How Audible steals from creators (an Audible exclusive)
The only part of “Chokepoint Capitalism” available on Audible.
If you listen to audiobooks, chances are you get them on Audible, Amazon’s monopoly platform with a 90+% market-share in many genres. But my books aren’t for sale there, even though that means foregoing the majority of the market. I explain why in a chapter of “Chokepoint Capitalism,” my forthcoming book, co-authored with Rebecca Giblin.
Audible is a classic “chokepoint capitalism” story — that is, it’s a story about a company that has corralled an audience inside some kind of walled garden, and used its control over the audience to demand greater and greater concessions from the creators who want to reach them, eventually abandoning all pretense of fairness and literally stealing from creators.
In Audible’s case, the walls are made from DRM, or “Digital Rights Management” — this is the “copy protection” system that Audible requires of all creators and publishers who sell on its platform. The company claims that DRM prevents listeners from stealing from creators by making it impossible to share the books they buy.
In reality, though, removing Audible’s DRM is not hard; if you’re a dishonest person who wants to share an Audible title widely, you can figure out how with a couple of quick searches. But while removing DRM is easy, it’s also very, very illegal: under Section 1201 of the DMCA (a 1998 US copyright law), selling someone a DRM-bypass tool is a felony carrying a 5-year sentence and a $500k fine.
. If you’re a rival of Audible, hoping to unseat it, you have to convince potential customers to give up their Audible titles or maintain two separate libraries. You can’t just give them a tool to convert Audible files to MP3s or even another DRM format.
Audible doesn’t give creators a choice about DRM. Whether you’re Penguin Random House Audio (the audio division of the largest publisher in the world) or an independent producer, Audible requires you to use its DRM. This is so transparently abusive that I actually coined “Doctorow’s First Law” to describe it: “Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you, and won’t give you the key, that lock is not for your benefit.”