Audible, An App Update, and the Case of the Disappearing Bookmarks

The danger of outsourcing our books to one corporation.

May 19, 2015
This morning my audiobooks disappeared. Here is the timeline of events:
6:30am:  Open the Audible App on my iPhone 5.5 (iOS 8.3).
6:30am:  Audible App goes through an update to version 2.5.0.
6:33am:  Notice that audiobooks are now not on my Device but only in the Cloud. (The Audible app has 2 tabs in “My Library”).
6:35am:  Re-download through the app to my phone the books that I’m listening to now.  (Rise of the Robots, The Powerhouse, The Taste of Conquest, Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road).
6:45am:  Notice that none of the bookmarks in my books have been retained. Notice that where I am in the audiobooks has not been retained.
7:00am: Try to reconstruct and remember where I am in the audiobooks.
Later today when I had a moment I looked on the Audible site for any indication that other people are having the same problem. Nothing that I can find.  Google also failed me. Maybe user error?  
I then went and chatted (using the Audible.com online chat function), with a very smart, responsive, and caring Audible customer service rep. Audible has great customer service.   
The Audible customer support person let me know the following:
Audible Customer Support: “… in fact we are having a problem with the new update, the iOS app developers are working on the problem, basically the app in not syncing with your account that is why all that information is missing, in this case I will need to escalate the case and add you to the master ticket of people having this problem”.
At this point you are probably thinking: “First world problem”.  Right? Fair enough, but I have a larger point to make.
I am completely dependent on a for-profit company for my books. All of my books are purchased from Amazon. (Amazon owns Audible). My switch to digital books (audio and e-books) has also meant a switch to Amazon. 
In the Amazon / Audible world we never really own our books. We pay a license to use the books. We can’t re-sell our digital books. We can’t give our digital books. We can’t take our digital books and read or listen to them on another platform.   
If Amazon wants to delete my books they can.  
Does it not seem feasible to you that something could go wrong with Amazon’s technology or Amazon accounts - and your books (or your bookmarks) could disappear?  
Most of the time, the Amazon digital book tradeoff has been a good one. Audible is an incredible service. Kindle books are both less expensive and more convenient than hardcover books. 
But every now and again something happens, like what happened to me today with my Audible bookmarks, that makes me wonder about the deal we have made with Amazon. At the very least, Amazon needs some competition in the digital book world. We need a viable competitor to Kindle on e-books. We very much need someone who can compete with Audible in audiobooks. 
Are there even any other audiobook options besides Audible?
Does my personal Audible audiobook library, near 1,000 books built over 10 years of buying Audible books, permanently lock me into Audible?
Will I never be able to gift my Audible library to someone else?  My kids or a library?
Can we imagine an alternative where community or academic library audiobook budgets are robust enough to make it worthwhile for existing Audible customers to borrow rather than buy?
How should Audible have handled the communication around the iOS app update that wiped out the bookmarks? How long a window should Audible have to get everything syncing correctly before they should publicly disclose the issue?
How is our world of academic libraries engaging in the debate about digital books?
What is your digital book buying story?


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