Audiobooks are generally word-for-word narrations of novels that are usually pricier than ebooks or print books.
Subscription services can offer audiobook content for a lower monthly fee.
Key features to look for are library size, app compatibility and what audiobook selections are included.
An audiobook is exactly what it sounds like: It’s an audio version of a book. Platforms offer access to audiobooks with similar models to music and Internet TV subscriptions. These include single rentals or purchases, or subscription-based services that grant you access to a specific number of books.
But with the growing demand of audiobooks, we’ve also seen an increase in the amount of services available. Each offers different features and libraries, with some even dramatizing the experience into something like a play, while others shrink large texts into shorter audio summaries.
Compare popular audiobook subscription plans considering cost, subscription model and its free trial offer.
What is an audiobook?
An audiobook consists of a voice actor reading out a novel word for word so you can listen in rather than run your own eyes over the page. Sometimes there are variations where multiple narrators are cast in the reading, or the book takes an abridged form when read aloud.
Typically, audiobooks have come after the hardcopy or e-book version, but now you can find works commissioned and appearing as an audiobook first. This is a trend that high-profile distribution services like Audible and Kobo have started as store exclusives, so the titles aren’t available in physical book form at launch.
Audiobooks come in a wide array of digital formats that can easily be decoded and played on everything from phones, tablets and eReaders to TVs, set-top boxes and computers. Common file types include MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) and Advanced Audio Coding (AAC).
How to choose the best audiobook service
Consider these important questions when choosing an audiobook service.
How many books can you access monthly?
How much will you pay for additional books?
When do your book credits expire?
What genres does the library include?
What happens to the titles you’ve purchased after you cancel your subscription?
What devices can you use to access your books?
How reliable is the platform technology?
What is the narration quality?
What are the customer and technical support options?
What features should I look for?
Features make your listening experience all the more enjoyable. Find out if you would benefit from:
Playback speed adjustments
An offline mode
Syncing across devices
In-app purchase option
3 types of audiobook subscriptions
Subscription systems can vary from credits, unlimited access and rentals. The perks and drawbacks will depend on your listening habits, but include:
Credit. Audiobook services most commonly use the credit system. Each month credit is applied to your account and can be used to buy your favorite audiobooks. Each system differs depending on the provider and plan.
Unlimited. Unlimited access lets you listen to as many audiobooks as you want for a flat monthly fee. Some subscriptions give you access to news, magazines and even sheet music with your membership.
Rental. Similar to a public library, this model gives you access to titles for a limited time. Systems offer various formats, either for remote digital download or in hardcopy format where CDs are mailed to your address.
How to listen to audiobooks
You’ll listen to the audiobook on the device you use to download or stream it to, using the hardware and software already installed on that device. You don’t have to buy new hardware, even if the audiobook provider has their own device, such as with the Nook, Kobo and Kindle e-readers.
In most cases, you access that file through a service through an app or website portal where you can buy or select the audiobook you want to listen to with a subscription. You then simply listen to that audiobook through the app itself.
Many audiobook platforms require that you buy the titles through its website, not the app.
What are audiobook players?
While most audiobook services have their own app, there are alternatives. Audiobook players can work with content you purchase and download through some of the major services and retailers. More commonly, people use them to play audiobooks that have been ripped from CDs or tapes, or are DRM-free and downloadable as MP3s or other file formats.
Not all audiobook players are free, but many come with a free trial, with an option to upgrade to the full app. A few offer interesting features that may better fit your specific situation.
For example, Bound lets you stream your audiobooks from a remote server, such as Dropbox, so you don’t need any on-device storage space. Audiobooks Now offers an integrated store so you can buy as well as listen on the app, while Chirp curates the best audiobook deals currently on offer as its standout feature.
Some popular audiobook players are listed below. Please note that only some apps are available in different regions.
Chirp (Android, iOS)
Smart Audiobook Player (Android)
Listen Audiobook Player (Android)
Voice Audiobook Player (Android)
Audiobooks Now (Android, iOS)
Downloaded audiobook files are not region-locked, but they are geoblocked — the store is not available in specific areas. An audiobook may show as available on a store in one territory, but not on that same store in another territory, which can be frustrating.
Whether a particular book you’re seeking is available on a service, and whether it’s available in your region is unpredictable. The rights to regional distribution also change frequently.
Audiobook formats are user-friendly and reaches a large and diverse demographic. People with dyslexia, or with low vision or blindness benefit from audiobooks, and the American Foundation for the Blind was instrumental in advocating for their development and release. Audiobooks have also been useful across industries, particularly education.
But for most busy consumers, audiobooks have simplified the reading experience. People can multitask while commuting, cooking, cleaning, exercising, gardening or other mundane tasks where a meaningful distraction can help pass the time.
With more and more people exposed to screens for long times in their day, audiobooks offer an entertainment solution that’s easy on the eyes, but boosts the imagination.
As far back as 1877, records show Thomas Edison played back story recordings over the phonograph. The commercial production of audiobooks arrived shortly after in the 1930s.
Throughout the 20th century, audiobooks were sold on cassette tapes, vinyl records and CDs. Many genres saw audio re-releases in that time, from poetry and fairy tales, through to full novels and plays.
But the arrival of the Internet caused an audiobooks marketplace explosion. Most recently — with a 60% growth seen in the e-book market in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic — audiobook popularity has exponentially increased.
As of June 2020, the audiobook industry is expected to beat expectations of 25% growth for the year, exceeding $3.5 billion dollars.
Chris Stead is the innovations editor at Finder. He is a gaming, tech and sports journalist with more than 24 years of writing and editing experience. He has previously worked at Game Informer, GamePro, Maxim, MCV Pacific, Gameplayer, Grab It, the University of New South Wales, Krash, It Girl and Fortnite Magazine. He has contributed to IGN, GameSport, NBN, Rooster Teeth, Fandom, Sydney Morning Herald, FilmINK, Brag, Popular Science, Foxtel, PC World, Hyper and Red Bull. Chris has a Bachelor of Advanced Science in Biology from the University of Sydney. A father of three, Chris has a passion for travel, photography and surfing.
Access your local library’s audiobook titles and resources — for free — using this simple app.
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