Blackstone Audio phases out audiobook DRM

My literary agent wrote to me this morning to tell me about a letter his agency just received from Blackstone Audio, one of the largest audiobook publishers in the world, announcing that Blackstone was phasing out its use of DRM. Blackstone is contacting the rightsholders for all its titles notifying them that they'll be releasing their catalog in DRM-free MP3 (with some kind of watermarking -- I'm skeptical that this will work to stop pirates, since all imperceptible watermarks can be trivially removed through simple means like diffing two files) format unless they hear otherwise by a certain date.

Blackstone now joins with Random House Audio (the audio division of the world's largest publisher, Bertelsmann) in rejecting DRM for its audiobooks and I've heard off-the-record accounts of other major audiobook houses planning to do the same.

All this raises the question: when will Audible -- the largest audiobook retailer in the world and the exclusive provider of downloadable audiobooks for iTunes and Amazon -- drop the DRM on its audiobooks? I was shocked a month ago to hear from Amazon that they would not carry the Random House Audio audiobook of my NYT-bestselling novel Little Brother because it was only available as an MP3. Official Amazon policy on audiobooks still seems to be no DRM = no dice.

Bravo to Blackstone for taking a stand for its customers' rights!
PDF Link to Blackstone Audio letter

See also: Random House Audio abandons audiobook DRM


  1. Great news about Blackstone. They’ve got some fantastic titles, but I’ve never been able to stomach buying audiobooks through Audible.

    Naxos began selling their audiobooks as DRM-free mp3 downloads a while back. Like Blackstone, they’ve got an impressive selection of classical and contemporary literature.

  2. If Audible and Amazon stupidly continue to stick to their guns, they’re not going to have a lot of new content to offer in the near future.

    Time to revise your business models, folks, lest a new competitor shows up and eats your lunch.

  3. BTW, this is the response I got from Amazon about Audible DRM:

    “Audible is DRM agnostic — our primary goal is to offer a great
    customer experience. Audiobooks purchased on can be played
    on over 600 AudibleReady devices, including Kindles, iPods and most
    other MP3 players, Tom Toms and other GPS devices, Sonos and other
    in-home systems, and all PCs and Macs. Unlike DRM-free MP3 music files
    designed for songs, audiobook files must deliver a unique multi-hour
    listening experience. Customers have recognized and appreciated
    Audible’s unique listening experience since the company’s inception in
    1997. Audible is committed to maintaining and improving the features
    that drive this experience.

    Audible recently announced that it is working to provide the option of
    DRM-free spoken word audio titles on for content owners
    who prefer this method and are committed to working with Audible to
    maintain a great customer experience.

    Thanks for your interest in and Audible.”

  4. You could bypass Amazon by loading audiofiles to Amazon through CreateSpace. It might encourage them to speed up their commitment to DRM-free files.

  5. I’m skeptical that this will work to stop pirates, since all imperceptible watermarks can be trivially removed through simple means like diffing two files

    No, they can’t, if you have a halfway decent watermarking scheme. Look up ‘spread spectrum watermarking’. Those remain embedded and readable as long as the data is readable, since the watermark is embedded in the most significant parts of the data.

    Still, you reach a correct conclusion: watermarks in open formats like MP3s cannot be used to stop pirating. Since you can copy an mp3 regardless of its content, and play it any of thousands of players out there, watermark in the content is irrelevant in that regard. Watermark can only be used to establish the ownership and, for example, to ease tracking of pirated material online.

  6. Thanks for actually saying “raises the question” instead of the often improperly used “begs the question”. The later term does not equate to the former as it is a logical argument.

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