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Audible books - good idea done badly...

From: Simon White <simon.white@jkd.co.uk>
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002 12:49:47 +0100
Message-ID: <FDFC0668A850D246BC4231715D94904E0CD95E@uranus.jkd.co.uk>
To: "WAI List (E-mail)" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Dear All,
I have just received an email from AnchorDesk (ZDNET) about audio books and I thought that the application of the idea would be perfect for accessibility. Unfortunately, the audible books site mentioned in the article is not in itself accessible. However, I was interested to hear what people thought about using the speech capabilities of computers to provide accessible content to users (unless of course they have a hearing disability).

Your thoughts?

In addition, should Audible.com be a company that thinks more about accessiblity and could they grab a larger share of the online book market by doing so? I tried to run some diagnostics but the site just kept timing out! Then, it crashed my machine four times in a row! If anyone else wants to try and look at the site (although just glancing at it shows its inaccessibility), as it is based in the US it might provide some income for someone over the water, or at least someone should perhaps point out the inadequancy of the site and how a decent accessible site could be used to leverage the disabled market, particularly for a product that can have enormous benefits for the disabled community as a whole.

In the meantime, here is the article on Audible.com:

http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/stories/story/0,10738,2862106,00.html

E-books bad, Audible books good
David Coursey,
Executive Editor, AnchorDesk
Monday, April 22, 2002  
 
For years, people have been promising that computers are going to change the way we read. But with a few online exceptions (such as ZDNet and CNET, of course), that promise has never been fully realized. So far, electronic books in particular, while much hyped, have pretty much been a wash. 
 
I know paper is in no danger of becoming extinct around my house--at least not because of e-books. 
 
But my reading habits have changed lately, thanks to audio books I've been downloading from a service called Audible. For $15.95 a month, I can download two books of my choice; for $12.95, I can get a single book plus a subscription to a magazine, newspaper, or radio program.  
 
CONSIDERING THAT two audio books on compact disc or cassette--or their hardcover equivalents--can easily cost more than $50, this is a really good deal. (If you want audio books that you can hold in your hand, several Web sites, including Audio Book Central, will rent them to you.) 
 
What kind of books can you download from Audible? Not the entire Amazon catalog, to be sure. But with a 6,000-volume selection that includes fiction, non-fiction, business, science, foreign language, comedy, history, and children's books, I haven't had any trouble finding two books I want to listen to each month. I've even made some  la carte purchases above and beyond the two books my membership gives me. 
 
Right now, I'm listening to Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" and John Maclean's "Fire on the Mountain," the true story of how 14 firefighters died six years ago in a Colorado wildland fire. (If you ever need an example of how a whole series of innocent screw-ups can result in horrible consequences, I heartily recommend the latter.) 
 
You can listen to the books as an audio stream over the Net, but I don't recommend it. Better to downloaded them and listen using your PDA, MP3 player, or a special device called Otis that Audible sells (or gives away with a one-year subscription). 
 
As many as four audio formats are available for each book. Files range in size from a few megabytes to almost 100, depending on format. As you might imagine, the larger files give you better fidelity but limit the length of segments you can carry on your portable device. Audible provides a nice Windows application that helps manage your library. 
 
AUDIBLE IS ALSO a good model for how content publishing on the Internet ought to work--the music industry should pay attention to what Audible is doing. I like Audible's take on digital rights management: The books I download are mine to listen to and keep forever. I can download them again if I need to. I tried that with some e-books I bought at Amazon without success, which feels like flushing money down the drain. 
 
Better, many Audible books can be burned onto compact discs, making them easier to listen to in the car and other places where a CD player is the best choice. Yes, that means you can loan your discs to someone else. But I do that with the books I own already, so what's the big difference? And I still buy a lot of books. 
 
Audible also offers other content on a subscription basis. These include magazines, newspapers, and public radio programming. You can, for example, subscribe to NPR's "All Things Considered" or "Car Talk," and get every edition automatically downloaded to your PC and PDA or player. 
 
I've subscribed to NPR's excellent Science Friday program, which happens to be on the air at the same time I do my own radio program. Sure, I could tape it each week--but I don't and probably won't. The subscription works better for me. 
 
BEYOND THE CONVENIENCE, I find listening to books and other content really pleasant. Maybe it's because I'm lazy, raised on television and other media that simply washes over me. Or maybe it's the link to the fond memories of schoolteachers reading "Charlotte's Web" and other favorites. Could it be my reading glasses aren't strong enough? Or maybe it's an attention deficit that, until the last few years, made reading a book a nearly impossible feat of concentration. 
 
It's probably some combination. But the point is that audio books are a good match for me. 
 
If you give audio books a chance, I think you might find them a great companion for air travel, daily commutes, or, as I do, a few minutes before bed each night. You probably already have all the equipment you need--a PC, Internet connection, MP3 player, PDA, and/or a CD burner and portable player. (My iPod is currently carrying around 150 or so 45- to 70-year-old radio programs, but that's a topic for another column.) 
 
With vacation time coming up before you know it and people finally starting to fly again, now's a great time to get in the habit of picking up a good book---and listening to it.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Simon White
Copywriter
James Kelsey Design (JKD)
Westminster Business Square
1-45 Durham Street
London
SE11 5JH
Tel:  020 7793 9399
Fax: 020 7793 9299
Web: www.jkd.co.uk
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Received on Monday, 22 April 2002 07:49:49 GMT

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