Best audiobook services of 2023: Buying guide
From legendary classics to blockbuster new releases, most popular books have become audiobooks; let's compare the best audiobook services and apps.
Quick facts about audiobooks
- Audiobooks are generally word-for-word narrations of novels and are usually a lot more expensive than ebooks or print books.
- Subcription services mitigate this cost by offering audiobook content for a more affordable monthly fee.
- Key features to look for are library size, included monthly audiobooks, and app stability and compatibility.
There's nothing complicated about the concept of an audiobook, it's exactly what you think it is. It's an audio version of a book. There are numerous services available that will allow you to access audiobooks in different ways, with models that mimic what we have seen in music and internet TV over recent years. Single rentals or purchases, or subscription-based services that grant you access to a certain number of books.
However, with growing demand in audiobooks, we've also seen in an increase in the amount of services available. Each vies for your attention with different features and libraries. With some even dramatizing the experience into something more like a play, while others shrink big texts into small audio summaries.
In this article we are going to compare the best audiobook services of 2021 brining you up to speed on the entire market. By the end you will understand the basics of the medium so you can make an informed choice.
Best audiobook subscriptions: Overview and price comparison
|Service||Free Trial||Ongoing cost||Model||Content Overview|
|Audible||Get 1 month||$16.45/month or $164.50/year||Credit||The biggest library of popular and indie audiobooks in the world, including audiobook originals.|
|Headway||7 days||$19.99/month or $139.99/year for unlimited Premium access||Credit and Unlimited options||Houses a large collection of bestselling non-fiction books condensed in 15-minute bite-sized summaries.|
|Kobo||Get 30-days||$12.99/month||Credit||A massive library of content across all genres, but restricted to just one book per month on subscription|
|Booktopia||Get 30-days||$12.99/month||Credit||You can now access Kobo content through Booktopia, Australia's biggest online bookstore.|
|Blinkist||Get 7-days||$19.99/month or $119.99/year||Unlimited||Shortform service that takes long non-fiction works and creates smaller 15 to 20min summations.|
|Spotify||30 days||$12.99/month||15-hours||Over 150,000 audiobooks available as part of your plan, up to 15-hours of listening.|
|getAbstract||3 days||US$ 29.90/month or US$299/year||Unlimited||Offers over 20,000 10min summaries of books, reports, videos and articles that power personal and professional development|
|Scribd||30 days||13.99/month||Unlimited||Includes unlimited access to audiobooks, normal books and magazines.|
|Spiracle||30 days||£12/month or £120/year||Credit||This audiobook platform is set up specifically for indie authors to sell their works, either directly or as part of the subscription service.|
|Playster||Bankrupt||Bankrupt||Unlimited||Founded in 2014, it went bankrupt in 2020.|
|Audiobooks||30-days||$16.45/month or $164.50/year||Credit||The Google owned catalogue of audiobooks grants you two novels per month.|
|Libro.fm||na||US$14.99/month||Credit||Over 150,000 books, with each purchase coming from your local bookstore rather than an online service.|
|Downpour||1 month||US$12.99/month||Credit||A solid collection of new and classic works, with a flexible credit system and the ability to rent audiobooks.|
|Google Play Books||na||Pay per book||Retail||Behaves like an audiobook retail store, where you buy exactly what you want when you want it.|
|Apple Books||na||Pay per book||Retail||An extensive library of audiobooks wonderfully displayed, but each book costs the full amount.|
|Nook - Barnes & Noble||30 days||US$14.99/month||Credit||The audiobook service attached to the American-based Barnes & Noble retail outlet.|
|GraphicAudio||na||Pay per book||Retail||Unique, dramatised audiobooks read by a full cast and backed by sound effects and music|
|Realm||First episode of each series is free||Pay per season||Retail||Serialised audiobooks broken into seasons and broken into episodes well suited to consumption while commuting.|
|BorrowBox||na||Free with library card||Rental||Borrow and return a solid selection of audiobooks as you might at your local library.|
|Libby||na||Free with library card||Rental||An alternative to BorrowBox that's a bit more North America focused.|
|Hoopla||na||Free with library card||Rental||Feature-rich library rental service but still in its early stages of rollout|
|Librivox||na||Free||Free||This focuses on public domain works, with recordings often done by volunteers|
Things to consider when choosing an audiobook service
- How many books can you access per month?
