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Last week while I was at Gnomedex Audible announced that they’re supporting the podcast way of delivering some of their content, in other words you can add a url (RSS feed) to a podcasting application and the stuff you buy on Audible will get sent to your computer/music player just like all the free podcasts you subscribe to. The press covered this, but no one ever actually tries all this out, but I do! I like Audible, I’ve been a customer forever it seems. So here’s how it all works, the good, the bad and the how to for some other things…Some have been a bit down on Audible lately. But maybe that’ll change soon.

Forbes: Last week’s biggest loser in our index was Audible.com (nasdaq: ADBLnews - >people ), which fell 14.1% to close the week at $14.48. The company makes technology that allows spoken words (books, newspapers, magazines and radio programs) to be downloaded from the Web and stored on a computer or portable player. In late May, S&P Equity Research reiterated its “sell” rating, saying the company would be negatively affected by the growing popularity of podcasting, where computer users download (often for free) radio and spoken-word programs. Audible’s service costs up to $12.95 per month.

I think they’ve been a bit slow to react to the podcasting wave, but their new feature is a good start. Here’s their press release of what they announced at Gnomedex (which was a great place to do). I do have some ideas for them in this article. But, from the press release- it sounds like they’re working on a lot of tools.

So, now that I’ve tried the RSS delivery- the new podcast distribution is really a good way to distribute pay-for content via RSS. When I spoke at Apple’s WWDC about podcasting many people want and need a way to deliver secure (and fee based) audio. There’s a University and Business play here for Audible if they pursue it quickly. Again, I bet they’re looking at that.

Some content producers like NPR have started to take their audio out and give it away for free (Science Friday for example has a Podcast feed) but there are many others still in Audible and worth buying. I’m a science geek, and they have enough books and periodicals for me. That said, almost all of my audio consumption is now free science and tech programming and maybe one audio book or science program I pay for. I wonder if more or less content will be fee based now.

Here’s what you can pay for and get via RSS (podcast) right now…

The periodic content distributed by Audible today includes world-class programming such as: BBC News Hour, Car Talk, Charlie Rose, C-SPAN, Fast Company, Forbes Magazine, Fresh Air, JazzTimes, Harvard Business Review, Latino USA, Marketplace, MSNBC, News from Lake Wobegon, Scientific American, Science News, Technology Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The World, This American Life, and To the Best of Our Knowledge.

On to the process, it’s really easy- and then we hit DRM land at the end, nothing new there- Audible has always DRM’ed their files.

Screenshot 01-8
The home page of Audible.com, I’m usually logged in.

Screenshot 02-4
There’s a new section about podcasting. They explain what it is and what types of content (magazines, radio and newspapers) – the stuff that you can pay for and it gets updated on a regular basis.

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I was waiting to buy Science news weekly until today so I could document this all.

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Add to cart, simple.

Screenshot 05-2
I had a credit, so this didn’t cost me anything.

Screenshot 06-3
The Library has your stuff, the the pre-RSS days you could download it to iTunes or to the Audible player (PC).

Screenshot 07-2
Listing of files.

Screenshot 08-2
The new podcast section has the special URL / RSS feed that you copy and paste to add to your podcast fetcher.

Ideally I could mix and mash my other feeds, perhaps use OPML to manage all my feeds. This is what I think Audible could have done starting late last year. If they could have been the place for all thing audio (fee and free) they’d have a lot of customers using their site to discover podcasts and perhaps buy content. For example, if you look at my free podcast feeds, it’s obvious that you should try and “suggest” Amazon-style that I might want to buy the latest physics book from Brian Greene or something techy. That’s a useful service. Maybe even allow me to get a free chapter to listen to. Make a branded version of iPodder (it’s open) with all sorts of great things for customers…If they have the cash, just buy ODEO once it comes out and add audible content on the fee side.

Ok, back to the feeding….

Screenshot 09-2
Here I am in iPodder 2.1 adding the feed (on my Mac, PC works the same).

Screenshot 10-2
Here’s the listing it received, same as the Library- it worked.

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I checked off the latest show and downloaded it.

And that’s it, I could listen to it on my computer and/or transfer to an iPod. But, let’s look at the file.

