RICK MACLEAN: Those audiobook devils play dirty

Every time we do a search on Google, the Internet giant records it, and sells that information to advertisers

Rick MacLean comments@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 10, 2016

The email looked innocent enough. And I know something about evil emails, having had my credit card hacked by a nasty email claiming to be from someone it wasn’t.

This one was legit, so I clicked it.

“We love our members,” it said. Yeah, right. That right up there with your call is important to us.

Then came the deadly part, “50 per cent off site wide sale”

I was willing to overlook the made up word. Site wide? After all, consider what came next.

“Discount available to active members only, is not transferable and cannot be combined with any other offer. The We Love Our Members Sale starts December 8, 2016 and ends December 14.”

A book sale!

I’ve been a sucker for books since I was old enough to hold one. My mother swears it started when I was an obnoxious kid, constantly getting into trouble when I got bored.

“I threw a book at you one day,” she said. “I missed, but you picked it up and started reading.” She swears the story is true. No worries about ‘triggering’ a kid and setting off a trauma back then. And apparently few concerns about concussions.

I never recovered from the addiction.

I live in a home filled with books. My office is stuffed with them. And my cellphone isn’t really a phone. It’s a stash of audiobooks, courtesy of iTunes and Audible.com, the latter a one-year, free-book-a-month Christmas present from my kids. Their version of throwing a book at me to shut me up.

Audible offered me this friendly service. Not quite ready to buy that book with your monthly free credit – or your credit card? No problem. Just click this little box and put the title on your wish list.

Um hum.

Wish list. Turns out, that’s code for those devilishly clever elves at Audible. Wish list really means marketing gold mine.

One of the most difficult things those trying to sell you and me anything is clutter. The world is full of advertisements. They’re on TV, private radio, in print and online. We can’t escape them. So we ignore them.

One tool companies use to stand out in that clutter is finding those people who really want to know about the product they’re selling.

Firms once used things like focus groups to try to find those people. No longer. Now they use keyboards. Ours. Every time we do a search on Google, the Internet giant records it, and sells that information to advertisers.

Don’t believe me. Do a quick search for hotels in Hofn, Iceland, then see how long before ads for hotels there start chasing you around the Internet.

Audible does it one better. It delves into my wish list on a regular basis, picks one or two books, and offers to sell me 10-12 hours of fascinating listening for $4.99.

It has worked. More than once.

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident - unabridged, of course, I hate abridged books - is on my phone because it was on sale.

But this latest stunt is outrageous.

“You have 71 items on your wish list,” Audible says helpfully. And they’ll all on sale, many at half price. Right before Christmas. I really shouldn’t. Really. But, maybe just one. Where is that credit card?



- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown