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If Amazon is DRM-Agnostic Then Why Do They Still Insist on DRM on Audiobooks?

6889241086_daf439e6b7[1]Jeff Bezos is back in the news again today with the launch of the new Kindle Fire tablets. He’s been giving a lot of interviews, and one statement he made in one particular interview caught my eye.

PC Magazine published an interview in which Mr. Bezos said that Amazon only uses DRM because publishers insist on it:

Amazon would be happy to sell more media without restrictions, but Bezos said he doesn’t see any trend away from DRM in books or video, even though the music industry largely abandoned DRM starting in 2009.

"We are agnostic to that. We do what the publisher wants. If the rights owner wants DRM, we do DRM. If the rights owner doesn’t want DRM, we don’t do DRM," he said.

It’s certainly true that Amazon lets authors and publishers choose whether to add DRM to the ebooks sold in the Kindle Store, so I’ll give Amazon credit for that.

But it’s not quite accurate to say that Amazon is DRM-agnostic. Audible, the audiobook subsidiary Amazon bought in 2008, requires that audiobooks use DRM:

Audible audio files cannot be converted to MP3 or any other file format because of security technologies used to protect both the intellectual property rights of our Content Providers as well as the Authors.

Additionally, Audible announced that it is working to provide an option of DRM-free spoken word audio titles on for content owners and publishers who prefer this method. We currently do not have an implementation date.

I have reached out to Amazon and asked them to clarify this issue, but I have not received a response. So at this point all we have to go on is Audible’s own FAQ, which clearly contradicts Jeff Bezos' statement.

Audible justifies their policy with the statement that their proprietary audiobook format was required to provide the best listening experience for customers. This might be true, but it’s also not relevant to the fact that, so far as I know, Audible doesn’t give creators the option of not using DRM. And that same policy applies to audiobooks sold on the Amazon website, so it’s not like Amazon can claim that a subsidiary was making different decisions.

There’s no technical reason that Audible can’t offer the option; conversion would be required to produce an MP3 file but that is a relatively straightforward issue. And it is also one that has already been solved by the developers of several audiobook DRM-stripping tools. If Amazon cannot match the skills of those outside developers then perhaps Amazon should hire them.

image by Modern Relics

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Tracey September 26, 2013 um 1:50 pm

As you’ve stated, Audible is a subsidiary of Amazon. Subsidiary != Same Company. Even departments within Amazon can function with different rules (like Amazon Wireless). Audible is also NOT the publisher of the content, they are a reseller. As Amazon states, DRM is up to the publisher whose rights they respect. If the publisher wants DRM, then they get it.

Nate Hoffelder September 26, 2013 um 4:16 pm

One problem with saying that they are separate companies is that Audible is closely integrated into the Kindle platform. Also, the 2 sites use the same account management and payment processing systems. On a technical level (and as far as customers are concerned) Audible is no more a separate company than KDP.

Tracey September 26, 2013 um 4:28 pm

Yes, they do use the same things but again, it’s still separate. Audible is STILL respecting the rights of the publisher by having DRM.

Why are we asking Bezos these questions when we should be asking publishers why THEY want DRM on items? It’s not Bezos that has the issue, it’s not Amazon, and it’s not Audible. It’s the publishers.

fjtorres September 26, 2013 um 5:44 pm

Nate, you know the Amazon empire includes a lot of companies that they bought to use their tech but otherwise continue to operate as independent companies with the same management as before. Lots of companies do this.

Unless you have evidence that Bezos removed the Audible managers or is pulling their strings, we have to assume Audible remains an independent entity, since they are now doing what they were doing before. It’s not as if they added DRM *after* Amazon bought them.

Nate Hoffelder September 26, 2013 um 6:02 pm

Yes, and now Amazon is using Audible tech to sell audiobooks via much like they used Mobipocket tech to sell Kindle ebooks. The audiobooks are even listed with other content (apps, ebooks, etc) on the Manage My Kindle page.

But is Amazon giving publishers the option of selling DRM-free audiobooks on (other than in the music section)? Not that I can tell.

fjtorres September 26, 2013 um 7:32 pm

Again, the *Audible* business model requires DRM and has since *before* Amazon bought them out. The most you can verifiably say is Bezos has not overruled them. Why? That would be for Bezos to know and us to speculate.
Failure to overrule is not the same thing as "insisting".

Chad Butler September 26, 2013 um 1:55 pm

I read this in feedly and popped over to leave a comment but Tracey beat me to it. While I agree with you in concept, Nate, Bezos has you on a technicality. A subsidiary company is not necessarily bound by his statement about Amazon. You would need an example specific to the parent to substantiate your gripe.

Brian September 26, 2013 um 5:13 pm

Amazon also owns Brilliance Audio who offers many of their titles as DRM-free MP3’s.

I thought I’d read something about how Audible was going to be offering DRM free options back when ACX was launched, but can’t find it at the moment.

Nate Hoffelder September 26, 2013 um 7:06 pm

And what do you know, a couple of the audiobooks I got from Amazon were made by Brilliance. Amazon’s not even distributing their own content DRM-free.

Cory Doctorow Audiobooks Now Available via – The Digital Reader November 18, 2013 um 5:38 pm

[…] This stance on DRM is why you can’t find his audiobooks on Audible/Amazon. In spite of Amazon’s protestations, they still require DRM on audiobooks. […]

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