Those that know me know that my MP3 player has more podcasts and audiobooks on it than music. I’m out and about a few hours a day and have a job on the side of the studies which is more or less a muscle memory job. Listening to the same music over and over would drive me crazy, so some years ago I started using podcasts and audiobooks to keep myself entertained instead.
When it comes to getting audiobooks, you have several options, from libraries to audiobook services online. Then you have to select a player – if you want Audible support, you need a player that can support it and so on. Then there are players which have special audiobook sections that give you extra options regardless of what format the book is in, while others treat audiobooks as music. Read on for a guide on how to get started with audiobooks.
There are several methods of getting audiobooks. Some people might flock to illegal methods for getting the, but I’d advise against that. The selection is bad, speed is slow, quality often so-and-so and of course you have the “it’s illegal” thing. When it comes to audiobooks, the legal services are actually far ahead of the illegal ones. Audiobooks are after all more of a niche thing, at least when you compare it to music and video which is more exposed to piracy. Below are some of the most known audiobook services, followed by some free alternatives. I’m sure there are plenty more out there, so if you have any tips leave a comment below.
By far the most known audiobook service is Audible. They have the biggest selection out there and are generally considered the best or at least most popular. They do use their own format for the files you get, so you need an Audible-enabled player. This might sound annoying – and it kinda is – but at least the Audible format has some positive features beside just providing DRM, like chapters. Still, DRM is DRM and it does mean a lot of people can’t even use their files. For a list of players that support the service, check out the device center. All of SanDisk’s players, the Zunes and Creative’s newer players are supported as well as many smaller manufacturers, but there are gaps like Samsung which doesn’t have any current players with Audible support.
Once you have a player, you need an account. You can either by books at full price (or reduced price if you have a plan) or get a plan that will give you 1 or 2 credits a month or 12/24 at a time. One credit = one book in most cases, with the exception of a few big ones that cost more – but they are few and far apart. The 1 credit plan (Audible Gold) is $14.95 while the 2 credit plan (Audible Platinum) is $22.95. Buying 12 credits at once will cost you $149.50 and the 24 credits at once plan will cost you $229.50. Personally I’m on the Audible Platinum plan as that gives me audiobooks for $11.50 a piece, but I wish Audible would make a plan that would allow heavy users like myself to get more books without spending a couple of hundred bucks at once. Either way, $11.50 a book isn’t bad when you consider the amount of hours of entertainment it provides.
The downloading part of the Audible experience is done either with a plug-in to an existing media manager or as a standalone Audible Manager application. It’s pretty straight forward and easy to use, but it does require you to authorize each device. You can have a maximum of 3 devices and 3 desktop authorizations per account. It’s a pain in the ass really, like DRM always is.
Audible is also owned by Amazon, which has it’s own section of audiobooks on CD. It’s not connected to Audible in any way, but since it’s the same owner I thought it worth mentioning.
Simply Audiobooks is a US and Canada only service which both has a rental service and a download service. The rental service means they ship you CDs to listen to 8which you then send back) and the download service will let you download audiobooks directly. Some books are available as MP3 downloads, however most are DRM protected WMA, which means you need a PlaysForSure device to use them.
Simply Audiobooks seem to operate only with plans (not letting you buy books at regular price like Audible) and their plans are also a bit more expensive. One book per month is $14.95, 2 per month is $24.95 and 3 per month is $31.95. The rental service ranges from $17.98 for 1 book per month to $47.98 for 4 books per month. The service does have the benefit of working on devices that Audible doesn’t necessarily support, so if you want an occasional audiobook without having to buy a new player it’s a decent service (though I haven’t actually tried it myself, since it’s US only).
eMusic is a subscription based DRM free download service where you pay a monthly fee and can then download a certain amount of songs in MP3 format. They also offer audiobook plans which cost $9.99 for 1 book per month (eMusic Audiobooks Basic ) and $19.99 for 2 books per month (eMusic Audiobooks Plus). Unfortunately the credits don’t roll over from month to month. All the books are MP3 and they are aren’t US only, so if you’re looking for the cheapest and most compatible service you should probably check them out.
eMusic downloading is done either manually or through a download manager which lets you schedule downloads and resume paused ones. Being MP3 and thus not DRM protected, you don’t need any authorizations or other annoying tinkering to get it to work.
AudioBookWorm is a service which works more or less like Simply Audiobooks. You can either get them delivered on a CD, or download as DRM protected WMA files which as mentioned earlier requires a PlaysForSure device. They also use special software.
Prices are decent, with $13.95 a month giving you 1 book every two weeks (not every month) and $24.95 giving you 2 books every two weeks. The plans get cheaper if you pay X months in advance. The rental service cost $17.95, $27.95 or $37.95 depending on whether you want 1, 2 or 3 books at a time. Unlike Simply Audiobooks, the rental plan operates with “at a time” prices so if you are quick and send them back quickly, you get more.