- What are the charges if you wish to access more books in that month?
- When do your book credits expire?
- Does the catalogue of books include the genres you like?
- Do you keep the books you've bought even if you cancel your subscription?
- What devices can you access your books through?
- Is the technology reliable or known to crash?
- Is the narration of a suitable quality?
- Are there good customer support options, such as 24/7 live chat?
Typical features to look for in audiobooks subscription services
- Sleep timers
- Family sharing
- Playback speed adjustments
- Voice controls
- An offline mode
- Syncing across devices
- In-app purchase option
The best known and by far the most popular audiobook service is Audible. It's owned and run by Amazon, utilising similar technology to that which runs its main online retail store. Audible has got the most comprehensive and up-to-date library on the market (although Kobo isn't far behind). Not to mention great curation of available titles. The library includes an expanding range of Originals exclusive to Audible, too.
Yet on the surface, Audible feels quite restrictive. An Audible subscription only provides you with a single credit to exchange for a book each month for the $16.45 fee. That seems pricey when you consider what you get for the same price from alternative entertainment services like Netflix. But the audiobook market, across the board, maintains a premium price for its content.
Originally there was no option to buy more credits on Audible, but that restriction has since been rescinded and you can purchase additional credits for $14.95. Alternatively, there are higher tier plans you can upscale to should you want two credits per month.
Thankfully, while Audible may be on the higher end of the price scale, the service is terrific. You can stop and start books across devices, share with family/household members, benefit from additional discounted sales, return books you don't like, access free children's books and more. We've gone into far more detail in our Audible review.
Needless to say, while other services we compare in this guide offer compelling alternatives if you want the Rolls Royce of audiobook services, then it's Audible.Get your free trial here.
Does Kindle support audiobooks?
While Audible is Amazon's audiobook destination, Kindle is the label through which it sells ebooks. The two do have some interlinked features. In fact, in many instances if you have already bought a Kindle ebook, there is an option to add in the audiobook version at a reduced rate. If you have both, you can then switch between reading and listening to the book depending on what works for you at that time. However, this is a Kindle initiative, rather than an Audible option.
- Most comprehensive library in the market, including Audible Originals
- Lots of bonuses come with your subscription
- Very user friendly and accessible experience
- Restrictive credit system on the base plan
- Many of the books are DRM locked
- Books can be cheaper on other services
One of the more compelling competitors that has emerged from Audible's shadow is Scribd. It's been described as the Netflix of Audiobooks because it provides unlimited access once you subscribe. There are no single credits; you can consume as much as you want. If you've read that's not the case on other sites, it's because Scribd did shift to a restricted credit model for a couple of years. However, it has since reverted to unlimited access.
This is obviously a huge win, and while the catalogue isn't nearly as extensive as Audible on paper that's because Scribd is lacking indie author works more so than blockbusters and big new releases. When it comes to the biggest books from the largest publishers, it's all there. Notably, the so-called "Big 5" in Simon and Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins and Macmillan, as well as major periodicals.
There's no doubting that people who listen to a lot of audiobooks will find the unlimited access and compelling price hard to ignore with Scribd. There are some pitfalls, with noted difficulties when unsubscribing and high demand books throttled, restricting access when load is big. But they're not significant roadblocks.
- Unlimited access to all the biggest audiobooks
- Available on most major formats, including Kindle
- Compelling price
- About half the audiobook library as Audible
- There's been a theme among users that unsubscribing isn't straightforward
- High demand books are sometimes given restrictive access
Spotify audiobooks review
Spotify needs no introduction. The company is a giant in the audio space, and a streaming service already in tens of millions of homes. Australia, alongside the UK, was the first region to get access to its new audiobook subscription service. It grants premium members access to some 150,000 audiobooks.
