From May of 2005 to today I've spent $2,191 at Audible.com on audiobooks. Audible (and your corporate parent Amazon) - I'm your biggest fan. Audiobooks have changed my life. Everyone should go and get an Audible Platinum plan - $229.50 a year - or only $9.56 per book. You can check out my Audible purchase list here.
I tell everyone I meet about the joys of Audible and audiobooks. I blog about Audible, tweet about Audible, sometimes even sing about Audible. I'll talk to total strangers about Audible, bore my wife and children, and drive my colleagues crazy. How many new Audible subscribers I've personally created can only be guessed at.
I love Audible.
But Audible, I'm not sure if the feelings are mutual.
1. I've completely failed to make friends with anyone who works at Audible outside of your customer service call-center. Despite my repeated offers to serve on customer boards or focus groups I've never been asked. The customer service people are nice enough when I e-mail my ideas, complaints and suggestions (see below), but they always decline to put me in touch with anyone at Audible who actually makes decisions.
2. I've also failed at all my efforts to convince Audible (really Amazon) that they are making a colossal mistake in not having a library program. How many potential audiobook readers remain uncultivated because they never develop the book listening habit? How many fewer books are read as students are unable to multitask (exercising, commuting etc.) while completing their course reading?
What would I say to Audible if given the opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation with a decision maker?
As you know, the best way to provide critiques is the "sandwich" method. Start with a positive, next move to the critical comments, and end with another positive. So here goes:
Positive #1: Great how you keep our library of purchased books on your site. I appreciate that if I loose a copy of one of my books that I can go and download it again. Excellent selection. Fair pricing.
Critique #1: Why is your Web site so atrocious? Come on guys, you are owned by Amazon. The Audible site is as bad as the Amazon site is terrific. How does Audible.com suck? Where to start? Your site is dog slow. Takes forever to navigate through new books, or for the lists of books to render. The recommendation engine is terrible, never providing enough similar choices. The navigation is confusing. Why do you have a category for "New Releases" and also "Just Added"? Why does searching for a book that is not yet in audio version fail so miserably (can't you show the book and have a poke the publisher feature like Amazon does for Kindle books?). Why can't your site make recommendations based on what books we have in the "My Library" area? I could go on and on - but does anyone really think that the book browsing, searching, and buying experience is anywhere near as good as the paper (or Kindle) buying experience on Amazon?
Critique #2: Why is social experience at Audible.com so lousy? Audiobook listeners are a passionate tribe. We are marginalized by dead tree readers who persist in questioning if we are really reading. Yet Audible.com gives us know real way of connecting. Why can't I do everything I can on Audible.com as I can do on Netflix? Why doesn't Audible have a "Friends" feature like Netflix that allows me to share my Wish List and Library with other audiobook readers? Why can't I create and share annotated lists of books? It boggles my mind that Amazon has not purchased service like Visual Bookshelf (with their Facebook integration), and integrated their social networking features on to Audible. Us audiobook readers want to book club, we want to share, and we want to connect.
Critique #3: Restrictive DRM. Locking your books down so tightly is the most short sighted thing you could do. The best way to grow your customer base of audiobook listeners is to let us share our audiobooks. Figure it out so that if I lend someone a book than it becomes unavailable in my library (just like a paper book). Allow Audible subscribers to share a certain number of our books per year, for a certain length of time. Experiment with releasing books with DRM and see if it really eats into your sales (I bet it will not, as more people will experience audiobooks and want to buy their own so they can choose exactly what they want to read).
Positive #2: You are owned by Amazon. The Amazon site is wonderful. My advice is to simply do away with the Audible.com site as a separate site, and integrate into Amazon.com. The Audible book store should be integrated like the Kindle bookstore. This would allow a uniform Wish List, with smart recommendations, personalization, and advanced navigation. I want to be able to search for a book and buy it all from the same place, choosing audio, digital or paper. Bringing Audible into the fold of Amazon would offer up all sorts of great cross-promotion opportunities. I'm betting that if you offered an audio copy of each digital or paper book sales that you would dramatically increase your total book sales. Since the marginal cost of the audiobook is zero than every additional sale is pure profit. Bringing paper, digital (Kindle) and audiobooks under the same structure would allow Amazon to differentiate itself from competition such as Apple and B&N.
Who are the other Audible Platinum listeners out there? What would you tell Audible if they asked to speak with you? And Audible - I have room on my calendar to chat. Call anytime.