While many people associate “free” with “illegal”, there are actually places where you can get audiobooks for free – legally.
Libraries of course carry a lot of audiobooks on CD, but those require you to either use a CD player or rip them (which is illegal since you don’t own them). Luckily, some libraries have realized it’s 2009 and are using a service called Overdrive to offer audiobooks as digital downloads. Basically you get a software application called Overdrive Media Console and then browse your local library’s Overdrive section and get books from there. Of course this requires you to have a library account at a library that supports this. Files are downloaded as MP3 or DRM protected WMA (I have no idea how they can do MP3 since it doesn’t have DRM) and when the loan period is over the software will “return” the books to the library, meaning delete the files. There are also other services that your library might be using, such as NetLibrary. In any case, the available information should be on your library’s website.
LibriVox is a site where volunteers read public domain books and publish them for free online. Public domain books are books that are basically so old that the copyright is expired and therefore free and legal for anyone to use. The books are available as MP3 and Ogg Vorbis and (mp3) will work on all players. Of course the selection is limited and the public domain limitations means it’s mostly old stuff, with narrators that do this for fun, but free is free and the Internet need people like this to help make things more affordable – audiobooks included.
Project Gutenberg works by the same principles as LibriVox and are more known for their library of free ebooks than audiobooks. The Project Gutenberg library consist of both human read and computer read audiobooks, and they also work with several of the other free services mentioned here so some of the content might be the same. The files are available in various formats, including MP3, Ogg Vorbis and
Podiobooks is a great service that has combined audiobooks and RSS feeds into a service which gives you audiobooks serialized as episodes. The books are contributed by the author and therefor there are a lot of new albeit unknown titles and not just public domain books. The audiobooks are divided into episodes and you can get them as an RSS feed, in MP3 format. Old episodes are of course available so that you can start from the beginning or get full books that are done. They also allow you to donate to the authors, so if you like what you hear I encourage people to do so.
Literal Systems is a site run by Santa Fe actors who enjoy acting out characters in books and has therefore made a site with free audiobooks they have recorded. The files are MP3 and although the total library is only about 50 titles, it’s well worth a look.
Audio theater is technically podcasting, but also fits the audiobook category (as much as podiobooks do). Many groups of people around the net dedicate their spare time to recording full cast series and publishing them as podcasts. The stories are often written by themselves or adapted from less known books. Off the top of my head there’s Darker Projects which I’ve mentioned before and also the . You’ll find more by looking through podcast sites and searching Google, as unfortunately a lot of them are well hidden on the Internet.
As you might have gathered from reading the different formats used by the services mentioned above, you can’t use any service with any player. There are basically three different formats/capabilities that separate the various services: Audible compatibility, PlaysForSure devices and generic MP3 format. The last one will play on anything that supports MP3 files, while the other two are a bit more tricky. To find out if your player (or a player you are thinking about buying) is PlaysForSure compatible, simply Google to see if it supports PlaysForSure. For Audible support, check the link in the Audible section for a list of players.
Other things to consider when buying a player for audiobooks is how it handles various things like playback speed, bookmarking etc. You don’t want to stop half way through a 10 hour single MP3 file and then lose your position, so the player should have either manual bookmarking or a dependable resume feature. Playback speed and the ability to delete files is also nice to have on an audiobook player and in the unfortunate event that you do lose your position the player should have accelerated fast forwarding so it doesn’t take an hour to get back where you were.
The Sansa Clip and Fuze are generally considered some of the best audiobook players out there. On top of supporting every single service mentioned here, they also have a separate section on the player for audiobooks and another separate one for podcasts. That means that you can put MP3 files under audiobooks and get special features like delete, auto-bookmark and playback speed controls. To get the files marked as audiobooks, either set the ID3 tag as “audiobook” or put the files in the AUDIOBOOKS-folder.
There is however a bug with using Overdrive where the files are put in the music folder instead of the audiobook section and you then lose the audiobook specific features. Please use this link to fix the issue (note: I haven’t tried this myself as I can’t use Overdrive, just stumbled across it).
There are also other players which will do a great job as audiobook players, like the Zune which caters to Audible and has good audiobook features. The Amazon Kindle e-book reader will also do Audible books and also has a text-to-speech feature that (if you don’t mind robot voices) will turn any book into an audio book. Still, the low price and the complete compatibility plus the extra features which also work on MP3 audiobooks make the Sansas the best choices if audiobook support is your only criteria.
There might very well be more audiobook services out there that I haven’t covered, but hopefully this guide will give you the basic links and information to start listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks are great for both old and young and are great extras for when you’re tired of music. Many of these services have free trials, so if you’re on the fence about trying it I say jump on a trial.