This is a Question To Which The Answer Might Be Yes, surprisingly, though I’ve not seen *any* mention of this anywhere, so can’t guarantee another explanation…
I’ve long resented the fact that Audible, the Amazon subsidiary, has a near-monopoly on the audiobook market. Not for my own sake — audiobooks aren’t my preferred medium by a long way — but for the sake of my wife, Holly, who’s legally blind and chooses audiobooks wherever possible. We both use GNU/Linux on our laptops, and there’s no Audible player for that, and Holly used to use a Blackberry, and there’s no app for that either. As Audible’s DRM means it can’t be played without the app (except, latterly, through a web browser — but even there only one with proprietary crapware on it.
There’s not even any software for GNU/Linux to break the DRM, so it seemed like a complete write-off to me.
As a liberal, I am of course against private monopolies anyway (especially companies like Amazon, which also seem to be trying to become monopsonies, and especially monopolies of forms of information dissemination), but I’m especially against ones which *stop my wife being able to read books* for no good reason.
But a little while ago, Holly’s Blackberry broke, and she got an Android device instead. Less accessible (touchscreens are almost as bad for blind her as for dyspraxic me), but they do at least have an Audible app for them (neither of us like using non-free software, but we both do when there’s no alternative).
I saw there was a three-month free trial of Audible with my Amazon Prime account, so I signed up for it last month and Holly’s been happily listening to Stephen Fry reading the complete Sherlock Holmes stories (rather sweetly, she says they’re not as good as when I read them to her. I suspect she’s the only person in the world who’d prefer a bloke with a nasal Scouse accent who can’t pronounce the letter “r” properly to Stephen Fry as a narrator though…) — that counted as one book, incidentally, so was the free book just for the first month, all 100 or so hours of it.
Today, while looking through the comments on File770, I noticed someone linking to a free audiobook short story by Ben Aaronovitch, part of his Rivers of London series. It came out yesterday, and is Audible-only (get it here), I got it because I quite like the Rivers books, and I can always listen to it in my web browser, because it’s only twenty-nine minutes, and I’m not going to complain too much about free (to quote from Nez’s Infinite Tuesday, which I reviewed yesterday, “never complain about the air conditioning on a private jet”).
So I got it, and went to the Library section of the Audible website to see how to listen to it in the browser. I saw a “download” link. Just out of interest I thought I’d download the file — if nothing else, I could store the encrypted file until such time as someone *did* write software to crack the encryption.
Being me, I thought “well, as long as I’ve downloaded it, I might as well just see what happens if I try playing it in VLC” — the filename was ARareBookofCunningDeviceUnabridged_mp3[tons of gibberish].aa, so I thought it *might* be just a wrapper round an MP3 file, though that didn’t seem likely given what I know about Audible’s DRM practices.
I tried it, and it Just Worked.
I thought maybe that was because it was a freebie, so I tried the Sherlock Holmes books. They worked too. I have no other books in the Audible account, so I couldn’t check any more (I’ll check when the membership rolls over next week, and see if whatever Holly gets then will download too). I looked online to see if I could find an announcement of the DRM being removed — none seems to exist. I looked to see if VLC had announced they were breaking the DRM — I found this, in which one person says a couple of months ago that they’d had the same surprising experience of it Just Working, but only on GNU/Linux not on Windows, and one person replies saying “no you didn’t”.
VLC on GNU/Linux (but not on Windows) has an unadvertised DRM-stripping feature
Audible have stopped using DRM
Audible’s DRM somehow depends on a Windows operating-system hook, and the actual files are just MP3s in a wrapper which says to the OS “don’t open this”
or Audible are making some but not all files available DRM-free, without telling anyone which those are.
Now I’ll note that neither of the books I’ve tried rely on a print publisher — the Aaronovitch is published by Audible themselves and isn’t available in any other format, while the Holmes books are obviously public domain — so that may point towards the last option, but my *guess* is that Audible DRM has either been removed or has been rendered unusable on GNU/Linux.
So if you’re a GNU/Linux user who, like me, hasn’t wanted to use Audible for reasons of anti-DRMness and freedom, you might as well at least sign up for the free trial and experiment. If you do, I’d be interested to know what your experience is.
If Amazon/Audible *have* got rid of the DRM, then good for them. If VLC have managed to strip the DRM, then good for *them*. But either way I’m glad that at least some books can now be listened to by people in freedom, and that the small but non-zero number of blind people who rely on free software for ethical or other reasons will not be *completely* cut off from these books. I’m just rather surprised that whoever’s responsible hasn’t publicised it — and I hope that by doing so I’m not encouraging Audible to reverse this. (This is the problem with restrictions on free speech, like DRM — they breed, and discourage other speech).
But anyway, now I’m off to listen to the new Aaronovitch story, using VLC…
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