That's down from the 300,000 available in the USA, however, that's not yet on a subscription model. But rather are purchased individually. In Australia, you get access to less, but you get 15-hours of listening included. You can then buy additional blocks at 10 hours.
The negatives of Spotify are well-established. They're not the best in terms of the royalties granted to creators. However, the user-interface, powerful and accurate AI suggestion system and ease of access can't be denied. With so much room to grow and ambition to knock Audible off its perch, this is a service that's set to rise and rise.
- Easy access at no extra cost for existing members
- Great user-interface
- Service on the grow
- Not a great royalties scheme
- No originals
- Price rises expected
Kobo, or more precisely Rakuten Kobo, is one of the better-known online bookstores in the market. It even has its own hardware, a device like a Kindle but called Kobo, and as well as selling audiobooks, it also offers an extensive range of ebooks. Through it you can access hundreds of thousands of works from all genres, making it a worthy consideration.
Much like its main competitor in Audible, it only offers the single audiobook credit per month on the base plan. Albeit, you then own that book forever. Thankfully, you can buy additional credits in packs of three for less than $39, which is still far cheaper than buying premium books at their full rate. Kobo has also got into the business of funding exclusive audiobooks only available through their store.
There is room for improvement, however. You cannot buy new books directly through the app and you must download the books to your device; as in, you cannot stream them from the cloud. It's also a bit anti-customer to lock additional credits into packs of three. Perhaps more annoying is the fact you can't listen to the books you buy via the website, or – bizarrely – Kobo eReaders.
But given the price benefit seen with this service, it's easy to overlook these issues. Especially if you consume a high volume of audiobooks. The highest level plan is $199.90 for a year, but grants you 24 audiobook credits instantly. This equates to just $8.33 per audiobook, making it the cheapest way to digest lots of content among the credit-based audiobooks providers.Get the Kobo free trial here.
Booktopia and Kobo partnership
In late April 2020, Australia's biggest online bookstore, Booktopia, signed a partnership with Kobo. Through this partnership, you can now purchase audiobooks from Kobo via Booktopia individually or subscribe to the full service itself. The partnership has effectively added a fully realised digital arm to the Booktopia store, while greatly expanding Kobo's reach in turn. It could also help facilitate less region-locked audiobook issues for Australian audiences.
- Millions of books in a huge library, including Kobo Originals
- Competitively priced
- Ability to buy additional credits
- Can't buy new audiobooks in the app itself
- You can't listen via a web-browser or on Kobo devices
- App is a bit feature lite
The aptly named Simply Audiobooks, better known as just Audiobooks.com, is owned by RBmedia and is one of the biggest players in the space. Its library falls short of Audible and Kobo, but not by much, and the service has very much gone about trying to match the experience and professionalism offered by Audible.
As such, the app experience is great – even if you can't buy audiobooks directly through it - and there's a live chat customer service that is quite responsive, too. One of the other key strengths of Audiobooks.com is the quality of its narration, too, as well as the addition of over 700,000 podcasts.
In a handy space saver, audiobooks are not automatically downloaded to your device, but are instead streamed from the cloud. This also allows for easy use across multiple devices. You can, however, choose to download them for offline use should that fit your needs.
It's also worth noting that as well as your one credit each month, you do get access to a select VIP audiobook each month, too. So, you effectively get two books, even if one may not be of specific interest. There are also member deals, where you might be able to select two books for one credit. These additional bonuses help make it a viable alternative to Audible.
- One, easy to follow membership plan
- Up there with the deepest library of audiobooks on the market
- Additional credits can be bought at $16.45 each.
- Credits expire in just three months if not used
- Only one plan tier to choose from, although there is a Family sharing option
- Access to some books is geoblocked depending on your region
Starting in the UK, but with plans to expand into other regions, Spiracle is all about showcasing the works of independent authors. The company's library is full of hidden gems you will not find in other places, across a range of popular genres.
To be fair, the service also features audiobooks from name publishing houses. But it's the work it does with the indie scene that is what sees it standout. It looks for the best offerings out there, and then helps the author convert the literature into audiobook form.
