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The world of audiobooks has seen huge growth over the past decade, with industry surveys showing a double-digit increase for ten years in a row with no signs of slowing down. Various platforms for listening to audiobooks have popped up, each one catering to different user needs, budgets, and preferences.
The recent boom in the popularity of audiobooks can be attributed to a few different factors, but one of the biggest reasons is how well they fit into our busy, multitasking lives. You can listen while you're commuting, working out, or even doing household chores like folding the laundry. It's a great way to access intellectually engaging entertainment while getting some drudgery done.
Saturday, December 2nd
Libby, developed by OverDrive, is a free audiobook service that allows you to borrow digital content from your local library. You can stream titles or download them to listen offline, and all you need to get started is a library card. Libby's homepage is tailored to each library's patrons, making it easy to stay connected to your community and local events. The size of the catalog depends on your local library, but there are often tens of thousands of titles available. Libby offers a complete range of playback features, intuitive categorization, and personal touches like a customizable logo. It's a great service for those who love audiobooks and want to support their local library. Libby easily earns a first-place finish.
While other library-based audiobook services let you borrow a digital copy just like you would a physical one, complete with having to wait on copies checked out by other patrons, Hoopla stands out with "Instant Borrows" - titles that multiple users can access at once without any wait time, symbolized by a lightning icon. They also have "Flex Borrows," symbolized by circling arrows, which are more like traditional borrows where you might have to wait if another user has the title. The app's interface has some quirks, especially involving skipping backwards, but we love Hoopla's wide range of content types, from audiobooks to movies and TV shows.
Libro is an audiobook platform that partners with independent bookstores, sharing revenue from each purchase and supporting local communities. They offer a DRM-free model, allowing users to listen to their audiobooks however they want. Users can choose the indie bookstore they want to support when they make a purchase, and for every purchase, the store receives 15% of what was spent. Memberships cost $14.99 per month and come with one credit for an audiobook of the user's choice, with a 30% discount on additional purchases. Libro offers promotions, a sale category for discounted titles, and playlists curated by indie bookstores. They recently expanded internationally, and their platform is a great choice for those who want to support small businesses and value ethical spending.
Downpour is an audiobook service that offers everything from interactive choose-your-own-adventure audiobooks to hardcovers and paperbacks. Their library includes over 80,000 audiobook titles, with new ones being added regularly. Downpour offers a single subscription plan that includes one credit per month for $12.99 and lets you try it for free for 30 days. You can also rent titles for 30-60 days if you don't want to own them outright. Downpour is committed to letting customers listen to their audiobooks however they want, with no DRM restrictions. They're known for their excellent customer service and ethical business practices.
Audible offers a vast collection of audiobooks, sleep programs, radio dramas, theater, and exclusive "Audible Originals." They offer a 30-day free trial with one free credit to redeem for any audiobook of your choice. If you decide to continue with a paid subscription, they offer two tiers: "Audible Plus" for $7.95/month and "Premium Plus" for $14.95/month. Premium Plus members receive unlimited access to Audible's Plus Catalog, which includes audiobooks, podcasts, and Audible Originals, plus one monthly credit and 30% off any additional titles. The platform offers standard playback features, Whispersync technology, and even recommendations from their editors. Despite its vast catalog and quality audiobooks, some have criticized its exclusivity and high prices.
Everand, formerly Scribd, operates as a subscription-based digital service, offering a wide array of audiobooks, e-books, magazines, and articles for $11.99 per month. Everand is a great choice for audiobook lovers who want to avoid pricey, credit-based platforms. Unlike some competitors, they don't require credits for book selection and even offer a 30-day free trial. While the audio quality of their audiobooks may not be as high as other platforms, most users don't seem to mind. Everand also has user-friendly playback options and fantastic book recommendations. However, keep in mind that they may limit access to certain titles as the month progresses, but they will renew with your next monthly subscription. Overall, if you consume a moderate number of audiobooks, Everand is definitely worth checking out.
Audiobooks has a subscription-based business model that allows members to choose from a curated selection of VIP Rewards books to download for free each month, in addition to receiving one credit that can be used to purchase any audiobook from their catalog, all for $14.95. They also offer a unique feature called Audiobook Clubs which allows members to use their credit to binge-listen to unlimited audiobooks in a category of their choosing. However, their refund policy is strict and users cannot download their purchases in preferred formats. Overall, while there are some intriguing features, Audiobooks does not have an edge over similar services.
