Entrepreneurial Project Management

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An Open Letter to the Audible.com CEO

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

I sent this email a few weeks back and have not heard a reply. Perhaps it was too cheeky–this was after a very frustrating visit to the site. Let me know if you are an Audible subscriber with similar complaints.

Dear Mr Katz,

I have been an Audible customer for several years and frequently evangelize your services to friends and colleagues. Recently my “customer experience” has been going down the toilet, and I’m starting to loathe visits to your site. I write this email in the hope you will make the necessary changes before people like me defect in droves.

1. I can’t find what I want. Your (new) merchandising layout is awful. I don’t say this kind of thing lightly (I know how hard it is to strike a balance between marketing needs and clean design). I put up with your old layout (which was lacking but serviceable), but this newer version has these fatal flaws:

a. Home page real estate never has anything for me. Over 50% of the space is dedicated to huge spotlights (today Ricky Gervais and Dan Brown? No thanks. I read Mr Brown a while ago and Gervais may be interesting, but I’m a monthly subscriber and not interested in getting out my wallet). Key fact: I’m spending 2-3x as much time trying to locate a new book as before. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your average customer visit time has increased? Don’t take that as good news.

b. The left-hand categories are too numerous (humans can manage 5-8 well and maybe up to a dozen but you have over 30!) and, in my case, they are irrelevant. Do I want a bio or a biz book today? I don’t know. I want to listen to something good. My interests are eclectic (last month The Wisdom of Crowds but in January it was The Year of Magical Thinking). Why can’t you show me books that have high review scores from readers and critics?

c. Your “New Releases/Our Top Sellers/In the News” area is a nice idea poorly executed. You can’t read the titles of most of the books b/c of space (e.g. a featured product reads “What Price L”?), can’t see any blurb about the book without clicking through (take a look at Netflix for an elegant solution to this type of problem), and we only get <12 recs, many of which are really old.

d. The top categories “Best Sellers/Award Winners” are at times usable, but most of the inventory is old–is there a shortage of quality product on the market? The top “New Releases” category is also unhelpful–today a long list of $1 items from the Biography station. I am a monthly listener–I want to find another BOOK!

e. Who came up with the left hand navigation elements such as “I want to: feel like a kid again”? Maybe some focus group liked that approach, but I think it stinks. I want to find something good. So much of what is out in the market is rubbish, and I want you to help me avoid it.

2. Major usability issues. I get “This American Life” every month. Why not let me sign-up for an automatic renewal? Last monthy it took me ten minutes to find TAL and buy it. I wanted to upgrade a few months ago to get two periodicals per month, but your site wouldn’t let me upgrade my basic listener program until my year was over! I got a new computer and your DRM software said I had too many devices. On top of this, everything loads very slooooowly. All user actions require a page reload?!! Where is the AJAX? Is BroadVision the problem? If so, dump it now.

3. Summary: it feels like the VP of marketing runs the site. He’s always trying to sell me something and he’s doing a bad job. Mr Chairman, if I were you, I’d put an ombudsman in charge of the site, someone who is sympathetic to the customer’s needs. You are running a community (at least for monthly subscribers). It needs to feel like a comfortable, smart place that is solving my needs for intellectual content collection and delivery.

With all respect,


2 Responses to “An Open Letter to the Audible.com CEO”

  1. Steve Lewis said

    Good start at what is wrong with Audible’s site. Let me list a few more things that they used to get right (well at least better) and have now made worse. As you pointed out browsing sucks. In the early days Audible gave the users the option to download their catalog as an Excel spreadsheet and allow users to form their own searches. I would suggest going to their website and attempting to find all unabridged books that play for longer than six hours for example.

    One of the most irritating things that Audible does is to break books into multiple parts. Audible claims that this is to make the download faster even though there is no good reason to suspect that download times would be any different. In the age of broadband communication there is no good reason why most of us should care about the download speed. Furthermore and most irritating is the fact that separate parts of a book are created as independent items. There is no statement at the beginning of a part backed “ this is the start of part four of the six of War and Peace” which would allow the user to know which of several parts on his player had been selected. The problem is especially acute because Audible’s software has no provision to place parts on your player in any specific order. The only way to determine which part of a book you are listening to is to purchase a player with a video screen and then look at the name as it scrolls across something like this: Master …… and … Commander … Patrick …. O’Brien’s ….. Saga … of … Sea … Advanture ….. ( Unabridged) ….. Part 3. Note in the above the only really interesting piece of information is the part number which is at the very end.

    Several simple solutions present themselves. First, offer the user the ability to eliminate parts and download the entire book. Second, allow the user to a single usable section before placing the book on his player. A third and simple possibility is to clearly mark the parts both by stating at the beginning of each part that this is part 2 of 4 of a particular book and by starting the name of each part with the part number which is after all the most critical piece of information.

    Another irritation is that while Audible has altered their site to remember which of four speeds a user might desire, they choose this purely on the basis of the best sound for the users to player. Some users are less interested in the quality of the sound than any amount of data that can be placed on a player. They are is no way for a user to specify his preference for a specific format, say one with a higher data density.

    Of course, a major irritation is that although I have been fairly continuously a member of audible in some capacity they keep changing the conditions and price for their subscription and have thus failed to get me to continuously subscribe. Every time I read renew and see that the subscription that I had when I first enrolled back 1996 is no longer available I look at Audible’s competition.

  2. doug said

    Audible should go to walmarts video and music section and learn some rudimentary things about retail merchandising. If you look at peoples reading habits and movie habits they tend to follow short lived trends that fit into broad categories ( I like sci fi generally – but for maybe six months i will like appocolyptic sci fi and for another six months i will like hard sci fi) Walmart realizes this fact. If your in the mood for bruce willis films you will surely buy 1 movie and maybe two in one visit but the chance of you buying three is totally negligable- so walmart looses 100% of the third purchase and 50% of the second- if the dvds cost 20$ then walmart stands to gain 20+20+20= $60 due to your compulsive buying- it stands to loose 10$ for the half time you dont buy movie two and 20$ for the 100% of the time you dont buy movie three- so what do you do- hedge your bet bundle all three and sell them for (30+urp) were urp is some amount between 0 and 30 dollars that would have been an unrealized purchase.
    I can not believe audible does not bundle – its like the company is made of lawyers negotiating propietary format contracts and shitty web designers making a terrible gui and oops no one bothered to look into obvious merchandising practices for a website dominated by fashionable adn impulsive buying – i can not wait until web2.0 obliterates these loosers. Audible.com should be an object lesson in how dumb investors poor money into the hands of dumb executives who have less common sense about what there doing than the guy on the street.

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