It's still early days for Spiracle, so depth is an issue. But it's certainly one to keep an eye on.
- Helps surface the best of indie writers
- Gems you won't find anywhere else
- Creates a fun, book club atmosphere
- No international expansion yet
- Small library as just getting started
- A tad expensive
While it doesn't have the most extensive catalogue of books in the market, Libro.fm does try to differentiate itself by allowing you to link your account to a local bookstore so they reap some reward for your purchase. In Australia, it's partnered with Open Book. The idea is that Libro.fm provides the accessibility of online purchases, while helping to keep local independent brick and mortar stores alive. This could be a deciding factor for listeners who'd rather not give their money to giants like Amazon and Google.
The number of affiliated stores is expanding, too.
You only get one credit per month as part of your subscription, which can be spent on one book. And unfortunately, you can't top that up should you need to. However, credits don't expire, so will rollover after each month if not used, or can be gifted to friends and family. It's worth noting that the app is very user-friendly, too.
- Supports your local indie books store
- You get a 30% discount off additional audiobook purchases
- You own the audiobooks for ever
- You can't buy extra credits
- Indie stores outside USA and Canada very limited
- Only one book per month included
This service is very much aimed at highly motivated, business or personal growth orientated individuals who want to digest information as quick as possible. Blinkist takes longform non-fiction works and converts them into 15 to 20 minutes summaries that can be read or listened to on the go. These notes are referred to as blinks. The experience is akin to taking notes during a lecture or talk, and indeed you can even send highlights direct to your Kindle or Evernote should you so desire.
Once subscribed, Blinkist offers unlimited access to audiobook summaries. And in further good news, there a free trial as well as a no-cost basic plan that allows you to access one random summary each day for free. This is not a book of your choice, but can be a good way to get synced into the Blinkist experience and to see if it's for you.
There is a likeminded alternative called getAbstract to consider, but that very much dives into business-focused content. Blinkist is much more useful for individual go-getters or info seekers, and is considered to have the better-quality summaries, too. You can listen via the web, via iOS or Android apps, and also works with Amazon Alexa.Get the Blinkist free trial here
- Unlimited books per month
- Great for those who want to upskill their knowledge quickly
- 27 categories to choose from
- You don't get the full book experience
- There's no surfacing of content based on critiques or quality of information
- Relying on summariser to get the intent of the book correct
Running with the tagline, "everything in a nutshell," getAbstract is a rival to Blinkist in that it provides summary content of personal and professional development books in audio or text form. It has over 20,000 summaries in its catalogue – far more than Blinkist - and hangs its coat on the fact it's got 20-years of experience in the field and uses only expert editorial staff to craft the summaries.
However, the basic plan (US$99/month) only offers access to 5000 summaries, requiring the rather expensive pro plan to get the full gamut of selections. At US$299/year that's very much focused on professional businessmen and women, as opposed to self-improvers. There's even an enterprise plan for corporation-wide learning.
It's also worth noting that the narration and depth of the summaries is considered better on Blinkist. Perhaps that's because the getAbstract summaries are generally 30% shorter in length. However, depending on how quick you want the info, that might not necessarily be a bad thing.
- Biggest library of self-help summaries
- Targeted towards businesses
- Flexible pricing model for students
- Not all books have audio options
- Too pricey for those looking for general self-help audiobooks
- Shorter summaries than Blinkist in general
One of the cheapest ways of getting access to audiobooks is through your local library. If you've got a library card, such a rental is free. And thankfully, you can now go through that process online via BorrowBox. It's all done through a simple enough app and while the selection of titles isn't as on point and fresh as the biggest providers, there's still plenty of great authors involved.
The downside is, of course, that it behaves like a library. You borrow these books for a period of 14 days, and you're expected to "return" them. You can even be forced to go on hold for some books, as if they're a physical product that can only be in one human's hands at once. Thankfully, the more popular authors and audiobooks are now available to unlimited people at once.
Naturally, the biggest issue that most consumers will face is discovering whether their local library is part of the system. A chance becoming slimmer as alternatives like Libby and Hoopla enter the mix.
