Every year, when it comes time to renew memberships and subscriptions to various online services, I sit down and re-evaluate if they are still worth the amount of money that I am spending. It is relatively rare that something gets added to the yearly subscription list, and even rarer when a service gets removed. I’ve also found that, year after year, there have been a collection of services that I haven’t even considered removing. And up until this year, Audible was one of those services…

Let me begin by stating for the record that I was a fairly active Audible user. I’ve been a subscriber since August 2012, and a quick perusal of my purchase history shows that I was buying well over 12 books a year on the site. In both 2017 and 2018 I listened to 15 books on Audible, and while I don’t have good records from the years prior, it is safe to estimate that the trend continues. In fact, I’ve already completed 4 Audible books in 2019 alone. Clearly it is a beneficial service for me, right? So why would I consider cancelling my subscription?

#1: I don’t actually own the books I’m buying on Audible Link to heading

This singular point has been bothering me for a number of years. The books that I purchase through Audible are protected by DRM, and therefore are not available for me to download and store on my own servers, or listen to without using Amazon’s apps and/or website. I don’t actually “own” any of the audiobooks I’ve purchased. It’s more like a per-book rental. I can listen to them as much as I want, but if Audible ever goes away, so do my purchases. This is the same problem I have with purchasing e-books, movies or music on services like iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon: you don’t actually own what you’ve bought. It’s not the same as purchasing a physical book, a CD, or a Blu-ray Disk. There is a part of me that prefers to actually own what I’m purchasing, if possible. There are, of course, ways to strip the DRM from an Audible book (which is illegal, and therefore not an option for me), and there are also stores that sell DRM-free audiobooks, but at a much higher premium (which I am unwilling to pay).

#2: I don’t get as much out of audiobooks as I do physical books Link to heading

I’ve read articles commenting on the downsides of audiobooks, but until recently I ignored them. Some of the arguments I’ve seen are that you can’t take notes or mark passages that you really like, which always seemed bizarre to me: why would I mark up a perfectly good book? The book won’t look as nice if I write in it! But you know what? The authors of those articles had a point. Recently, I’ve started to read more physical books again, and when I come across something interesting, or a point I want to be able to easily find again, I mark it. Not only is it useful (I’ve already found myself thumbing through a book to find a section I underlined, which would have taken much more time had I left the book pristine), but why worry about keeping the book in perfect condition? I bought it. I own it. Why not use it to meet my needs?

#3: Audiobooks have limited re-readability (or re-listenability) Link to heading

In some ways, this goes along with Reason #2. Audiobooks are great for listening to as entertainment, but sometimes I want to go back and re-read a passage. It’s VERY hard to go back and listen to a specific part of an audiobook. I’ve done it, but it’s not nearly as easy as walking to my bookshelf, grabbing the book, and quickly flipping to the section I want to re-read. There are ways to add bookmarks to an Audible audiobook, but even then, it’s not nearly as easy in my opinion.

#4: It’s too easy to multi-task with audiobooks Link to heading

A lot of my recent reading has been devoted to the study of deep work (a term coined by Cal Newport, who also wrote a book by the same title), and minimizing the amount of time I spend idly and distractedly doing things in my life. In this, I noticed that listening to audiobooks was something that I almost always did while multi-tasking. I never just sat and listened to a book. Instead, I worked around the house, or drove (I used audiobooks a lot while traveling), or even sometimes began working on small tasks at my computer. I was never fully focused on what I was listening to, nor was I fully focused on what I was doing. This often meant that I only gleaned some of the information from the audiobook, or could recall only parts of the stories I was listening to. In direct contrast, reading a physical book requires concentration, and it is much harder to multi-task while reading. And by marking passages that stand out to me, and taking my time reading through the book, I tend to learn more.

So, where does all of that leave me? For now, I’ve opted not to renew my Audible subscription. I can still listen to the audiobooks I’ve purchased previously, if I choose. But for now, I am devoting my reading time primarily to physical books. I will definitely re-examine my choice the next time I take a longer trip, and may find that it makes sense to listen to audiobooks then. However, I have a large collection of audiobooks that I have not yet started, and I suspect I may find other things to fill my time and thoughts with as well.