Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a technology designed to protect the rights of digital content creators and owners from unauthorized distribution and piracy. DRM is a controversial issue in the world of audiobooks and other digital media as it limits user rights and can be very restrictive. In this guide, I explore what DRM is, the issue with DRM in audiobooks, and the benefits of DRM-free audiobooks. Most importantly, I’ll let you know the best places to find DRM-free audiobooks so you have the freedom to enjoy your audiobook collection without any limitations.
What is DRM?
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a form of copyright protection that restricts the use, copying, and sharing of digital content. DRM is commonly used in digital media, including ebooks, music, movies, and audiobooks, to prevent unauthorized distribution and piracy. DRM typically involves encryption and other technical measures that limit the ways in which consumers can access and use the content they have purchased.
The Issue with DRM in Audiobooks
While DRM is intended to protect the rights of content creators and publishers, it can also have negative implications for consumers. DRM can limit the ways in which listeners can access and use audiobooks, and it can also restrict compatibility with different devices and platforms. Some of the main issues with DRM in audiobooks include:
- Limited Device Compatibility: Audiobook listeners may encounter issues with DRM-restricted files that are only compatible with specific devices or apps. This can be frustrating if you prefer to use multiple devices or switch between different platforms.
- Loss of Ownership: DRM can restrict the ownership rights of audiobook listeners. For example, some DRM-protected audiobooks can only be accessed through proprietary apps or platforms, which means you may lose access to your purchases if the platform is discontinued or if you switch to a different device.
- Lack of Flexibility: DRM can restrict the flexibility of audiobook listeners to share or transfer their purchases to other devices or users. This can limit your ability to share audiobooks with friends or family or to transfer audiobook files to different devices for offline listening.
- Privacy Concerns: Some DRM systems require users to register and authenticate their purchases, which can raise privacy concerns as personal information may be collected and used for marketing or other purposes without consent.
One example I recently came across of the restrictive nature of DRM was this Reddit post where the user asked if he could “inherit” his deceased father’s library of audiobooks on Audible. While there are some ways this user can access these audiobooks (e.g. removing the DRM with software such as Libation) the question highlights that Audible sells non-transferable licenses to use its content.
To read further on why DRM is an issue with audiobooks I recommend these two articles:
- Cage-Free Audiobooks – in this piece, Libro.fm CEO Mark Pearson writes about why his company has adopted a DRM-free model for selling audiobooks.
- Audiobooks Without Audible – in this piece for Publisher’s Weekly, bestselling author Cory Doctorow writes about the hard lessons he has learned from routing around Amazon (the owner of Audible).
The Benefits of DRM-Free Audiobooks
In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards DRM-free audiobooks, and many authors and publishers are now opting to offer their audiobooks without DRM. Here are some of the benefits of DRM-free audiobooks:
- Greater Flexibility: DRM-free audiobooks offer greater flexibility to listeners, allowing them to access and use their purchases on multiple devices and platforms. This means you can switch between different devices, share audiobooks with friends or family, and transfer audiobook files as you wish.
- Long-term Ownership: DRM-free audiobooks allow listeners to have long-term ownership of their purchases, as they are not tied to proprietary apps or platforms that may be discontinued or change their terms of service. This means you can continue to access your audiobooks even if you switch to a different device or platform.
- User Privacy: DRM-free audiobooks do not require users to register or authenticate their purchases, which can protect their privacy and personal information from being collected or used for marketing purposes without their consent.
- Wide Compatibility: DRM-free audiobooks are typically compatible with a wide range of devices and apps, allowing listeners to choose the platform and app that best fits their preferences and needs.
- Support for Authors and Publishers: DRM-free audiobooks can also benefit authors and publishers by allowing them to directly sell their audiobooks to consumers without the need for third-party platforms or retailers. This can result in higher royalties and more control.
Where to Find DRM-Free Audiobooks
There are several places where you can find DRM-free audiobooks. Here are some of the best options:
- Author’s/Publisher’s Website: Many authors and publishers offer DRM-free audiobooks for sale directly on their websites. By purchasing from the author or publisher’s website, you can often ensure that you are getting a DRM-free version of the audiobook, and your purchase directly supports the content creator. Some authors and publishers even offer audiobooks as part of their Patreon or crowdfunding campaigns, allowing you to support their work and get DRM-free audiobooks as a perk. Brandon Sanderson is a notable author who sells his books DRM-free (he explains why on his website’s FAQ).
- Online Retailers: Some online retailers specialize in DRM-free audiobooks, offering a wide selection of titles from various authors and publishers. Examples of such retailers include Downpour and Libro.fm. These platforms often provide DRM-free options for listeners who prefer to purchase and download audiobooks without any restrictions.
- Public Domain Websites: Many classic books and older works are in the public domain, meaning they are free from copyright restrictions. Websites such as Project Gutenberg and LibriVox offer DRM-free audiobooks of public domain works that you can download and listen to for free.
- Library Services: Many local libraries offer digital audiobook lending services, and some of these services such as OverDrive offer DRM-free options. Note: while the OverDrive app is being phased out in favor of Libby, users will still have the option to download audiobooks with the legacy OverDrive for Windows or OverDrive for Mac desktop programs and transfer them to an MP3 player (see the OverDrive FAQ). Tip: the download links for the old Mac/Windows program installer have been removed from the OverDrive website, but you can use Internet Archive to view a snapshot of the website before they removed the links on February 23, 2022.
It’s worth noting that the availability of DRM-free audiobooks may vary depending on the region and specific titles, so it’s always a good idea to check the details of each audiobook before making a purchase. Additionally, supporting authors and publishers who offer DRM-free options can help promote the availability of DRM-free content and support content creators who prioritize listener flexibility and ownership.
It’s important to understand the implications of DRM and make informed decisions about the digital content we consume and the companies we support. When it comes to audiobooks, DRM-free audiobooks provide you with the freedom to enjoy your audiobook collection without any restrictions. While you can remove DRM restrictions on audiobooks purchased from retailers such as Audible, why not support other retailers such as Downpour and Libro.fm who sell all of their audiobooks without DRM?