January 25, 2012, 8:14 AM — I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about e-books and e-readers, but there's another type of book media that I'm a fan of: audio books. I'm easily bored and have little tolerance for talk radio, so whenever I get in the car to drive somewhere, I fire up an audio book.
There're a lot of ways to acquire audio books. You can still get them on CD and a lot of libraries offer them that way. If you have to buy them on CD you'll find they tend to be fairly expensive: $25-$30 is common.
For most of us, digital versions are probably easier to acquire and they're sometimes cheaper. One interesting source is Podiobooks.com, a system that delivers audio books one chapter at a time in the form of podcasts. Podiobooks's business model is to give you the audio books for free and ask you to donate if you enjoy the artist's work. The site mostly contains books written and read by newer or "indie" authors, but don't let that deter you; there's some great stuff over there.
Probably the most mainstream way to acquire digital audio books is via Audible.com. Audible's primary business model is as a subscription service. You make a payment each month and get a number of credits that you can put towards the purchase of audio books. For instance a $14.95/month membership gets you one credit per month, and most books cost a single credit. You can also just purchase digital audio books from them but they tend to be expensive. For instance Stephen King's 11-22-63: A Novel is $44.95 (though that seems particularly high. Neal Stephenson's Reamde is $23.95 and is over 38 hours long). Members also get access to periodic $4.95 sales of select books.
Audible offers mobile apps for iOS, Android and Blackberry and lets you download the audio files (most titles are broken into parts to save space on your device) while on WiFi. For other devices or for PCs, the audio is offered in a variety of formats, though shuffling files around will be a bit more work than using a handy app. Audible has probably the biggest digital audio book library out there with over 100,000 titles.
If you're a voracious listener, you might find Audible's credit system to be too limiting. At least, Audiobooks.com hopes you will. They've just rolled out a different kind of subscription plan. $24.95/month gets you unlimited access to their library of 11,000 titles. Audiobooks uses a streaming model, so you'll need to use up your monthly bandwidth quota to listen (assuming you're mobile and not on WiFi) and you don't own the books. Cancel your subscription and you lose access. Think of it as Netflix Streaming for audio books.
I'm not sure Audiobooks model is the best choice for people like me who listen to audio books while commuting (I don't spend that many hours in the car, and there's the data consumption issue), but if you're a heavy listener on WiFi (or with a grandfathered unlimited data plan), then the Audiobooks.com model might be perfect. You can access Audiobooks content via any device with an HTML5 capable browser and the service keeps your place for you. Switch from your iPhone to your PC browser and Audiobooks remembers where you've left off.
It's an interesting business model but I do wish they offered some kind of tiered subscription. $25/month is pretty steep for my tastes, but if they offered, say, a $12.95/month model that allowed 25 hours of streaming (roughly the length of a fat novel converted to audio) then I'd be mighty tempted to switch from Audible. I in fact do have a grandfathered unlimited data plan and I'd love to be able to move from device to device without losing my place (in fact even on a single device I've had Audible's Android app reset and lose track of where I'd left off).
I've mentioned three sources of digital audio books today but I know there are many more. Did I miss your favorite? If so, please leave a comment and help promote your favorite source. Or share a favorite book!
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.