The Essential Guide to Downloadable Audiobooks

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downloadable audio booksAudio books are not a new invention – their history can be traced as far back as 1933 when J. P. Harrington began recording oral histories of Native American tribes. In the late 1970s audio books began to be distributed on cassette tapes (commonly known as ‘books on tape’). The invention of CDs increased the popularity of audio books by adding to their convenience and offering a cleaner and crisper audio sound.

In recent years audio book technology has transitioned yet again with the advent of downloadable audio books.

Benefits of Downloadable Audio Books

Audio books have a number of benefits, the primary one being the ability for a listener to multi-task. For example, audio books can be listened to while commuting to and from work, while doing household chores or working out at the gym. Some other benefits are:

  • You can listen to an audio book when its dark. This means you can listen to audio books when you are out camping, or simply when you are drifting off into sleep each night.
  • Audio books are a great way to learn a foreign language. It is proven that learning a new language is easier if you hear it often.
  • Kids can learn the pronunciation of words through listening to audio books.

Downloadable audio books have a number of additional benefits over other formats:

  • Digital audio books don’t take up room in your house. You can store hundreds if not thousands of audio books on your listening device.
  • You can download audio books and begin listening to them straight away. This means no waiting for them to arrive in the mail or paying for shipping.

Downloading & Listening to Audio Books

downloadable audio books

Audio books are easily downloaded and listened to. The process is normally as simple as clicking your mouse to begin the download. Once the download is complete, most people transfer the audio to a MP3 player, personal digital assistant (PDA), or smartphone for listening on the go. Others transfer, or “burn,” the content to audio CDs, while others simply listen at their computers or through a digital home entertainment network.

The most popular place to listen to an audio book is in the car. You can play audio books on your car stereo system with CDs or by connecting your listening device (e.g. iPod) to the stereo via an FM transmitter or the AUX input.

Audio book apps are becoming an increasingly popular way to listen to audio books. Audible, for example, has released apps for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android.

Audio Book Narration

Audio books sometimes feature the author’s own voice although many are given dramatic readings by one or more actors or at times embellished with sound effects. It’s always a good idea to pay attention to the narrator before downloading an audio book as a good narrator will add to your experience of the audio book (and a bad narrator can ruin it!). You can do this by listening to a sample of the audio book before downloading it and/ or reading the reviews from other people.

Abridged vs. Unabridged Audio Books

In an abridged title, the publisher may take away parts of the text, leaving the audio book shorter. Unabridged titles offer the full unedited version of the text. Which is better? Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. If you want to read more audio books and save money on each one, buy the abridged audio book version. Want to experience the full text of the book the way the author intended? Download the unabridged version.

Audio Book Quality

The bit rate is the best pragmatic measure of quality because it basically describes the amount of bytes it takes to record a second of audio. The higher the bit rate, the higher the quality. Audio books encoded at 32 kbp are usually more than good enough. Audio books encoded at 64 kbps (e.g. Audible’s “Enhanced” format) are noticeably more crisp and clear, however, you also need to consider the hard drive space and capacity on your listening device.

Free Downloadable Audio Books

free downloadable audio books

There are many places you can find free downloadable audio books. Here are 10 of the best sites:

You can also download audio books for free from the library. NetLibrary and OverDrive provide the infrastructure for libraries to distribute digital content (ie not just audio books, but also eBooks, music, and video). To learn more about this visit the website of your library or visit OverDrive Search.

For more information on free downloadable audio books see The Complete Guide to Free Audio Books Online.

Buying Audio Books Online

I recommend the following sites for buying audio books:

Each of the above sites have their own particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to selection, price, quality, format and digital rights management (DRM). For a full overview of these sites see The Best Places to Buy Audio Books Online.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, embeds usage limitations onto CDs and audio book downloads.  Audible and iTunes , the two biggest retailers of downloadable audio books, sell DRM-protected audio books. There is a growing trend toward DRM-free formatting with retailers such as eMusic and Simply Audiobooks selling audio books without digital restrictions.

Recommended Audio Books

With so many audio books available online, you may find it difficult to decide which audio book to download. If this is you, I recommend you try the following (they’re some of my favorites):

For more suggestions see my recommended audio books page.