Guide to Audiobooks on MP3 Players

audiobook guide Guide to Audiobooks on MP3 Players

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.

Paid Services

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

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.

Free Services

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

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 ef=””>Speex.


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

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

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.

Audiobook Players

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.

In Conclusion

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.


rospaya on May 17, 2009 11:59 AM

This is a great guide! But I have a problem concentrating on listening audiobooks in every situation except complete silence and concentration, and if I have that conditions I’d rather read a paper book.

Antonio on May 17, 2009 2:22 PM

In case anyone wishes to answer the whims of diomedes, but doesn’t speak spanish, this is what I can make of it. Sorry, my spanish is fractured:I want to know why my Creative Zen V Plus, when I connect it to the PC, and I go to properties, tells me that I have nothing of gigabyte that will be*. Can you answer me?*Yeah I’m kinda lost there. I figure he means nothing’s showing up on his mp3 player.

Andreas Ødegård on May 17, 2009 3:13 PM

@diomedes:Trate de formato. (traductor Google)

Antonio on May 17, 2009 7:33 PM

I think a better way to say that would be:Trata de formatear.

musichound on May 17, 2009 10:10 PM

Nice guide, but I feel there is a serious omission, and that’s Amazon’s Kindle. From what I read, this is a great product and is the one of the few dedicated devices for audio and e books.

Chris on May 18, 2009 1:17 AM

I’ve tried to imagine carrying a Kindle around to listen to my books, but I keep coming back to the certainty that I would end up buying a clip or fuze in addition, if I didn’t have one already. It has to be one of the most vestigial functions ever conceived for a device of this type. For example, finding a decent place to put it in my car, trying to operate it by feel so I don’t crash, trying to use it when jogging or mowing the lawn, and all of the other things that make audiobooks the best way ever to consume lit and lead a life at the same time.Fantastic article Andreas! I wouldn’t change a thing.

Andreas Ødegård on May 18, 2009 11:52 AM

Added various information I got through comments here, the forum and email. If anyone has anything else to add or comment on, it will be read and possibly included. I’m not afraid of the edit-button :)

tom on May 18, 2009 4:08 PM

Pardon me if this question betrays incompetence. Some of my podcasts copied to the podcasts folder on my clip do not organize themselves under a common folder (or label in googlespeak). Most do but some don’t. So I end up w/ a bunch of podcasts to scroll thru and I’m not even sure what podcaster they’re from. What’s up with that? Do I need to tag them before I copy them over or do I need to use something other than exploder to copy the files over to ‘podcasts?’ Thanks!

jose on May 26, 2009 6:27 PM

@tomthe clip uses tags to browse your files, so they need to be properly tagged as it’s the only way the sansa clip will read them.the files need to be tagged as “audiobook” or “podcast” in the Genre tag.if you do this, and have the latest firmware, they will appear in the proper lists in the main menu

Ron Jeremy’s Member on June 3, 2009 12:52 AM

Excellent guide. I can vouch for the Clip/Overdrive trick– that works.

Riscario Insider on June 12, 2009 12:36 PM

Thanks for this excellent post. You’ve identified new options.I’ve been looking for a DRM-free audiobooks. eMusic looks interesting for downloads. I want CDs since they play at home and in the car without additional equipment.There’s CD rental place in Toronto Canada called Talking Book World ( You can get CDs shipped by mail, which is good. What’s better is picking up items in-store (2 locations). This eliminates shipping time and creates an experience like visiting the library or video store. I joined yesterday. So far, so good :) In-store rentals may be available elsewhere too.

Sonya on June 17, 2009 8:33 PM

I notice that iPod isn’t mentioned here. I am soon to receive a hand-me-down 8GB iPod and want to use it for podcasts and audiobooks. Does that mean I will have trouble using it for this purpose?

