Most of the time when I discuss giving credit where credit is due, I tend to choose technologies where some credit is due . Some of these technologies, like adapter plugs or flashing yellow turn signals, are technologies that get a lot of praise from those who are familiar with them for good reason. At other times, as is the case with the five-paragraph essay form and the vuvuzela or the power ballad, I am praising something that does not receive a lot of praise but which nevertheless deserves considerable praise. Today, though, I would like to discuss a product that, like carnauba wax and daylight savings time, is a triumph of marketing over performance, something that does not get credit because it does not really deserve credit, and something that the world may be better without. That technology that no one wanted and that likely does not need to exist is the all-in-one audiobook.
At this point, it is perhaps worthwhile to at least briefly discuss how it was that I became familiar with this monstrosity in the first place. Recently I was looking for a particular audiobook to listen to as part of a series of audiobooks I was listening to on Afghanistan. After putting the book on hold, I went to the library to pick it up and instead of what I expected, which was a collection of 10 or more cds for me to listen to in my car, I found myself holding a small plastic container the size of a video game package, and opened it up to find a cassette-tape sized audiobook that nonetheless did not include either the earphones or AAA batteries there were necessary to listen to the audiobook. I was admittedly quite puzzled by this and then I looked up the technology to find out that this was actually a thing, where someone thought it would be a good idea to create a dedicated audiobook that only includes a single volume but which does not include the items necessary to listen to it and that someone in my library system thought that this was the sort of technology that they needed to encourage patrons to use.
Picture, if you will, a venn diagram with two circles. In one circle let us consider the audience for audiobook listeners and the sorts of situations in which people want to listen to audiobooks, including those who like something to listen to while driving (which is what I do) or those who listen to audiobooks while traveling on public transportation or jogging or working on other things. On the other hand, let us look at how people would be able to consume audiobooks, through their laptops or cds in cars or existing devices. The all-in-one audiobook only includes one single dedicated audiobook. It is about the size of a walkman or cassette tape and is immensely limited in what it can do. It completely lacks the ability that a smartphone or tablet would have of having multiple audiobooks and even lacks the cords necessary to operate on its own, making it nearly useless for people who do not already have alternative ways of listening to audiobooks already.
What were the dim bulbs who created this technology trying to accomplish? What was it about existing ways of listening to audiobooks that was unsatisfactory and that required this particular device to be invented and marketed? What were the dim bulbs at my county library system trying to accomplish in ordering this and presumably other audiobooks like it? To be sure, there are some people who may find the cds of traditional audiobooks to be a bit bulky, but they are certainly convenient even if they are vulnerable to damage and take up a bit of space and require effort to change in the course of listening to a book. Still, they are far more convenient to use than this atrocity is. This particular device fails the uncanny valley test in being neither convenient to use for those who have cd players in their car or on their laptops while being far less flexible and worthwhile than devices and applications that allow people to download and listen to a variety of audiobooks, having the drawbacks of materiality without gaining the ease-of-use that might increase the proportion of audiobooks that one might find. The marketing of this product might be impressive, but the existence of this product is puzzling, to say the least.
 See, for example: