Audible’s Technical Issues Aren’t a Curse of Amazon’s Monopoly, But an Opportunity

4952064559_8a9a953986_oWhile it’s customary to gripe about the terrible service offered by a monopoly, some forget that a monopoly, especially a digital monopoly, is not nearly the sinecure that they assume.

Dr Joshua Kim has been blogging over at Inside Higher Ed, where he’s been using his podium to rail against Amazon. Kim is a Kindle and Audible customer, and over the past couple months he’s complained about Audible’s technical issues, the lack of Whispersync enabled ebook/audiobook pairs, and, just yesterday, how Amazon’s monopoly on ebooks/audiobooks is harming consumers (more Audible technical issues again).

This time around he’s having trouble buying audiobooks. While he did get his money back, he’s annoyed because he would rather have the book.

While I would normally support and work to amplify a consumer’s complaints so they will get fixed faster, Kim’s screed took a turn for the myopic:

Before I dive into the problem (which you really won’t care about anyway), a word on why it is important to pick on Audible whenever possible.

The reason: Amazon. Or more precisely, Amazon’s dominance of the digital book ecosystem.

Amazon owns Audible. Between the Kindle e-readers / books and the Audible audiobooks – Amazon owns a de facto monopoly on the digital book market. Mostly, the consumer seems to have benefited from this digital book monopoly. New books can be had cheaper than ever before. The number of audiobook titles is growing quickly. Whispersync, the name for the Amazon technology that seamlessly syncs up Kindle and Audible books, is just wonderful. (Although far too few titles are Whispersync enabled).

Amazon may dominate the digital book market, but that is because all of the other options are terrible. Apple and Google don’t care to offer a competitive service, B&N has given up, and Kobo, well, the best thing you can say about Kobo’s ebook service is that they make decent hardware.

And as for audiobooks, if Audible is really so terrible then Amazon’s dominance of audiobooks is not a problem so much as it is an opportunity for someone to come along and displace Audible.

Disruption happens, even to Amazon.

Before Amazon came along the chain big box book retailers disrupted indies by offering better selections at better prices – with better service.

And then, later, Amazon became one of the major book retailers because they could offer better prices and a larger selection than any previous bookseller. Similarly, the Kindle platform won the market because the existing ebook options were terrible, prices were high, and the list of available titles shorter than a teen’s attention span.

In the case of audiobooks, the selection is already there. Kim just needs someone to provide a better service than Amazon, and based on his complaints there is certainly room for improvement.

If you don’t think that Amazon can be disrupted,  I would remind you that there was a time that Barnes & Noble and Borders didn’t think they could be displaced from their dominant position in bookselling.

Look where they are now, and tell me again that Amazon can’t be replaced.

images by get directly down,

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. fjtorres27 July, 2015

    Jet got people to fund them based on the idea that they could at least compete against them. MS, IBM, and Google aren’t rolling over and playing dead for Amazon. Neither are Walmart, Kmart, or Target.

    It is only in the hidebound publishing world that Amazon is puffed up as an indestructible monster. But that’s because it’s easier to whine and hooe some stupid politician helps you out than adapting to reality.

  2. Barry Marks27 July, 2015

    Before I got my Kindle I was a pretty avid audiobook listener, even long before Audible came along. I was one of Audible’s early customers and they were a strange sort of company. Their people, like Amazon’s people, would bend over backwards to give good service. Until Amazon came along I thought Audible gave the best customer service I’d ever seen.

    But from the very beginning they were plagued with technical problems. I’m a retired developer and even though these days I’m very out of date, I know klutzy development when I see it. Audible’s website was always clumsy and often didn’t work well. Their PC program was a nightmare. I used both regularly for a lot of years and I have to give them credit for trying. They worked and worked and worked on it and it just got worse and worse and worse.

    I got my first Kindle , a Kindle 3, when they first came out and I haven’t listened to an audiobook since. But up till then they were always a technical nightmare. Their current issues, whatever they might be, are nothing new and they began long before Amazon purchased them.

    I’ve participated in a Yahoo group for blind Audible users for 10 or 15 years. I’m not blind. I just give a little tech support now and then. But I read their posts and from what I’ve been reading recently nothing has really changed. Audible are as klutzy as ever.

    The contrast between their sloppy systems and the quality of their support is pretty dramatic. When customers need support they get it and they get it fast and it’s probably even more thorough than Amazon’s, since Audible can connect to people’s PC’s and help them with problems. Their people are courteous and gracious and know what they’re doing. If only they had developers who knew something about technology. 🙂

    None of this has anything to do with Amazon. It was true long before Amazon got involved. My guess is that they’re left alone to run things their own way. I’m just guessing of course, but I bet I’m right.


    1. fjtorres28 July, 2015

      Your guess is probably accurate.
      Bezos has repeatedly stated that the various units in the Amazon empire operate independently of each other, both the acquired ones (like Zappos, Audible, etc) and the in-house units (Kindle hardware vs KDP) with each having to show profits or justify the lack thereof. (Should come in handy if anybody in power ever takes the whiners seriously.)

      Presumably if the Audible issues ever get serious enough, their managers will get a “question mark” notice and a briefing with Bezos.

  3. Audible’s Technical Issues Aren’t a Curse of Amazon’s Monopoly, But an Opportunity | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing28 July, 2015

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  4. Tymber Dalton28 July, 2015

    I think Amazon will absolutely continue to dominate–and rightfully so since no one else has really challenged them–until they dilute themselves so thoroughly that they lose sight of the goal of customer satisfaction in any given area and a disrupter comes along.

    ANYONE, literally, can come along and sell e-books alongside Amazon. That’s why the monopoly argument is so ludicrous. But when you tell people to put their money where their mouth is, they shut up and fade away.

    The problem is that no one has come along, looked at where Amazon excels, looked at its weaknesses, and decided to put venture capital into exploiting the best of worlds to make a better buggy whip, so to speak, and out-do Amazon on e-books (or audiobooks, in this case).

    The problem is, everyone would rather whine about it because they’re intimidated by Amazon. Just look at the ‘Zon’s existing “competition” and see how they’re getting ground into the dirt on a daily basis. Someone has to be willing to risk a LOT of money, for the long-haul, to make a serious dent in Amazon’s e-book/audiobook market. It won’t happen overnight, and they’ll have to be willing to dig in and keep at it for several years’ worth of losses at the start until people realize they are going to hang in there and people start to take them seriously.

    But whining about Amazon’s “monopoly” is just pointless and ignorant and a waste of time and pixels.

  5. […] authors are dissatisfied with the current audiobook market (consumers are displeased with Audible's technical problems, but that's nothing compared to how authors feel about the supply […]


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