An Audio Book Primer

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Jason

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A few recent threads have cropped up on audio books, and I realized that there wasn't really any substantive content here at AW about sources for audio books from a consumption perspective. So, I figured I'd take a crack at it.

The four big pitfalls or perils of audio books are the narrator voice, the financial cost, the time cost, and the source.

1. The Narrator
No doubt, a narrator can make or break a book. If it's a good book, the narrator can ruin it, and if it's an average book, a great narrator can really elevate the game.

2. The Finances
Audio books can range in price from free to upwards of $30-50 depending on where you get them from. Of course, as with anything, the more you pay, the better the odds of having a good experience. The problem then becomes one of budgeting. Many of the audio book services out there offer subscription services where you can limit your monthly spending because they give you a monthly allotment.

3. The Time
Depending on how much and how often you listen, it can take you a month, a week, or even just a day to listen to an audio book. The average audio book runs anywhere from 8-10 hours for a typical novel. Some of course are longer, and others are shorter (GOT for example was a 40 hour listen...so make sure you're okay with Roy Dotrice voice!)

All that said, when it comes down to it, you need to decide how much time, how much money, and what kind of quality you want from your listens.

4. The Source
The other factor that then comes in is where to get them from. You can just flat out buy them directly from providers like Apple, Amazon, or a myriad of sellers out there. These can get costly quickly though, so many resort to subscription services, so here's my short list of audio book subscription providers out there.

Audible
The elephant in the room, is of course, Audible. They apparently cover about 40% of the audiobook market though, which means there are some other options as well, but in general, they do have probably the most titles. While I have enjoyed a few books gifted to me through Audible, the membership options are limited and a bit pricey. There's several plans, and they break down as follows:

PlanCost# Credits
Audible Plus$7.95/ monthNo Credits
Audible Premium Plus$14.95/month1 per month
Audible Premium Plus 2$22.95/month2 per month
Audible Premium Plus Annual$149.50/year12 per year
Audible Premium Plus 2 Annual$229.50/year24 per year
Audible Escape Subscription$12.95/month for standalone customers, $6.95 for Audible Members or Kindle MembersNo credits

*Check here for changes or updates in pricing over time (remember, trust but verify)

I also really like their player. Like iTunes it continues to play in the background while I do other things like sift through email, or play a quick turn of Words with Friends. The user interface is nice and clean, and not a lot to decipher in here. It's just an easy experience.

Libraries
When my trial subscription from Audible ran out, I started going to my local libraries. Now, I have the particular fortune of having created accounts in every city I've ever lived in, and the local libraries have let me keep my accounts active despite my having moved out of state. (Ohio, Colorado, and now TN)> Of course, I never told them I was moving, so maybe I am gaming the system a bit.

But, libraries use apps like Overdrive for their player, or Libby, which sometimes will route you to Amazon and download the rented audio book to your Audible player! :)

This means adding another app to your smart phone, which is already screaming for more storage space from me, but I do use it to do a lot of other stuff like take reference photos, I store a LOT of music on there, and my email storage is, well gargantuan.

The problem with libraries is quite simply - inventory. They often don't have new releases, or if they do, the wait time can be really long. (Right now I am on a 4 week delay for a few popular audio books, but it's getting harder to wait as I want to get into another book without waiting a month!). So, I turned to some other sources out there.

Librivox*
I really like Librivox - their whole purpose is to create a library of works in the public domain. It's kind of a mixed bag for a reader, because you may find the book you want, but it's unlikely that just one narrator will be in your head. For an 8 hour listen, that could be kind of jarring to switch from one narrator to another abruptly and could really mess with the flow of the listening.

The only other caveat here is you need to provide your own player. They do not provide a player, just give you the zip file to download, which you then have to decompress or unzip and load the resulting MP3 files into a player of your choice. So, porting this on to a smart phone can be a bit of a challenge for the non-technically savvy folks out there.

But, you get it for free, quite literally, with no obligation. What more motivation do you need to sign up and at least give it a try?

