Recently a friend asked me a question about my Audible membership that gave me pause. the question was simple enough, “Is your Audible membership worth the money?” The truth is that I couldn’t honestly answer in the moment but I did take some time to parse out the issues that make the value of an Audible membership questionable and I’ll share those issues with you in this post.
The first thing to know is that Audible is owned by Amazon.com and that’s meaningful because Amazon uses Audible to power some of it’s offerings that are separate from any membership you may purchase at Audible. You can log in to Audible with your Amazon account information and utilize forms of payment at Audible that you have stored on Amazon. Even though all of your Amazon information is available to Audible you must log in to Audible from the Audible website itself in order to buy audiobooks.
Where things get a little more confusing comes once you’ve activated your Audible account. An Audible account allows you to purchase audiobooks and download them to Audible’s various apps that are available on Android, iOS and the Kindle Fire OS. An account is different from a membership which involves an ongoing monthly payment to Audible in exchange for Audible credits and discounts on the price of e-books from the regular non-member prices. I have a Gold membership that initially cost $7.49 per month and then escalated to $16 (with tax) per month. Each month Audible charges me the $16 and I get a credit added to my account that I can exchange for an audiobook.
As a Member of Audible when I browse for audiobooks I have the option of paying with a credit or purchasing at the special discounted Member price. What I’ve found is that much of the time the Member price of the audiobook is less than the cost of the credits that I’m paying for. While it might seem to be a good deal to just pay the lesser price I’ve already paid for the credits so it doesn’t seem to make sense to me to continue racking up credits while also paying separately for audiobooks. What makes this dilemma even more tricky is the fact that you can only get the discounted price if you’re paying the monthly fees. I only listen to about one audiobook per month so I don’t really get any extra benefit from the Member discounted price. People who buy two or more audiobooks per month would certainly benefit from this deal.
If the situation above were the only way to get Audible audiobooks the answer to the question I’m posing here would be very simple. An Audible membership is worth it if you purchase two or more audiobooks per month. Alas, there are other ways to get audiobooks from Audible without an Audible membership and that’s via Amazon.
You see Amazon has a pair of offerings, Whispersync for Voice and Kindle Unlimited, that provide Amazon customers with access to Audible audiobooks without the need for an Audible membership. With Kindle Unlimited you pay a flat monthly fee ($9.99 at the present time) and this gives you access to over 700,000 (at this time) Kindle books and “thousands” of audiobooks. Whether or not the audiobooks from Audible that you want to listen to are available via Kindle Unlimited is questionable so it’s hard to say whether Kindle Unlimited is a better deal than an Audible membership. That leaves Whispersync for Voice as the other alternative.
Whispersync for Voice appears to me to be the more compelling option with respect to replacing an Audible membership. Recently while considering purchasing and audiobook with one of my Audible credits I decided to search Amazon to see if a Kindle version was available. The Kindle version was available for $7.49 and the audio add-on was available for an additional $3.49. With this deal the combined price of the Kindle book and the audiobook were just a few cents more than Audible’s discounted Member price for the audiobook alone, and about $5 less than what I had paid for that month’s Audible credit.
The caveat to the Whispersync for Voice option is that many Kindle books do not have the audio add-on option. For the ones that do when you purchase the voice add on the audiobook shows up in your Audible app just like any other audiobook that you purchase from Audible. The next trick that Amazon does when you choose this option is that they sync your last position between the audio and Kindle versions so you can pick up where you left off from either form of the book. And if you read your Kindle books via an Android device or a Kindle Fire tablet you also get the benefit of immersion reading where the audiobook is read to you as you read the book.
Going back to the original question of whether or not an Audible membership is worth it, I have to say it depends. If you plan on listening to two or more audiobooks per month and don’t care about the Kindle versions then you’ll probably be satisfied. As a person who likes to read and listen I’m very conflicted regarding the value of the Audible membership. Having considered these issues I’ve also come to realize other things that I think are more important than the issue of whether or not an Audible membership is a good value.
First, Amazon’s overall integration with Audible is clunky and confusing. Second, the options for purchasing audiobooks are (probably purposefully) vague and I think this leads people to spend more money than they actually need to in order to listen to the audiobooks they want. Finally, the DRM associated with audiobooks is arcane – a throwback to how digital music was protected five years ago – and is surely hurting sales of audiobooks. I seen a ton of room for Amazon to improve in the area of audiobooks, but I don’t think that these particular issues will be solved anytime soon. My suspicion is that Amazon is hamstrung by the equally arcane licensing requirements of the major book publishers and that informs my pessimistic view regarding possible near-term improvements in the audiobook market.