How to buy audio books from Audible

I won’t try to sell you the concept of audio books. I’ll just note that I like them enough to read (or listen to—the nomenclature being one more thing this post isn’t about) a few dozen of them per year, and that it’s really inconvenient to read a non-audio book while you’re doing the dishes.

I get my audio books from Audible, because they have a large enough catalog. I don’t have the actual statistics, but I’d say about half of the books I want to read are available. There’s a convenient Android app that lets you download any book you’ve ever bought, and allows you to adjust the playback speed. There’s also convenient DRM that makes sure that you don’t accidentally do anything else with the books except listen to them using approved hardware and/or software.

But that’s not what this post is about either. It’s about how to avoid paying three times as much as you have to for your Audible books.

Say you’ve heard good things about Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, and would like to listen to it. Its Audible page lists it at $28.34, about twice what Amazon charges for the paperback and Kindle versions of the same book. If you don’t have a lot of money, or need to buy new books often, this sort of pricing may seem very off-putting.

But wait! Audible also has membership plans that will let you pick one or two books each month, priced at $14.95 (“Gold”) and $22.95 (“Platinum”), respectively. Especially the latter, at $11.48 per book, is much better. But the downside is that you commit to buying the specified number of books each month—you may save up to six months’ worth of credits, but after that they start to expire. And if you stop being a member, any remaining credits expire immediately. (Books that you have bought never expire, though.)

However, if you can afford to pay for (and aren’t afraid to commit to) a year all at once in advance, you get 12 months for the price of 10, which works out to a per-book price of $12.46 (Gold) or $9.56 (Platinum). And crucially, you also get all the credits (12 or 24 of them) at once, and may accumulate 18 months’ worth of unused credits before they start to expire.

I’m on the Platinum annual plan, so every time it renews, I pay $229.50 and receive 24 credits, which I then use to buy 24 books at an uneven rate over the next 6-9 months. And then... I don’t get to read any more audio books for the rest of the year? No, because Audible lets you renew the annual plans early. Since I always use up 24 credits in less than a year, the net effect is simply that I pay in advance every time I want a new batch of 24 credits at $9.56 apiece.

There are ways to go even lower. Audible will periodically have sales where they offer a small subset of their catalog at e.g. $4.95 per book or 2 books for 1 credit, but I seldom find books I really want to read there. It’s a good idea to keep your wish list up to date, though, because Audible will tell you when a book on your wish list is on sale.

I wish it wasn’t this complicated. Buying books for e.g. the Kindle is much more straightforward: find the book, look at the price tag, and click once to buy. Why is that model not good enough for Audible?