I love Audible.com. I hate Audible.com. There’s no in between for me on Audible it does so many things right and has so much potential that I love them. However, they do so many things so terribly wrong that it pains me to watch, I don’t and hate them for it. The only thing worse than inefficiency is ineffectiveness.

After working in mega corporations, and mega institutions and micro corporations and family businesses, I’ve seen the types of things that can take a great concept and throw it off track. I’ve run into so many things wrong with Audible that I have to suspect there is no single item, however it would not be difficult to turn them around. Donald Katz has most of the vision to make the company a success. However, something is missing in the execution.

Execution Examples
1. They have thousands of books and titles, but I can never find a book I’m looking for. My local underfunded library can find hotter titles (on CD and cassette) than I find at audible. Its a great service to be able to download, but not if I can find the books I’m looking for.

2. For long time account holders, you eventually run out of acceptable devices and computers. Since I first opened an account with Audible I’ve probably crashed and burned through 4 personal computers at home and 10 laptops at work. I’ve limped through 4-5 players including Audible’s Otis player which I still have. The problem is that its very difficult to configure more than one device, and not possible to have more than 5 computers listed on the service. Now 5 is a lot of computers, but If I set one up in 1999, and it dies, then 2000, and replace it in 2001 and go through 3 bad dell laptops in a row with my employer, and then a new IBM that works great till my IT group hoses up the profile, etc etc. I rapidly have to cycle through a list of computers which is not easy to keep up with.

3. The audio player software is great for books, but typically terrible if not less than mediocre for song titles. So I can’t efficiently listen to books and audio on the same device (haven’t tried audible with an IPOD). If they are going to offer devices that play MP3’s then get a decent music player, there’s better shareware available for music than what audible offers.

4. Customer Service
a. If you want to contact Audible and describe an issue they do not offer a product category for books! I find this strange because I view them as a “book seller”. After going around in circles with a customer representative on the topic, I ultimate gave up after the representative told me that the categories were put together by very wise people that new what they were doing and weren’t interested in my thoughts on the subject.

b. After my first 18 month subscription was supposed to expire ( a few years back), I was surprised to see it auto renew without my authorization. Audible continued to renew and charge my credit card. Apparently tucked away in the fine print was a clause that stated that I need to to sign and mail a request to cancel in the blood of my first born. I didn’t want to cancel at the time, but was offended and surprised by the auto renew option, and then the poor responses I received when I attempted to inquire about it.

c. . A year later, I had many amusing discussions with telemarketers informing me that I needed to provide an updated expiration date for my credit card so that they could auto renew (without my consent) the monthly subscription. I used a tag line out of Office Space and replied that I like to see these things work themselves out naturally, referring to the laid off worker that had not been informed but whom would no longer receive a pay check. It eventually stopped and I didn’t have to scratch my first born too badly.

These are some pretty negative Items, but no one does it better yet!

It would be real easy to fix these items. First, start with customer facing and customer service. Customers should can get through to people today, but shouldn’t have to deal with customer service reps with negative attitudes. This is business 101 stuff.

Second, redraft the agreement policies. Audible despite their 2005 loss, is not fighting an internet guerilla campaign for survival like they were 6 years ago. They do not have to trick customers into staying and don’t need to strong arm them away from ending a subscription.

Third, GET MORE BOOKS! This doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems. Donald Katz kind of gets it, he’s chasing after Pod casters to source more audible content from the Gutenberg project. This is great, having Dumas works on audible would be fantastic, just make sure they are all recorded, every last book and publication. He’s also encouraging amateurs to record books as well. That’s great howdy do, I might even give it a go some day myself, but not in the near future.

Problem is Katz is missing a major segment of authors and books. He has recent bestsellers, he has staff picks, he even picks up a random assortment of a few other authors and may or may not still have a deal with Recorded Books (if you know the status of this please post a comment). There is a massive catalog of books that are still copyrighted and not in the public domain, but not recorded in audible format. Some of these books were published this year, last year, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 25 & 50 or more. But you can’t get them on Audible. Some are on Recorded books or Books on Tape, but you can’t get them on Audible.

Katz needs to focus on the abundance of materials that haven’t been recorded yet. If I read a work by an Author that’s a best seller, lets say Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon or even Snow Crash, which is incredible on Audio format, I might get hooked on this author. I might want to read everything he ever wrote and listen to it.

I can get Diamond age, but the Baroque cycle which will break your arm to read in print, isn’t there yet. Neither is some of Neil’s earlier works like Zodiac. Now Zodiac wasn’t a giant success like Cryptonomicon was, but so what. Everyone has to start somewhere, and once they break through, sometimes people like to go back and read and figure out what they have been missing. Audible could pick up so many more repeat customers that upsell themselves as they get hooked on an author, but they just leave a void open.

Audible needs to rapidly come to terms with publishing houses, authors and owners of copyrights to establish a recorded book blitzkrieg. They need to engage in a mad rush to record every book ever written and get it into digital format. They are operating in a closed system where they view themselves as a book rental club like Talking Book World, and they are missing the fact that they can reach anyone, anywhere in the world internet access and a credit card. The world has a very wide range of tastes in books. Books that are out of print are ripe for the picking.

Just think of the work that movie studios have performed to release DVD versions of old movies, digitally remastered. Do you really think that the Movie studios thought they would make any money off of re-runs of The Three Stooges again before the digital age arrived? Well now they are and can continue to do so for 50-100 years to come. Books are no different, the writings of Ayn Rand, or Isaac Asimov or biographies or anything can be put into digital form and made available.

Now the size of the market demand may not justify the biggest names in ‘the spoken word’ but people have to start somewhere, and we’d take a less experienced reader if it got the book into digital content. After all not everyone can rival some of the actors that read for some of the more popular characters or series. Sometimes the actors make the book twice as good as it is in print, like Janet Evanovich’s series or David Lee Burke’s.

Audible has the ability to provide accessibility and ease of use. Performance is important but not as important as being there. After a book has been download a few thousand times, maybe a portion of the revenue can go towards improving the offering with a better actor. The lesser actor’s work can be downloaded at a discount and the better actor sold at a premium.

I love audible because they have potential. I hate Audible because they disappoint us so often.

I want to see them succeed and break out of this cycle of mediocrity.

Business 2.0: Audible cranks it up – Feb. 22, 2006