There are many places to buy audio books online, however, some sites are a waste of time as they either have a poor selection of audio books or their audio books are of an inferior quality. Even then, each of the good sites have their own particular strengths and weaknesses.
There are currently four sites I recommend for buying audio books – Audible, iTunes, Simply Audio Books and eMusic. This article will help you decide which is the best site for you to buy audio books. There are some differences between these sites when it comes to selection, price, quality, format and digital rights management (DRM), so what might be the best site for someone else might not be the best for you.
Where to Buy Audiobooks Online
Audible is the largest provider of digital audio books on the internet. Its content includes over 100,000 titles, with audio books of all genres, radio shows (classic and current), speeches, interviews, stand-up comedy and audio versions of periodicals such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
In addition to selling individual audio books, Audible offers subscriptions with the following benefits:
- Credits. For a monthly subscription fee, you receive 1 or 2 audio credits. Most titles can be purchased with 1 credit. You can also purchase a year’s subscription and, for a discount, receive all credits at once (note: this is only available in some countries).
- Subscriber Discount. Subscribers can buy audio books without credits for a 30% discount.
- Member Only Sales. Audible runs regular member sales, where prices can drop as low as $5 per audio book.
- Free stuff. Subscribers receive a complimentary subscription to the digital audio version of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Additionally, some content — particularly political speeches, government hearings, excerpts, and short stories from books — are available for free.
The Audible Gold Plan has two introductory offers to choose from:
- Discount Gold Plan. New members can download an audio book for $7.49 per month for the first 3 months, and $14.95 per month thereafter. Learn more.
- Gold Free Trial. New members can download a free audio book with a 30 day trial. Learn more.
Audible audio files, which are formatted in its proprietary .AA format, are compatible with over 500 models of audio players, PDAs, mobile phones and streaming media devices (check the Audible “Device Center” to verify your device will play .AA files). Audible offers apps for Apple iPhones, Blackberry, and Android devices. Additionally, titles can be played on the PC (using iTunes, Windows Media Player or AudibleManager).
Audible offers four bit rate levels, the highest at 64 kbps. The bit rate is the best pragmatic measure of quality because it basically describes the amount of bytes it takes to record a second (or whatever) of audio. The higher the bit rate, the higher the quality.
Audible’s .AA file format includes unauthorized playback prevention by means of an Audible user name and password, which can be used on up to three computers at a time (licenses are available for schools and libraries). Titles can be burned to CD using Apple’s iTunes and some versions of Nero (the DRM generally allows a title to be burned to CD once, although the resulting CDs can be played in any CD player and have no copy prevention).
Many Audible listings displayed to non-U.S. customers contain the following text: “We are not authorized to sell this title to your geographic location.” This is because the publisher who has provided the title does not have the rights to distribute the file in a given region. When a user is logged in, titles that he or she cannot purchase will be hidden.
The Apple iTunes store has thousands of audio books available to buy. Most of these audio books are provided by Audible.
The Apple iTunes store does not offer any subscription plans. If you compare prices between the iTunes Store and the Audible site, Apple’s prices tend to be a few dollars cheaper for an individual title. However, if you sign up for one of Audible’s subscription plans, their pricing drops dramatically (also remember that subscribers can buy audio books from Audible without credits for a 30% discount).
Audio books are offered both in the Audible .AA or in iTunes’ own AAC format. Unlike Audible, Apple only sells audio books encoded in 32 kbps bit rate, recognizing that most people don’t want to have to make decisions about which format to choose. Note that unlike music content on the iTunes Store, most audio books purchased from the iTunes Store are DRM-protected.
Simply Audio Books has a catalog of more than 10,000 digital audio books. They also have a rental program where audio books on CD are shipped to you.
Like Audible, Simply Audio Books offers subscriptions which give you credits you can redeem towards audio books on the site. Subscribers receive 1, 2 or 3 credits per month, depending on their plan.
eMusic has more than 10,000 titles currently available.
Like Audible and Simply Audio Books, eMusic has a subscription service that makes audio books much cheaper than buying individual audio books. eMusic audio books are $9.99 per credit (most books in the eMusic catalog are available for one credit). eMusic offers a 14 day free trial which includes one free audio book.
eMusic’s audio books are available in MP3 format. This means eMusic audio books play on any device and can be copied to multiple computers and burned to CDs and DVDs without any restrictions. eMusic audio books are encoded in 64 kbps bit rate.
The following table summarizes the differences between the four sites, with further information below:
|Cost Per Credit||$14.95 (1 p/m) $11.47 (2 p/m)||N/A||$14.95 (1 p/m) $12.48 (2 p/m)||$9.99|
|Format||AA||AAC / AA||Mp3 / WMA||Mp3|
|Bit Rate||8 – 64 kbps||32 kbps||48 kbps||64 kbps|
|DRM||All DRM||Most DRM||DRM-Free (Mp3) & DRM (WMA)||DRM-Free|
Selection. Audible has the largest selection of audio books available online for download. It also has a large community of audio book listeners who rate and review the audio books they listen to (ratings and reviews on the other sites are usually pretty thin). I pay close attention to the ratings and reviews on Audible when selecting which audio book to listen to next, and as a result I very rarely regret my choice. This means that Audible is normally the easiest site to find the perfect audio book. Note: as mentioned above, some titles on Audible are not available to non-U.S. customers. If Audible does not have a particular audio book you are searching for, try the other sites recommended in this article as they may sell it.
Price. Subscription plans are the most economical way to buy audio books. Audible, Simply Audio Books and eMusic each offer subscription plans. eMusic sets its apart by being cheapest monthly subscription service at $9.99 per credit. Note: Audible and Simply Audio Books have annual subscription plans that reduce the cost per credit in the above table, however, they are still not as cheap as eMusic.
Quality. In regards to quality, all sites provide audio books that are “more than good enough”. Both Audible and eMusic encode audio books in high-quality 64 kbps bit rate which is noticeably more crisp and clear, especially with audio books that have musical passages (e.g., mood music in between chapters).
DRM. If the usage limitations related to DRM are an issue, the best option is eMusic as its entire audio book catalog is DRM-free. Simply Audio Books also offers many of its audio books DRM-free.
While each of the sites I recommend in this article are good, the two clear standouts are Audible and eMusic. If you are having trouble deciding which is better for you, why not try them both? As previously mentioned they both offer a free trial which include a free audio book download.