Why is Audible.com so unpleasant to use?

Given my long commute, I swear by audiobooks. I used to borrow books on tape from my library, but for a little more than year I’ve been a customer of Audible.com and download books. While no service is comprehensive, Audible does have a very good collection of books.

Audible’s site, however, has always been terrible to use. This makes no sense: they’re a web-only business, so they should have put some effort into their site. But the navigation was always difficult, downloading was awkward, and, most importantly, the site was always too slow. Fine, the downloads take a long time, but navigating the site should be quick and zippy. (Here’s a hint, folks: put the big downloads on a separate pipe from your home page.)

Audible recently changed their fee structure (a little more money, but credits roll over from month to month — probably a good thing) and, at the same time, redesigned the site. I’m not going to comment on the new green-on-green look, but the substance of the redesign has two good changes and a few bad ones.

Good change #1 is that downloading is much more straightforward and is now set up for downloading multiple files at a time. Good change #2 is that they no longer make use of broken JavaScript for every link, so that middle-button-click now opens pages in new tabs for me.

The bad part is that navigation seems even worse than before. Each page used to have genre and category links in a sidebar and a search box in the upper right; both are now gone, replaced by, respectively, a tips box that always seems to say “Great choice! You spent money with us!” (my paraphrasing) and a viewer for the current contents of your shopping care, which seems useless for those loyal subscribers who tend to pick one audiobook at a time, as their plan allows.

Unfortunately, the site, if anything, is slower than it was before. So slow that images time out all the time, breaking their fragile HTML layout in odd ways. So slow that one of every ten of my page views ends up with a “couldn’t contact server audible.com” message. So slow that I find myself needing to do other things (like write flames about Audible) while I try to navigate their site. Sigh.

It’s not as if there’s not good examples of online bookstores…

While I’m grumbling about Audible, why do they give the same filename to all the parts of the same book? For example, I just downloaded Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. It comes in three parts. Why are all three files, when I down load them to my Mac, named “OnBeautyUnabridgedPa_mp332.aa“? I assume the “Pa” is a vestigial reference to “part 2,” but why doesn’t that get precedence over “Unabridged” or “mp332” — both of which, from my perspective, are boilerplate.