Barnes & Noble Audiobooks offers a credit-based subscription model for $14.99 per month, which includes a single credit to purchase a title. They also offer a 30-day free trial with one free credit. They have a respectable catalog of 300,000 titles, the second-largest among competitors, and offer buy-one-get-one-50%-off deals on selected categories. However, their app is buggy, and they use DRM, which can limit long-term access to purchased content. You can listen to audiobooks through their website or NOOK app, but you can't purchase new titles directly from the app. Overall, Barnes & Noble Audiobooks is a decent choice for existing customers, but not the best option for new customers due to its limitations and less impressive features.
BookLender is a subscription-based service that lets you rent physical audiobooks, offering a nostalgic alternative to digital audiobook platforms. Members can choose from several plans based on the number of books they can check out at a time, with plans categorized into Limited and Unlimited. Unlimited plans let you order any number of books per month, which you can keep for as long as you like. Limited plans, on the other hand, allow you to check out only a certain number of titles each month and are cheaper than Unlimited plans. BookLender's catalog of 40,000 audiobook titles is smaller than other services, but they cater to bibliophiles who prefer physical media and seek a more cost-effective way to listen to audiobooks.
Chirp is an audiobook service that offers a pay-as-you-go model, meaning users only pay for individual audiobooks they want to purchase. They curate a selection of audiobooks across various genres and offer them at discounted promotional rates, including entire series of books for as little as $2 and up to $15. Chirp is easy to register for, and you don't need to enter payment information since there's no membership fee. Unfortunately, Chirp is only available in the US and Canada for now, and they use Digital Rights Management (DRM), which means you can't download audiobook files. Users have reported that the Chirp app can be glitchy, and customer service can be difficult to reach.
AudiobooksNow offers a subscription-based model, but also allows one-time purchases at typical retail prices. Members receive discounts of 35%-40% and can join the Club Pricing Plan for $5.99 per month, which grants access to 50% off the first audiobook purchase each month. There's also a "Free Audiobooks" category and a "Free Premium" section for subscribed members. Over 95% of their titles are DRM-free, but their selection is limited compared to leading platforms. The app is intermittently buggy, and the website has an outdated feel with a couple of typos. Overall, AudiobooksNow is below average among audiobook retailers.
And, thanks to technological advancements, it's easier than ever to access audiobooks. It used to be that you had to confine yourself to a room with a CD player to listen to an audiobook, but now, anyone with a smartphone has thousands of audiobooks available at their fingertips. Plus, as audiobooks have grown in popularity, so has their production quality.
Audiobook narrators aren't merely reciting the words on the e-reader in front of them in the recording booth; they are acting out the story. Accomplished actors and seasoned voice artists can bring stories to life, adding an auditory dimension to characters and settings that can sometimes rival or surpass the imagination. Narrators are often chosen because the story resonates with them personally, adding an extra layer of emotion to the performance and making it feel more human.
For those apprehensive about putting on their headphones instead of picking up a book, it's worth addressing some common misconceptions about audiobooks. Contrary to the belief that listening to a book is "cheating" or less intellectually engaging than reading, many studies show that the comprehension levels between reading and listening are strikingly similar. What's more, audiobooks can be particularly beneficial for those with reading difficulties, allowing them to enjoy literature they might otherwise struggle with. They are not a replacement for traditional reading but rather a complementary medium, broadening the horizons of literary engagement.
When it comes to audiobook services, there are several types to choose from. First, there are library-based services which partner with local libraries to allow users to digitally borrow audiobooks. Much like a traditional library, you can "check out" titles for a specific time frame using your library card. However, be mindful that sought-after titles might have waiting lists. Another option is subscription-based services. With a recurring fee, usually monthly, users can access a broad range of audiobooks. Depending on the service, you might get a set number of credits to pick audiobooks each month or even enjoy unlimited listening. Lastly, there are pay-per-title services where, rather than a subscription, you buy each audiobook separately. While there's no monthly commitment, the upfront cost for each audiobook can be higher. The upside is that you typically get to keep the audiobook forever once you've bought it.
When deciding on the right audiobook service, several considerations can help guide your decision:
If you want a detailed overview of the best audiobook services out there, Top Consumer Reviews has your back. We trust our ranked evaluations will guide you to the audiobook platform that best matches your listening habits and lifestyle!
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