- Free with a library card
- App works well
- Hold times cancelled on bigger books
- Selection not that diverse
- Can only loan for 14-days
- Hold times can make you wait to listen
Libby is an audiobooks service that works in much the same way as BorrowBox. However, it's powered by Rakuten's OverDrive service. Rakuten is perhaps better known in the audiobook space for Kobo.
Libby is more widely used in North America, but is active in 78 countries around the world. As with BorrowBox, Libby allows you to gain access to audiobooks (and ebooks) at no cost assuming you have a library card from a participating library.
While local libraries have never felt like the most modern of establishments, the Libby app and reading experience is of a very high quality. And the catalogue of books, screenplays, papers and more available ranges from the classics to the latest bestsellers. If your local library isn't on BorrowBox, then Libby could be your alternate option.
What is the Sora audiobooks app?
A small sibling of Libby, also powered by OverDrive, is Sora. The Sora audiobooks app behaves in much the same fashion as Libby, however, it focuses in on school libraries.
- Free with library card
- Top tier reading features
- Latest bestsellers and classics
- Often you will have to put audiobooks on hold
- You need that library card
- Not as Australia focused
Google Play Audiobooks review
It should come as no surprise that Google has entered the audiobooks market, but it is somewhat odd that it took until 2018 to get going. Being such a late arrival on the scene, Google Play takes a vastly different approach to Amazon in order to standout. Google Play Audiobooks behaves more like a retail store than a subscription service. Indeed, there is no monthly fee and you instead simply buy the audiobooks you want ad hoc.
There's wins and losses to this system. New releases and popular classics end up being more expensive, however, frequent sales ensure you can often pick up a deal for less than the cost of a credit on rival services. There's even a category of free children's books, although it's not populated by classics. Just don't expect any additional "member" discounts.
Depending on the device you are using, books are read out by the Google Assistant. This doesn't provide a lot of flair to the narration. However, it does means devices that use the Assistant, like Google Home and some TVs, can function as your player. You can even control playback with your voice, albeit in a limited capacity.
Google Play finds its place in the market by giving new audiobook listeners an opportunity to try out the experience in an ecosystem they understand, without going through the process of subscribing to a service.
- Frequent deals can see you get good bang for buck
- Google Assistant-enabled devices can narrate your audiobook
- Books available in nine different languages
- New releases more expensive than when using the credit system
- Books narrated by Google Assistant lack flair
- Google Play interface is bland and simplistic
Jumping on the audiobooks bandwagon back in 2012, Downpour opts for the credit subscription model, albeit at US$12.99/month. This makes it cheaper on face value that Audible, but recent fluctuations in the economy means that may no longer be the case when converted into your local currency.
At least Downpour is quite flexible with its credit system, providing a generous 12-month expiry period and the ability to buy new credits for the same price if you need more than the one per month that comes with your plan. Notably, Downpour also allows you to rent audiobooks at a reduced price; the period is either 30 or 60 days, and you are free to increase the loan period for an incremental price if required.
It would be remiss not to point out that only 97% of audiobooks are included in your subscription, and there are a few books that cost more than one credit. It's not a major issue that hopefully you won't bump into that often, but it does cast a shadow over Downpour that can't be ignored.
Downpour comes with a quality app option should you not want to access the books through a browser. It does have a generous library of audiobooks to select from, too, and it seems to be growing quite rapidly. But it's still behind the bigger name services. What holds the service from being a clear option is that its price isn't that competitive next to Kobo.
- Nicely made, easy to navigate app
- The option to rent audiobooks at a reduced rate
- Flexible credit system
- Some books are geoblocked depending on region
- Outpriced by the similar Kobo and has no trial period
- Library still lags behind bigger services
Some of the greatest stories ever told have now become public domain works, which means they are free from the ties of copyright and can no longer be controlled by the original creator. LibriVox is a service that focuses on public domain works, converting them into audiobooks primarily through the help of volunteer narrators.
