So many ways to listen to books

Altho not all of these sources are available in the U.S., it’s still a nicely comprehensive list of outlets where you can listen to books — rather than reading them — a number of them free.

How to listen to your favourite audiobooks

Christina Hardyment rounds up the best platforms, from renting titles via your local library to monthly subscription models

How to listen to your favourite audiobooks

Christina Hardyment rounds up the best platforms, from renting titles via your local library to monthly subscription models

February 6 2021, The Times [of London]

It has taken 150 years and the invention of the smartphone for audiobooks to be recognised as a hugely attractive medium in their own right, with global sales approaching £4 billion annually. The music giant Spotify is the latest big player to join in.

Once upon a time audiobooks cluttered up your shelves with first vinyl, then cassettes and then CDs. Too often they were abridged, because an unabridged classic like War and Peace could cost £50 or more. Now you can listen for nothing or for a modest subscription. They can be downloaded on desktop computers, laptops, smart watches, the newer Kindles (not Kobos) and iPads, and listened to using personal assistants like Google Home and Alexa. On many you can set sleep timers and change the speed of narration. So what are the best ways of listening and how much does it cost? There are lots of apps out there; here are some of the best. (For more details on these and other audiobook download sites, go to

Overdrive /Libby /Borrowbox (Free)
Not enough people know that all the main UK libraries lend audiobook downloads as well as ordinary books, ebooks and audiobook CDs. Search for if using a desktop or laptop, or download either Overdrive’s new Libby app or the Borrowbox app onto your phone or tablet, and sign up with your library number. Then choose a title. The title will disappear after three weeks, so no fines! You can renew once, and you may have to reserve your place for popular titles and wait, just as you would for a library book. This is a great way to try audiobooks out, but offers only the titles your library has.

Librivox (Free)

Founded in 2005 by Hugh McGuire, Librivox is non-commercial, non-profit and ad-free. It publishes upwards of 50,000 free public domain titles of books that are out of copyright. Quality varies: they are read by volunteers from all over the world (primarily the US). Download onto your laptop or via the Librivox free app. Not good for modern authors, but enter Charles Dickens and you will get a GK Chesterton’s essay about him, his letters and several versions of his novels. Well worth exploring; it has many gems unavailable elsewhere.

BBC Sounds (Free)

The BBC Sounds App has an audiobooks section, but it is short on back catalogue, contains only books, almost always abridged titles previously read on radio and only available in individual episodes. However, the many excellent unabridged or dramatised audiobooks produced before the BBC stopped publishing its own are mostly available on commercial sites.

Amazon’s Audible
Easily the biggest and at present the best commercial platform. Established in 1995, it sells approaching half a million audiobooks individually (often pricey) or by subscription for £7.99 for one monthly “credit”, £14.99 for two, or £69.99 a year for 12. Each credit buys you an audiobook of any length. Sample the narrator, return the book if not liked, save credits up, listen on any device including Amazon’s Alexa or the Audible app, cancel any time. Audible Studios now publishes its own often excellent “originals”, as well as books from most commercial publishers, and offers members bargain “daily deals”. Some small audio publishers, such as the specialist philosophy site Ukemi, are only available through Audible. If you buy an Amazon Kindle ebook, you will be offered its audiobook on your Kindle (if it’s new enough) or via the Audible App at an attractively low price, much less than that listed on Audible. WhispersSync means that each version opens at the point you left the other.

Apple Books

Buy audiobook downloads via the Apple Books app on your iPhone, iPad or smart watch. Titles from Audible are not compatible and have to be played on the Audible app (and vice versa). It sells titles individually, sometimes at attractively low prices, with mainly bestselling titles under such categories as kids and young adults, fiction, crime and thrillers, biography and so on. It also offers titles you can listen to for free, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Kate Beckinsale reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Kobo Audiobooks
Toronto-based Kobo competes on price with Audible but not on range. It sells audiobooks individually or by monthly subscription of £6.99. You can buy three extra credits for £19.99. It has some 100,000 titles, but you can’t always sample the audiobook on its webpage. To get access to its Rakuten Kobo app on your phone or iPad you have to sign in. Once accessed, the app is as slick as its ebook reader, which many prefer to Kindle. However, you cannot listen to audiobooks on the Kobo e-reader, as you can with the newer Kindles.

Google Play Books Audiobooks
Launched in 2018, GPBA sells audiobooks individually, sometimes more cheaply than the monthly subscription to Audible, especially for bestsellers. The first Bridgeton novel, The Duke and I, is a snip at £6.99. You have to grope about to find Audiobooks (under Books in Google Play) but you can listen through any Google device, including its personal assistant Google Home. It has a much more limited range of titles than Audible, but is growing. It also offers free public domain audiobooks ranging from Dracula to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

The Netflix of audiobooks. Costs you £9.99 a month, but for that you can download unlimited* audiobooks as well as numerous ebooks and emagazines (including Farmers Weekly). About 125,000 audiobooks, so a quarter the size of Audible. Better for some categories (eg business and biographies) than others. (*If you download what they feel is too much, your account may be “throttled” until the next month.)

Spotify Audiobooks

Users of Spotify’s music platform know that they either stream it free and get interrupted by ads or pay a premium membership of £9.99 a month for ad-free and offline content. Spotify is now beginning to promote audiobooks, which it has had tucked away on its platform for several years. Search “audiobooks on Spotify” in your browser to be taken to a playlist, which is being frequently added to, or put a title or author you hope they have into the search. Titles are divided into episodes, which is rather clunky, nor are there as yet very many of them. It will have to improve hugely to attract listeners from more professionally presented sites. But as with Scribd, you can listen to as many audiobooks as you like, streamed or offline, rather than being limited as with Audible and Kobo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.