ScribD
Very similar to Audible in the UI, and it's nice because there's another free trial period where I get unlimited play time before getting charged $10 (so 66% the cost of Audible, but I get unlimited access to their entire library. While they claim a library of more than 1 million ebooks and audio books, I am not sure what portion falls into the latter - could not find that broken down. But I already have found that some titles I am searching for are just not available there, which is unfortunate. But there are still plenty of titles here that may warrant keeping this as an option.

With the power of Google, I found two pretty decent summaries of the various options out there.

The rest of the players:

While I've not had a chance to peruse the rest of below, these others seem to be the remaining 50% of the audio book marketplace where there's any sort of substantial enough library. I think all have apps, but again, I've not explored them all yet. So, consider kicking the tires before committing to any of the below, as YMMV depending on what kind of UI and experience you are looking for.


  1. Audiobooksnow (dot com)
  2. Downpour
  3. Hatchette Audio
  4. Libro.fm
  5. Chirp
  6. FreeBooks
  7. The Classic Tales Podcast

Any others have their own experiences with audio book repositories they'd like to share, the more the merrier to this party! Thanks for taking the time to check this out, and let me know if you have any questions. :)

*Full disclosure, I am a contributing narrator to Librivox, so my personal subjective standards may have colored the option a bit above.

Finally, I put this post together after a bit of Google research, so you are free to Google and research on your own to find things however you like. To aid in that, the two sources where I found pretty much everything above (outside of what I'd found on my own of course), were these two articles:
https://www.technobuffalo.com/6-audiobook-site-alternatives-to-audible
https://modernmrsdarcy.com/audible-alternatives-audiobooks/

There is a bit of overlap between the two, and what I have done above, but hopefully this will serve as a good starting point for those looking to get started.
 
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Lakey

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Thanks for pulling together all this information, Jason. Just to avoid putting people off too early in your post, I want to clarify something:

2. The Finances
Audio books can range in price from free to upwards of $30-50 depending on where you get them from. Of course, as with anything, the more you pay, the better the odds of having a good experience. The problem then becomes one of budgeting. Many of the audio book services out there offer subscription services where you can limit your monthly spending because they give you a monthly allotment.

I have about 300 audiobooks and I have never spent anywhere close to $30 on one.

Some key missing information here:
  • Audible offers a membership service where for $150 you get 12 credits that you can spend over the course of a year (if you spend them sooner, you can buy more). All audiobooks on the site can be purchased for one credit — even the 40-hour behemoths with list prices upwards of $40. That means you can get any audiobook on their vast site for $12.50.
    (It is possible that I have an older version of the membership service and that you now can’t get credits for less than $15 as Jason says; even so, that means no audiobook has to cost you more than $15.)
  • Audible has frequent sales of several types (some are only open to members).
    (a) Half-price sales, where books are available for half their list price. This brings the price of many books down below $12.50, meaning you can get them for less than the price of one credit.
    (b) 2-for-1 sales, where a selection of books is available at two for one credit.
    (c) $6.95 sales, where a selection of books is available at that price (I’ve been a member long enough to remember when these were $4.95 sales)
    (d) Daily Deals, where one book is offered for as little as $2.95.
  • I am also a member of Chirp, which has a selection of audiobooks on discount for a month at a time. You can get a daily email highlighting a handful of titles for about $5 or less. These are exactly the same editions that Audible carries, so the same professional narrators and high-quality production. (I can’t speak to the other membership services out there as I have not tried them, but I would guess they are competitive with Chirp.)

I just want to get this up front, because buying audiobooks doesn’t have to be all that much more expensive than buying Kindle books. Like I said, I have a huge collection, and I’ve never had to pay more than $12.50 for ANY audiobook I wanted; frequently I pay far less. (It’s not just the obscure titles that are available at this reduced price — any audiobook in Audible’s vast library can be bought for one credit.)

:e2coffee:
 
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If you're interested in trying Audible, use this AW Affiliate link for an Audible 30 day free trial with 2 free audio books.

Regarding libraries: many have books on CDs. Many also offer books via Freegal or Hulu; neither require you to use apps, both offer them.