LibriVox calls it the "acoustical liberation of books," but while the entry fee is free, the resulting experience is as you might expect at such a price. There's no cutting-edge website or app design here, or in-depth curation system.
As basic as it all may seem, there's plenty of classics to enjoy here, especially if you want free audiobooks for your kids to listen to. Just be aware that there are many third-party LibriVox apps on the App Store and Google Play and these do often have nominal fees (usually less than $5) attached.
Other public domain apps like Oodles
You will find other public domain apps on your journey, such as Oodles and Audiobooks HQ, just be careful to look at the ongoing costs in these apps to then access and listen to public domain works. They're not necessarily trying to rip you off, but instead offer more premium reading experiences for a price.
- It's free to access
- Some genuine literature classics that can be enjoyed by all ages
- Quirky narration can bring some unexpected joy
- Quirky narration can also grate
- Don't expect anything new
- Design and curation leave a lot to be desired
Apple Books audiobooks review
You can, of course, access audiobooks through Apple. However, it behaves effectively as a retail store only. There are no subscription deals or member discounts. You find a book you like in the quite lovely Apple Book store – right next to the ebooks – and purchase it at the displayed price. There's plenty of information provided at the point of sale, and a lengthy preview that can help you decide if it is the book for you.
Apple audiobooks work on Mac, iPhone, iPad and iTouch devices, and on a PC via iTunes. However, it does not work on Apple TV devices. The Apple devices are a lovely place to read and listen to Audiobooks, but unless you only plan on getting one book every now and again, you're likely better off with a subscription service.
- No confusing membership plans
- Lengthy preview feature before buying books
- Great user interface and experience
- No clear discounts, bonuses or freebies to be had
- Limited device compatibility
Nook review - Barnes & Noble
When it comes to books and ebooks, Barnes & Noble are one of the largest suppliers in the world. A lot of the company's digital trade is done through the Nook label and indeed it even makes its own Nook eReader devices. It should come as no surprise then that a Nook Audiobooks channel has emerged where you can listen to some of the best in world literature.
Originally operating under the URL nooksaudiobooks.com, in 2022 it was absorbed into the BN.com storefront. It's also available on Android and iOS via the Nook app.
As part of this move, a subscription model was introduced, allowing users to access books via credits. It's relatively limited in its device compatibility. There's an iOS and Android app, or the option to listen through your browser or your Nook tablet. Unfortunately, the apps are lite on features when compared with other options on the market.
While prices are reasonable, with plenty of sales, the catalogue of options is relatively weak, too. It means Nook audiobooks is worth looking at to price match specific titles to see if you can get a deal, or if you have a Nook tablet.
- Barnes & Noble backing
- Handy if you already have a Nook eReader
- Plenty of sales
- Slim library of titles
- App is lacking in features and a bit unstable
- US focused
Following in the footsteps of BorrowBox and Libby, Hoopla is a virtual extension of local libraries that allows you to rent audiobooks. It extends beyond audiobooks, however, looking to differentiate itself by including comics, movies, music and TV as rental options, too.
Hoopla sidesteps some of the restrictions that have held back its competitors. It offers offline download of files or online streaming options, with no wait lists and the ability for books to be simultaneously used by multiple people. There's great device compatibility, too, expending beyond the usual suspects to Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and ChromeCast.
While this flexibility would seem to make it the more desired option, there are some key details to note. The service doesn't detail how much of its 400,000+ catalogue falls into the audiobook category, so the exact library size may be relatively lite.
Also, the service has been predominantly restricted to North America and Canada in the past. It opened in new territories, including New Zealand and Australia, in April 2021. But there will still need to be groundswell of interest from local libraries before it can compete with the aforementioned alternatives.
- Extends beyond audiobooks to multiple other media
- Great device compatibility
- No costs involved
- Catalogue is lite on audiobooks
- Global expansion out of North America only began in April 2021
- Must have a compatible library card
If you're up for trying something new, GraphicAudio is a niche audiobooks service that runs by the tagline, "a movie in your mind." Instead of just a single narrator regurgitating the words off a page, a full cast gets involved in the readings, along with sound effects, music and other such production values that give the experience more oomph.
