When you’re a busy professional on the go, you likely want to have something to listen to on your commute. While music is great and a perfect way to relax, sometimes you want to get swept away in a novel or sharpen your skills with a business or self-help book.
Audiobooks can help you do that, and they’ve never been easier to access. Gone are the days of buying or renting CDs to get lost or scratched, and trying to remember where you last stopped. Smartphones bring a world of books to your fingertips.
There are many apps to choose from, so here are a few that might interest you.
The most popular and well-known audiobook app is Audible, and I’ve used it many times. It’s the largest audiobook seller and creator in the United States. Founded in 1998 and purchased by Amazon in 2008, Audible creates more than 10,000 audiobooks a year. In 2013, The New York Times said it may be the largest employer of actors in New York City.
Audible Plus ($7.95) membership gives users free, unlimited access to select titles with the option to buy other titles. Audible Premium Plus ($14.95) also includes one credit per month, which usually equals one book. There is also an Audible Premium Plus Annual ($229.50), which includes 24 credits per year.
The good: A seemingly unlimited number of titles from which to choose, simple and seamless user interface and backed by Amazon.
The bad: The monthly cost is high, especially if you don’t listen to audiobooks very often. The a la carte book purchases are also pretty expensive.
The LibroFM app is very similar to Audible in its structure. The major difference is that instead of buying books from Amazon, you get to support your local bookstore. Visit the website of your favorite independent bookstore, and you’ll likely see the logo for Libro. There you can create an account and get started.
The good: Large volume of selections; support independent bookstores.
The bad: I struggled with the app a bit. When I searched for a book on my phone, I got no results, even for books and authors I found on the website. When I contacted the company, a rep told me I had to order the books on the website, then download them to the app. She also said there will soon be a new app release in iOS that will allow in-app browsing.
A Libro monthly subscription ($14.99) includes one credit for an audiobook, or you can join for free and buy audiobooks a la carte.
Libby by Overdrive is the app you want if you love your library. You can listen to audiobooks or read e-books for free with a library card. You download the app, find your local library on the list and log in with your card information. You can also borrow e-books, and you never have to leave your home. It also has a feature where you can tag books you’re interested in so you can go back to them when you’re ready to borrow.
The good: Free books; easy interface.
The bad: You have a time limit. If the book doesn’t have a waiting list, you can renew and keep listening. If there is a waiting list, you have to return it and get back on the list to listen to the rest—it can be frustrating.
Let’s face it: Audiobooks are expensive. The reason is understandable—publishers have to pay for the rights, the readers, the producers and more. But sometimes, you just can’t afford all that scratch. Chirp, by BookBub, is the answer.
Chirp sells audiobooks at a discount, up to 95% off retail. Parent company BookBub, founded in 2012, sells deeply discounted e-books. It launched Chirp, its audiobook division, in 2019.
The good: Very good prices, sometimes as low as $1.99; simple interface; free membership.
The bad: Limited selection of books.
You can sign up for a daily newsletter that sends audiobook deals, so you never miss a good bargain.
Founded in 2007, Scribd is an audio and e-book subscription service that offers unlimited audiobooks, e-books, digital magazines, podcasts, sheet music and documents for one monthly fee. The ability to read (and add your own) documents is an interesting feature, and includes the topic Enterprise Applications. A brief scan of documents in this category discovered a list of CIOs of major corporations that is 464 pages long.
The good: Lots of titles available in many formats; unlimited use with a subscription.
The bad: The audiobook selection isn’t as wide as I’d like. I couldn’t find some titles that I quickly searched.
LibriVox was founded in 2005 to provide “Acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.” Translation: free audiobooks! Readers are all volunteers, and the books are all in the public domain, meaning the copyrights have expired (mostly old books). The catalog contains 27,000 free audiobooks.
According to a blog post in 2020, the catalog included “1,922 projects in 43 languages besides English, and a total of 7,982 solo recordings of novels, poetry and non-fiction.”
If you’re learning a new language, you can listen to someone read in that language, whether a children’s book or a classic novel.
The app and the books are free, but are supported by ads. The pro version is a $1.99 one-time purchase.
The good: Free audiobooks; easy interface; non-profit; inexpensive pro version.
The bad: The books are only public domain; read by volunteers (the reading might not be perfect).
Kobo is known for its e-readers, which rival Amazon’s ubiquitous Kindle, but Kobo is also an e-book and audiobook seller. The audiobook business was originally founded as Shortcovers, but was purchased by Rakuten Kobo in 2016. Now, users can use the app to buy e-books and audiobooks, or join with a monthly subscription, which includes one audiobook download per month.
The good: Good selection of books; easy app interface; cheaper than Audible.
The bad: I wish the Play/Pause button was larger for when I’m driving. I fumbled a bit trying to get it started.
Buy audiobooks at full price or pay $9.99 a month for one book per month, with a free month.
This app plays audiobooks in the public domain read by amateurs, and has more than 470,000 premium and 120,000 free audiobooks in its stacks. It includes the LibriVox and Podiobooks offerings. Bonus: It also includes old time radio shows.
The good: No subscription; just a la carte purchases.
The bad: It’s only available on iOS.
Realm (formerly Serial Box)
Founded in 2015, Serial Box began as an audio entertainment company that creates original fiction podcasts and audiobook series. It focuses on comic books, science fiction, fantasy, horror and similar genres. These are not your typical books read for audio—this is original content. NPR called it “HBO for readers.”
The good: Quality content and a low subscription price; fantastic if you’re into the aforementioned genres; inexpensive subscription.
The bad: Content is limited to those genres, and you’ll need another app for popular books by other publishers.
In April 2021, Serial Box rebranded itself as Realm and now has a subscription service ($3.99 a month) instead of a la carte purchases, but that doesn’t include DC and Marvel titles. You can try out some titles for free in other podcast apps, though they’re supported by ads.