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I have the files set to go to a folder on my computer. The file is an AA file, it’s a protected file and can only be played in software that verifies a username and password from Audible- more on that in a bit.

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The name of the file has my name PhilTorrone and that it was sent via RSS. That’s kinda neat. To me, that’s all the DRM needed. If someone is going to remove the protection on a file, it’s the same about the same amount of effort for me as changing a file name or extension.

Screenshot 14
Here is the info from iTunes, the owner is also my name.

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Now on to some bad news for folks like me. You can’t convert the file you bought to MP3. Since I have a ton of devices that support MP3, but not AA, I’m out of luck. You can burn the file to a CD, but from what I’ve read, you can only do that once. I tend to think the type of customer who buy audio over the web is pretty good with computers and if they have many computers, MP3 playing phones, etc…

There are, or “were” programs to convert the AA format to MP3, but it seems like Audible went after them? Here’s a post about that. Seems like Riverpast’s audio converter used to do this.

Image1-6
For kicks I put the file on my PC and tried to open it in iTunes. I could if I used my log in and password- I think there is a limit to the total number of computers. I can’t risk or remember which ones, plus I’d like to have my wife listen to this file too and we have different accounts. Surely it’s ok to lend a spouse a book, a cd, an audio file?

Screenshot 16
One solution, if I really needed a MP3 version of the file- I can use a tool like WireTap Pro or record the audio to a MP3, it has a schedule option so I could set it to do it while I am not around. There are audio recorders for all platforms and you could also just plug in a line from a music player to a sound card and record too.

And that’s it. For some this might work out, and the DRM doesn’t seem like a restriction. But like I said, the file name and meta information have my name on it- to me the barrier of “freeing” my file to MP3 and changing that are about the same.

Overall, the service is great, the delivery all worked out. I’m looking forward to what else Audible does with RSS and audio in the free and free space.

Here are some things I’d like to see…(some of this is from an old email I had sent them, forgive the lower case)

=my audible list (posting)=
i’d like to be able to publish what audible books i listen to on my web site, many sites have “what’s i’m reading, what i’m listening to, etc..” you could provide javascript that would do this for the user that they could add to their blog with links to the audio. perhaps an affiliate program later. flickr has a photo badge, etc…

=my audible list (sharing)=
i’d like other to be able to add audible books to a que or list, i’d also like to be able to add ones easily, sorta like netflix. then later i’ll check them out and maybe buy them. if i could share and exchange my list with others. or just make a list of ones i think are interesting, i could publish them, likely via rss. “pt’s picks on physics”. your wish list is somewhat like that, but this is a little more community oriented i think.

=enclosures with previews=
i had mentioned this before, and i suspect you’re on it- but adding enclosures with audio snippets on the feeds you have now would be a welcome addition. perhaps you send out author interviews in mp3, since they’re free now. Audible has RSS feeds here:
http://www.audible.com/adbl/store/rssFeed.jsp

if you do this, i would suggest a branded ipodder, that way people can just download it on mac/pc and use, no feeds to add just an install. more about that here:
http://www.ipodderlemonstore.com/

=excerpts for podcasters=
this is a viral type idea, if i had access to snippets of audio books i liked, i’d play them on my audio show. for make:audio, it would likely be something from sci am, science friday, one of brian greene’s books when i was listening to those. you’d likely need to work out the arrangements with the publishers, but i think having that available (short segments) would get you inserted in to podcasts along with driving some sales. i would likely play a minute or so of a good exchange of science friday and encourage people to go subscribe. i suppose you could also just sponsor our show, or any podcast show too, but this is another way. perhaps affiliate codes could be given out. maybe mashups of book readings and creative commons music…

=orb=
check out
www.orb.com they allow you to stream any content from your home pc to any device you have. i download podcasts and stream them to my phone. you could offer up an audible “channel” with them so anyone can listen to some books. no one will listen to an entire spoken word book from their phone, device, or whatever- but it would be neat to get a preview. good exposure to a narrow target likely to buy (this type of content). if you need more info on this i can show you how i use it.

Feel free to post up in the comments if you have other ideas, or questions about the service.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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