If you're visually disabled, you have access to the Federal audio book programs in the US.
 
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Lakey

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I wanted to come back with an update. Audible has added a new feature to the type of membership I have: A catalog of books that members can stream or download at no additional cost. Think Kindle Unlimited, except for audiobooks. I've been browsing the catalog and it's a decent selection of books; something like 10% of my wish list is on it at the moment, just as one data point, and it's a mix of new and old titles across many genres/marketing categories.

I poked around on the FAQ to find out about whether the catalog changes, and found this: "New titles are added every week. If, for any reason, a title you have selected needs to be removed from the Audible Plus Catalog, you will be notified in the app." So that doesn't say that they will remove titles from the catalog, but it does allow that they might. Edit: On further poking about, I found this: "While the content in the Audible Plus Catalog may rotate from time to time, we expect most titles currently in the Catalog to remain available for the foreseeable future. We’re working on a method to give all customers ample notice if a title is slated for removal from the Audible Plus Catalog."

So my $150 yearly membership gets enough credits to purchase 12 audiobooks per year, plus unlimited access to this "included" library. This is a pretty nice bonus that I will definitely take advantage of. (I had recently renewed my membership when the program was announced!)

(I've got no affiliation with Audible beyond being a pretty happy customer -- I don't get any benefits from sharing information about my membership.)

:e2coffee:
 
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Jason

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Yeah, the thing for me is I am chewing through an audiobook a week these days, so even the $150/year of 12 only covers 3 months worth. Heck, even their Premium Plus package of $230/year for 24 wouldn't cut it - so I gotta take a multi-pronged approach to include a combination of my local libraries, Audible, and Librivox. I tried the trial of Scribd and while it was fine, that just got to be too many apps to manage.

In the interests of making this a more complete thread, I realized my OP did not include accurate pricing, so will update that here shortly, but for those not wanting to go back and read the whole "primer", here's the short on Audible pricing (source content here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=202162280):

PlanCost# Credits
Audible Plus$7.95/ monthNo Credits
Audible Premium Plus$14.95/month1 per month
Audible Premium Plus 2$22.95/month2 per month
Audible Premium Plus Annual$149.50/year12 per year
Audible Premium Plus 2 Annual$229.50/year24 per year
Audible Escape Subscription$12.95/month for standalone customers, $6.95 for Audible Members or Kindle MembersNo credits

The two plans where there's "no credits", essentially there is a curated selection of audiobooks, podcasts, and other original or exclusive content, and you can listen to anything in that category without having to use credits.
 

Lakey

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The two plans where there's "no credits", essentially there is a curated selection of audiobooks, podcasts, and other original or exclusive content, and you can listen to anything in that category without having to use credits.

NO this is not correct. All the plans with “plus” in them include the subset of audible content that is free and unlimited, whether or not there are also credits. My plan, for instance, Audible Premium Plus Annual, gives me 12 credits a year AND unlimited access to the titles in the selected library.

:e2coffee:
 
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Jason

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Thanks for clarifying, but now I am unclear. Can you please help me understand what an Audible Plus and an Audible Escape plan includes that I got wrong? (since those are the only two in question here...)
 

Lakey

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I don’t know about Audible Escape — it was introduced before the new “plus” services, but it seemed to emphasize romance titles, which is not a genre I read, so I never looked into it.

As for the others, they all provide unlimited access to the “included” catalog. Some of them also include credits, which are needed to get titles that are not in the “included” does that make sense? Put another way, the Audible library consists of:
* Titles you can purchase, using money or credits. Once you purchase these titles, you can download and listen to them even if you cancel your membership.
* A smaller set of titles that members can listen to without spending additional money (beyond the cost of membership) or credits. If you cancel your membership, you lose access to this catalog.
The only difference among all the “plus” plans is how many credits they come with: None, 1/2 per month, or 12/24 per year.

But I don’t know that you need to reproduce their entire price structure here, because it’s on their website — easier just to give the broad strokes here and send interested folks over there for details, I think.

:e2coffee:
 

Jason

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Then let’s just go back to the OP before details on pricing and packages were introduced lol
 

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