Mykemo on June 18, 2009 12:23 AM

Andreas,Good information. What we also need to know is more about the bookmarks in the players. Most reviews do not even mention bookmarks. 1) Those that do almost never mention –how many– bookmarks? Does a player have 1, 10, 20 bookmarks? 2) Also, can I label the bookmarks with an on-board on-screen keyboard, or are they simply bookmark 1 through 10? 3) If I cant label them, how am I suppose to know which bookmark is for what book? 4) How do I access the bookmarks? 5) Do they appear in a list? 6) Do I have to start the audio book and then press a key to make it search for the bookmark in that audio book file? 7) If I have more than one bookmark in a particular audio book, will it automatically jump to the next bookmark, or do I have to scan through audio book to get to the next bookmark? Please let us know so we can be better informed how audio books and bookmarks work. Sincerely, Mykemo

Andreas Ødegård on June 18, 2009 2:29 AM

Sonya: ipods arent mentioned because this site is called anything BUT ipod. We dont cover ipods. But dont worry, ipods do everything the sansa does for audio books – at least the ipod touch, dont know about the nano.

Sonya on June 19, 2009 4:08 AM

Andreas, my face is red, sorry. It turns out that what I got is a 6GB iPod 2nd gen mini and boy is it big and heavy compared to my Sansa m240 1GB–and with no radio, but at least I now have room for a book.

AC G on September 9, 2009 4:00 AM

This was very useful. However, did not answer my problem.I have a library of CDs of lectures, talks, which my iPod cannot handle.I am looking for a player that will allow me to add my already purchased audiobooks, from CD, and knows it is a book, so does not alphabetize my chapters.Any recommendations? Anyone? I am all ears, and I mean it, I will check it all out. I swear.

xain on September 9, 2009 5:18 AM

I don’t think ipod is a good player for audio books, as it lack the bookmarking feature. As most of the audio book file is long, I think bookmarking is very important.

Andreas Ødegård on September 9, 2009 7:43 AM

@AC G – iTunes will let you import CDs just fine, and ou can select the files afterwards, right click -> view info and find an option where you can specify it’s an audio book.@Xain – that’s not true, the iPod has the best bookmarking feature on any player ive seen. It auto-bookmarks podcasts and audio books and you can resume files no matter how long it is since you listened to it and no matter how much content youve played in the mean time.

audioO on October 7, 2009 9:59 PM

@xain – iTunes does have the bookmarking feature..Rip the cd in iTunes (most people use 96k but I prefer 128k)…I prefer mp3′s so I can use it on non-portable devices like a PC..Then highlight those files…Right click…Get Info..Options..Check “remember position” (YES)Press “OK”!Now you bookmarked the location in the file!Only problem is IF you forget WHICH file it is!iPods are GREAT for audiobooks!

Not Sony on October 7, 2009 10:02 PM

Sony mp3 players do NOT support bookmarks!They’ll read the audiobooks, if in mp3 formats, but forget it when it comes to memorizing where it left off!

spooky on November 1, 2009 3:24 AM

OMG! I’m an audiobook addict in addition to a music player addict! (I have over a dozen players ranging in price paid from a $50 Sansa Clip to a $400 iPod Touch. To those who trashed the iPods for audiobooks, they work really great, even (perhaps especially) the 4th and 5th gen Shuffles. (I have 1 of each.) Voiceover works well for finding your book and they do remember where you left off. The best part is how light and easy to clip to almost any part of your clothing. Second favorite is Sansa Clip as, at $50 I don’t worry that something might happen at work and destroy it. It’s cheap enough to painlessly replace close to as light and easy to clip on as the Shuffle, although they don’t stay clipped as snuggly as the Shuffles. I use most of my larger players for music and/or video rather than books. the Shuffles and Clips also work well for the special mp3′s my doctor prescribes for me to play while I sleep to help with my sleep disorder as the short earphone cord and tight clip onto my pj’s makes for a safe and comfortable way to comply with the doctors orders. I have purchased an adapter for the shuffle so I can use any headphone, as for this purpose I use a VERY soft Sony around-the-ear style headphone to block out outside noise and to assure as much comfort as possible. So, Shuffles for bedtime and Clips for lots and lots of audiobooks.Thanks for the leads on books. I knew most of them, but was unaware that emusic had books and had never heard of podiobooks. Thanks for feedig my addiction as I go through 5-7 audiobooks a week i addition to the 1-3 I read in the conventional fashion. (Assuming you can call epaper on a Kindle conventional–sorry–I’m hooked on electronics).@Chris–you’re right. The Kindle isn’t great as an audiobook player. But assuming you can make yourself, at least for now–until the industry gets enlightened, DRM, it’s super-great for reading and for having the ability to get a new book practically at you whim. Even free ones as there are a couple of great free ebook sites that you can download to Kindle from for free over the onboard EVDO. I wouldn’t give up EITHER my audiobooks on my Sansa Clip OR my ebooks on my Kindle!Wow, I’ve really found a goldmine in this site.

