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Rip-Off?

May 4, 2016

Economist 20160430<rant> I’m doing my usual thing of reading an e-book. I am totally annoyed by Amazon SPAMing me with an ad to purchase the audio files to go with the book. Really? I totally get how convenient it is to have an audio version of books and newspapers, etc. I listen to podcasts and The Economist all the time while I’m driving and jogging. So cut it out with the ads. And besides, it looks like it’s a total rip-off at the prices being offered.

Here’s my thinking. For several years I have subscribed to The Economist newspaper. For my subscription I get full access to the Print, Electronic and Audio version of this weekly newspaper (print is in magazine format, the app is beautiful on Surface, Nexus 9 and Phone). Now each week, I download about 160 Megabytes of MP3 (audio) files. Stay with me here. We have to do a bit of math. I actually built a spreadsheet and figured out that the speech quality audio that The Economist provides is about 2.82 minutes of audio per Megabyte of file. Professional speakers and podcast folks speak about 150 words per minute. So doing all the calculations, that means that The Economist delivers about 3.5 million spoken words each year. Hang in there, there’s a couple more calculations to do to get to my rip-off point.

How many words should my book be? In short:
80,000 – 89,999: Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999: Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999: Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999: Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000: Too short
110,000 or above Too long

According to Writer’s Digest an adult commercial or literary novel word count is somewhere between 80,000 and 110,000 words (see above). Let’s assume for the business books I read, the average length is about 100,000 words. You see where I’m going, right? The Economist delivers the equivalent of about 35 full length books per year — Print, Electronic and Audio — for a subscription cost of ~$150. That works out to be about $4.50 per book and includes all three formats. And they print, AND they deliver the printed word to my mailbox every week.

The latest book that is causing me to “bitch” about all this cost me a full $14.99 for only the electronic version. And I’m being pummeled with ads to spend another $7.42 for the audio addition. What? Amazon wants me to pay more than $22 for electronic and audio with no print version? Really? Let’s see–a bit more math shows me that they want me to pay almost 5 times more and they deliver no paper book either. (I’ll get off the printed version thing. I don’t want to pay for printing and binding. Electronic books are much better suited to taking notes and doing reviews.) Oh! AND there are NO ADS in The Economist audio version. Print/App ads are easily skipped. So pretty close to apples-to-apples here. Like I said. I smell rip-off.

The Economist uses a third party to provide the audio. They are all, of course, on deadline. The audio has to be done and ready when The Economist hits the “newsstands.” That means that the final audio has to be complete and loaded to the website in the five hours from final print approval and publication. To me, this is much more challenging than doing a book audio. And the audio is professional grade. So why are we paying so much for audio books?

The only answers that come to mind for that question are:

  • My math is wrong – I checked, it isn’t
  • It takes longer to read a book for some reason – uh, words are words, reading is reading; so nope
  • Our readers are more expensive per hour than the ex BBC broadcasters, etc. – could be I guess, so off-shore the work
  • Rip-off, another publisher rip-off

A Word to Amazon: You are now doubly pissing me off. First you’re SPAMing me with unwanted ads (I know how to buy audio books if I want them) and now that I’ve done the math, I know you or the publishers are way overcharging. So at least stop with the ads. Find a way to use the same or similar company that The Economist uses if you can get around the greedy publishers. I’m willing to pay a small premium to support the authors. But NOT the publishers. Note though, that all the folks at both The Economist and their audio vendor seem fine with the economics they have in place (salaries, employment, etc.) I won’t be investing in the audio book products any time soon. </rant>

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