whose Zip Code I could remember. Watching ‘Beverly Hills 90210‘ as a teenager in the early days of STAR TV sure came in handy! To my surprise Audible accepted my address at face value and this time around I was able to purchase the book. The download of the eight hour long, 115 MB file had begun. I left the computer on standby since with my ‘Fraudband’ connection from Exatt, it would take all night. Indeed, all I had to do in the morning was drag and drop the file from iTunes onto my iPod Touch.

The listening experience was nothing short of excellent. The book itself was very good and on a player which has video display, you can see which chapter you’re on and skip back and forth easily. The downsides are that its much more tedious to rewind or fast forward compared to turning back a few pages on a real book. Also with the dreadful headphones that most players come bundled with, your earlobes start aching in a couple of hours.Finally, Audible is still an expensive option, especially for a country like India. Books are priced between Rs. 600 and Rs. 1000 which is more than what the hard copy will cost you in a bookstore.

Also, all the files are protected by DRM (Digital Rights Management) which means they are stored in a proprietary format called .aa and you can’t (officially) rip them into any other format like MP3 to make copies for your friends. In fact you can burn only one copy of a book onto an Audio CD. Geeky types can find workarounds pretty easily with a little googling. Also, this system works best on iPods with iTunes and is a bit cumbersome with other devices and software. However, since I own an iPod am not particularly keen on making copies, everything is fine by me. The problem now is that I’m so taken in with the theme of The 4-hour Work Week that you might just not see a column next fortnight!

Written by Abhi 2.0

March 9, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Hindustan Times

Tagged with ,