The source text responds in kind, with episodic almost comic-like runs on multiple series, some going well into the hundreds. You won't find new release New York Times bestsellers here, but a whole new sub-genre of works from names you've likely never heard of before. There seems to be a preference for fantasy, sci-fi and mystery, too, and an aesthetic that suggests it's targeting the cosplay generation or old-school Trekkies and D&D fans.
There is no subscription to be had with GraphicAudio, with books bought individually via the website to be played on your computer or through the service's app (iOS, Android). The app is known as GraphicAudio Access, should you go hunting for it. Thankfully, prices are on par with what you will find with audiobook venders, if not a little cheaper.
It's also worth noting that GraphicAudio was purchased by RBmedia, the company that also owns Audiobooks.com, in March 2020. What this means for the future of the service remains unclear, but it's possible it could be absorbed into the broader audiobooks.com offering.
- Offers a unique listening experience
- Prices are reasonable
- Long-running series you can binge on
- An acquired taste: some find the sound effects get in the way of the story
- Restricted genres of content
- No subscription offering for cheaper audiobooks
Realm review (ex-Serial Box)
Serial Box is no more; it has become Realm. This comic-to-audiobook focused compnay tackles the sci-fi, thriller and fantasy genres, proving an experience somewhat similar to GraphicAudio. It doesn't quite go as far as GraphicAudio in terms of multiple cast members and detailed sound effects, but there's more than just simple narration on Realm. And while the genre options are more condensed, Realm has managed to score some big-name exclusives, including literature from Marvel.
Realm is accessed through an iOS or Android app, or via the website. There isn't a subscription model as such, but the content is serialised. The theory is that instead of buying single audiobooks, you pay for a season of work in a series you like. Each episode is between 20 minutes and an hour long, making this a great option for those seeking entertainment while commuting.
You can buy single episodes from between US$0.99 and US$1.99 each should you wish, or "subscribe" to a season for between US$5.99 and US$19.99. In a nice touch, you get the ebook as well as the audiobook with your purchase, and the first episode of every season can be heard for free.
- Serialised genre-titles that you can purchase by the season
- Episode lengths are great for commuters
- You can purchase directly through the app
- Very limited in available genres
- Narration has audio effects, but not full casts
- Catalogue is quite small
What is an Audiobook?
Most commonly, an audiobook consists of a voice actor reading out a novel word for word, and you can listen in rather than run your own eyes over the page. However, there are variations where multiple cast members are involved in the reading, or the book takes an abridged form when read out loud.
While traditionally audiobooks have come after the book or ebook version, there are now works commissioned and appearing as "audiobook first." This is a trend started by high-profile distribution services like Audible and Kobo, often as store exclusives, and are not available in physical book form at launch.
Audiobooks exist in widely accepted digital formats that can easily be decoded and played by modern devices. This includes phones, tablets, eReaders, TVs, set-top boxes and computers. While common files types include MP3, WMA (Windows Media Audio), FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding).
How to listen to Audiobooks
How to listen to audiobooks and how to access audiobooks are different, but ultimately connected answers. You'll listen to the audiobook on the device you download or stream it to, using the hardware and software already installed on that device. (At least, in the vast majority of cases.) 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 eReaders.
In most cases, you will access that file through a service likes those compared in this article. Most of these services have their own app, or website portal, through which you can buy or, in the case of a subscription, select the audiobook you want to listen to. You then simply listen to that audiobook through the app itself.
It's worth noting that a surprisingly large number of audiobook stores that have apps don't let you buy new titles directly through the app. Instead, you buy then through the website, at which point they become accessible on the app.
Are audiobooks region or geoblocked?
Audiobooks are not region locked in terms of how you can use files you've downloaded. However, they are geoblocked in terms of store availability in specific regions. An audiobook may show as available on a store in one territory, but not on that same store in another territory. It's extremely disappointing.
This comparison article takes an overarching view of all the services available. The nuances of whether a particular book you're after is available on a service, and then if it is, whether it's available in your region, is hard for us to predict. The rights to regional distribution also change frequently.
