Digital audio books are entering new turf, as Audible.com announces future compatibility with Iomega’s HipZip digital audio player. It’s just the latest player on a slow-growing list of products that let you listen to your favourite book anywhere, anytime.
The Audible.com service isn’t new–the site opened for business in 1997. But the Iomega support, plus plans to reach other popular MP3 players, means it’s becoming easier to move digital audio books to portable devices, says Guy Story, chief scientist at Audible.com.
Now, you can download or stream content from the site to run on your PC, using plug-ins for Windows Media Player and Real Player, Story says. Portable devices that run Audible.com content include several Pocket PCs, the Diamond Rio 500 and 600, the Franklin eBookman, the Philips Rush, and the Digisette Duo (for use in cassette players). Free downloadable upgrades for popular MP3 players such as the Rio 600 and 800 are coming soon, he says.
Iomega’s HipZip is a particularly good fit for Audible.com’s content because it has removable storage, says Chris Romoser, an Iomega spokesperson. By midyear, new players will include the necessary software and firmware upgrades; current owners will be able to download the necessary upgrades from the Internet, he says.
The HipZip reads data from Pocket Zip disks, which cost about $10 for 40MB, substantially less than comparable-size flash media, Romoser says.
“Add the value of the Pocket Zip media in the HipZip, and you can easily create a large digital audio library,” he says.
A Range of Quantity, Quality
You can download Audible.com content in four different formats, numbered 1 through 4. Type 1 offers the greatest compression, which means lower audio quality but smaller file sizes for fast downloads and small hard drives. Type 4 is basically a standard MP3, producing the highest quality but the largest file sizes, he says.
So, for example, an hour of material in format 1 needs about 2MB of space; the same file in format 4 requires about 14MB. A short book can run 10 to 12 hours, and a long one can go 25 hours, he says. Today’s average MP3 player comes with 32MB or 64MB of built-in storage. Some, like the HipZip, offer removable storage.
The content you download from Audible.com has the company’s digital-rights-management protection to make sure buyers don’t make unlimited copies of it, Story says. Right now users can use the content on up to two “activated” PCs and portable devices, he says. The protection will let you create a copy of the content on CD-ROM, for example, but you’d have to play it on your activated PC–it won’t work on somebody else’s computer.
More Than Books
Audible.com offers a variety of content. It has standard recordings of best-selling audio books as well as some original book recordings, and offers numerous other audio products. For example, you can download readings from a long list of daily newspapers. Or you can pick up current radio broadcasts, such as National Public Radio, and site-specific selections such as AudibleProops, the comedy of Greg Proops.
While Audible.com offers a handful of free downloads to whet consumer appetites, it markets content subscriptions. A “light reader” can access two books monthly for $9.95. A “heavy reader” can listen to up to five books each month and have unlimited access to newspaper and other services for $29.95. Subscriptions to specific newspapers or other packages cost $49.95 yearly.
The site also sells some of the hardware that makes its content more mobile. You might pick up a good deal buying a portable player bundled with a subscription. For example, the Rio 500, typically priced about $250, can be had at Audible.com for $99 if you also subscribe to the service.
While you can listen to books on your PC, from the beginning Audible.com has been about making digital audio content more mobile, Story says. The slow adoption of mobile MP3 players has hindered the medium’s growth, but the company now expects accelerated interest. Now that the handful of devices that play digital audio books is increasing, it may be easier–and more common–to listen to books on the run, he says.