Ann on November 4, 2009 9:52 AM

This is useful. Thanks!But you left out what for me is the major issue in terms of players for audiobooks – how safe is the rewind? I began with a Creative Zen V Plus, and it’s a nightmare. They have this tiny little stick thing that you have to hold with your thumbnail to fast forward or reverse within a track, but the slightest slip and bam! You’re slammed into a whole new track and just lost your place.To be good for audiobooks, the ‘destruct’ (skip tracks) controls should be completely separated from the forward and reverse controls. Ideally, the player would allow us to disable all destruct controls, since the menu can always be used to change tracks.For your reviews of the Sansa Clip and others, please discuss the safety of the rewind feature! I listen while commuting -riding the train and then walking 8 blocks. Frequent interruptions mean that I often need to go back just a sentence or two (and can’t devote my full attention and both hands to the rewind operation). To be trying to rehear that last sentence and instead be thrown back to the beginning of the book is very unpleasant.

Marjorie on November 17, 2009 8:18 PM

You can either by books at full price (or reduced price if you have a plan)I believe it should say “buy” not “by” . Thought I would mention it. great web site btw

KenR on November 25, 2009 3:30 PM

How do Digital Voice Recorders do as playback devices for audiobooks? Any general observations or comments on specific devices and/or specific providers of content?

Baloc on January 1, 2010 7:18 AM

Sony CD/mp3 walkmans work extremely well for audiobooks. Here are some of their strong points:1) Resume at the spot where you left off when you turn it back on.2) Bookmarking that is persistent even when you change CDs.3) My model advertises 80 hours of battery life, but in realistic conditions, I can expect at least 50 hours! Amazing.4) Unlimited storage: Each CD is 700Mb and you take the number of mp3 CDs that you need.5) Play mp3 CDs from the library straight up, without using a computer to transfer the files.6) Carry as many spare AA batteries as you need. Rechargeables work fine.Negative points:The only negative point I can think of is the relative bulk compared to the tiny mp3 players available today, but it’s still small enough to carry in a coat pocket.

bob on February 15, 2010 12:35 PM

thanks AndreasYour tutorial very helpful.Bob

Annie on May 1, 2011 7:08 PM

A year later I still find this useful, but I am confused at the lack of comments (in this and ALL such discussions on the web) on a really bad problem I have with my Sansa Fuze.As if no one has ever had it but me. My audiobooks are either library downloads (.wma)or ripped from CDs in .mp3. The SF I purchased 2 yrs ago would frequently skip to the next track without finishing the current track. Just during audiobooks, not music. Since some book tracks are hours long it was a big problem, especially when listening in a car thru the radio speakers. You have to find the spot on the track where it skipped, but FWD thru it so it wouldn’t happen again. Sandisk support couldn’t figure it out so they replaced it. Same problem. Replaced it again, 3rd time was the charm. Except,after 2 yrs it stopped being recognized by my PC. I can no longer add new books. So now I need a new mp3 player. ipod won’t work with the .wma formats. didn’t like the Sony. I loved the Fuze when I finally got one to work. Yesterday I found a LEFTOVER Fuze on the shelf (not the new Fuze +),bought it. and SAME PROBLEM. The first book I installed skipped to the 2nd track at 4 different spots in the 1st track. How can this not be an issue for others? Most sites I go to recommend the Fuze for audiobooks.I am so frustrated. Thx, needed to vent.

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