Should this knowledge impact which service you will sign-up for? No, it shouldn't, but it's better to be prepared for the occasional setback than to go in expecting access to the full count of audiobooks the service advertises.
Why do people use audiobooks?
It goes without saying that the blind, or those with poor or failing eyesight, are heavily reliant on audiobooks. Indeed, it was the American Foundation for the Blind that first actively pushed the audiobook format during its formative years. There are other medical conditions, such as dyslexia, where audiobooks have proven a boon. While certain industries, most notable education, have also leaned on audiobooks throughout the years.
For most busy, modern day consumers, audiobooks have simply become another entertainment option in the digital age. One that can be used in the context of multitasking. For example, while driving a car, commuting, cooking, cleaning, exercising, gardening and other low-engagemnt tasks where a meaningful distraction can help pass the time.
With more and more people exposed to long periods of time in their day-to-day reading content on screens, audiobooks also provide an entertainment solution that can rest the eyes, but not the imagination.
Let's not forget the audiobook originals, which have begun appearing on some services. Author Philip Pullman, best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy, spoke about how writing first for audiobooks actually changed the experience he created. He spoke of how he'd usually write for a reader, but found himself instead writing for a voice, suggesting there could be a growing niche here with unique experiences to enjoy.
History of the audiobook
Also known as a talking book, the audiobook is nothing new. There are examples of story recordings being played over phonograph as far back as 1877 (by Thomas Edison no less!) and the commercial production of audiobooks as far back as the 1930s. In the decades of the 20th century, audiobooks were sold on cassette tapes, vinyl records and CDs. Many forms of book saw audio re-releases in that time, from poetry and fairy tales, through to full novels and plays.
But as you might expect, the arrival of the internet saw the marketplace for audiobooks increase dramatically. Over recent years, and in particular during the coronavirus pandemic, the popularity of audiobooks has increased dramatically. In fact, at the time of writing the audiobook industry is expected to beat expectations of 25% growth in 2020, exceeding a US$3.5 billion dollar value. A thought given weight by the 60% growth seen in the eBook market in the wake of coronavirus.
As well as a general increase in the consumption of digital products in the wake of stay at home policies and isolation practices, there's also the continued proliferation of digital devices within the home.
Credit vs Unlimited vs Rental audiobook subscriptions
The most commonly used system amongst audiobook services is the credit system. Each month one (or more, depending on the provider and plan) credit is applied to your account and can be used to buy one audiobook.
It seems unnecessarily confusing, but the system allows you to get access to audiobooks at a discounted rate. One credit may only cost you between $12 and $17 per month to get. However, an audiobook may retail for $20 to $50. So, knowing that one credit equals one book means you don't have to think about the actual price of a title, only your monthly fee.
There are two alternative models you will come across. One involves unlimited access, where you can listen to as many audiobooks as you feel like. Obviously, there is no need for any credits to be applied to your account in this situation.
There are also some services that opt for a rental model, where you're granted access to titles for a small period of time. These systems often work like a library, where you may have to put a title on hold if it's currently overused.
What are audiobook players?
While most audiobook services have their own app in which to play and listen to the books you purchase, there are alternatives. Audiobook players can work with content you have purchased and downloaded through some (not all) of the major services and retailers. More commonly, they're used by people playing audiobooks that have been ripped from other media (such as CDs or tapes) or are DRM-free and downloadable as MP3s or other file formats.
Not all audiobook players are free, but many do come with a free trial period and then a nominal cost should you want to upgrade to the full app experience. There's a few that offer interesting features that may better fit your specific situation, too. 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. While Chirp curates the best audiobook deals currently on offer as its standout feature.
Some notable audiobook players are listed below. Please note that not all the apps are available in every region.
- Chirp (Android, iOS)
- Bookmobile (iOS)
- Bound (iOS)
- Smart Audiobook Player (Android)
- Listen Audiobook Player (Android)
- Voice Audiobook Player (Android)
- Audiobooks Now (Android, iOS)
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