Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Where to download free audiobooks

4/15/2014

I enjoy listening to an audiobook as much as I do reading the printed version. And, apparently, I'm not alone. While sales of printed books have declined in recent years, audiobooks are more popular than ever, especially digital downloads, which saw sales jump 29 percent in 2012.

We know that a book on tape or CD can be an antidote for the boredom of a long car trip. In a survey by the Audio Publishers Association, consumers also said listening to audiobooks is relaxing and a good way to multi-task. An audio performance can also make some books more interesting, especially when the book has a talented narrator. Meryl Streep, for example, reads Colm Toibin's novel The Testament of Mary. Nicole Kidman, Dustin Hoffman and Kate Winslet have also recorded audiobooks.

Audiobooks tend to be more expensive than printed versions or ebooks, perhaps because publishers sometimes hire Oscar winners as narrators. At Amazon, the audio CD of Laura Hillebrand's Unbroken costs almost $27. That’s about $12 more than the paperback version and almost four times as much as the Kindle ebook. Audiobooks that are downloaded can be slightly cheaper and are more versatile. With a digital book on your smartphone or music player, you can listen while you're working out, cleaning the house, or walking the dog.

Two of the largest audiobook services offer access to the latest novels and non-fiction titles on a subscription basis. Audible, an Amazon subsidiary, has a library of more than 150,000 books and spoken-word products. Members who pay a monthly fee of $14.95 can download one new book every month. Audiobooks.com offers the same deal: $14.95 for one book per month. Both services provide free Apple and Android apps that play book files on smartphones or tablets.

For readers who aren't ready to commit to a book a month or $179 a year, there are other less expensive sources. Librivox and The Gutenberg Project [http://www.gutenberg.org/] both have large collections of free MP3 audio versions of public domain books by Poe, Twain, Austen or Shakespeare and others. Librivox uses volunteers who read different chapters, so the quality of the narration can vary. Gutenberg's audio library includes books recorded by humans and books read by computer-generated voices.

For more modern fare with better production values, see if your local library has an affiliation with OverDrive, a company that has more than a million ebooks and audiobooks that can be borrowed through public libraries. Enter your ZIP code here to find a library in your area. With a library member number, you can browse and download books from the Web or use OverDrive's free apps for Apple, Android or Windows devices.

OverDrive’s collection includes many newer titles, including The Hunger Games, Life of Pi and mysteries by Patricia Cornwell and Janet Evanovich. But you won't find all the titles at all libraries. Each library has a limit on how many titles and copies it can offer, so you may have to get on a waiting list for a popular book. Most titles can be borrowed for two weeks before they have to be released or extended. If that's not enough time to finish a book, the OverDrive app lets you vary the reading speed, up to double time, without altering the pitch.



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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.

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