I’ve been trying to get through the audiobook of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I bought a copy from Audible several years ago, with Joe Morton narrating. (I don’t remember why I bought it. It might have been free, or on sale for 99 cents or something.) I started listening to it in June, as part of my Great American Read Goodreads group. It was going fine, but some time in mid-June the Audible iOS app started crashing on me. It would work for maybe 30 seconds, then crash. I contacted Audible support about it on Twitter, and they said it was a known issue and they were working on it. A month later, though, the app is still crashing on me. The Audible app on my iPad still works, though, so I’ve been using that to listen to it. It’s a little inconvenient, but not really a problem.
So the point of this blog post isn’t to complain about Audible, but rather to discuss some of the alternative ways of listening to Audible books that I found while trying to work around my little problem. I thought a few of them were interesting, and the whole topic ties back to my post on iOS audiobook players from 2015. That post was mostly about DRM-free audiobooks. For Audible, I assumed that their files would be DRM’d and not really usable outside of the official app, but it turns out that there are a lot of options.
First, there’s a page on the Audible web site listing most of the ways you can listen to their books. One thing I noticed right away is that it’s still possible to link iTunes and Audible and listen to your Audible books in the Apple Books app. (A long time ago, this was the main official way of listening to Audible books. You’d link your iTunes account to Audible, download the books, and then sync them to your iPod. This was before Apple started selling audiobooks themselves, and before iOS apps were a thing.) So I went ahead and did that, but, as you can see in my screenshot, the version that comes down to iTunes is broken up into chapters differently from the Audible version, and the chapters aren’t labelled in any way that would let me figure out where I left off in the official Audible app. (I also brought up the iTunes version in Undulib on my iPhone, and that worked and at least showed the chapter numbers. But there are about 150 “chapters” in the iTunes version and 25 chapters in the actual book, so having those numbers doesn’t really help.) So, anyway, pulling Audible books into iTunes is probably a reasonable thing to do if you haven’t already started the book and need to figure out where you left off. But the Apple Books app is also probably less user-friendly than the Audible app, so there’s no real reason to do that, unless you’re unable to use the Audible app for some reason.
Another possibility I stumbled across is OpenAudible. This is a shareware product that lets you download books from Audible and convert them to MP3 or M4A. I initially thought that this meant that they were working around DRM somehow, but, going back to the Audible site, I see that they do apparently support downloading their books in MP3 format and transferring them to a generic MP3 player, via an app called AudibleSync. So I guess that OpenAudible is probably just taking advantage of whatever mechanism AudibleSync uses. So maybe it’s not doing anything too shady. (I haven’t tried it.)
Finally, I realized today that I also own a Kindle version of Invisible Man, so downloading that to the Kindle app on my iPhone would let me also download the Audible version and listen to it that way, with the Audible Narration feature. I will probably give that a shot, as the Kindle app seems to know where I left off, and I guess that would let me go back to listening to it on my iPhone.
I don’t have an Audible subscription, but I do own about a dozen Audible books, most of which were either free or bought on sale for a buck or two. (And I haven’t listened to most of them.) So if I can’t ever get the Audible app working on my phone again, at least I now have some other options!