Following the recent articles about downloading and listening to audiobooks from Audible, its only fair to wrap up with a quick look at alternatives to the market leader.  The Amazon corporation dominate so many verticals now that it’s easy to stop right there and look no further, but they are not the only place you can find books read aloud to you.

And many people prefer to avoid using Amazon altogether for complex social and political reasons, so let’s remember they didn’t invent stories read aloud – even my Mum didn’t invent that.  I can recall ‘talking books’ at the library from a very early age, and the RNIB were providing a service of books on tape for visually impaired adults decades ago.

Another thing some people don’t always appreciate from Audible is the fixed monthly sub, so if you want more flexible options than the monthly per-title subscription model, don’t forget good old iTunes – prices vary a lot but you can pick and choose whatever you want whenever, and some items are very low cost (NOT new releases/bestsellers, which are you are much better off getting on a subscription basis than per item cost).

audiobooksITunes also don’t have anything like the 150k+ audiobook inventory of Audible unfortunately (though they do update very frequently), but this is why we all keep going back to Amazon for so many different things I guess, and why they have become a global phenomenon that even tax laws can’t keep up with…

Or would you rather not pay anything at all? Provided you don’t want anything too recent or contemporary, there’s a lot you can do.

Lots of classic and out-of-copyright books are available online free of charge, take a look at Open Culture, which aggregates links from a wide range of sources including iTunes and others, listing hundreds of audiobook files you can download immediately for free as well as poetry, learning resources, movies, textbooks and business training on the rest of their site, it’s a real goldmine, compiled by people who just want to share the love of learning and information.

Media from Openculture can either be streamed from the web or downloaded, and areare organized by genre (fiction and literature, nonfiction and poetry) and author name.  They are funded by advertising, and pioneering academic volunteer support.  They were founded in 2006 and their mission states:

Open Culture brings together high-quality cultural & educational media for the worldwide lifelong learning community. Web 2.0 has given us great amounts of intelligent audio and video. It’s all free. It’s all enriching. But it’s also scattered across the web, and not easy to find. Our whole mission is to centralize this content, curate it, and give you access to this high quality content whenever and wherever you want it.

Books Should be Free also has an extensive range, including lots of children’s books, ready for those long journeys or to bring a new dimension to English Literature studies.

Free Classic Audiobooks has a diverse range of titles listed, but also offers time-saving compilations supplied on DVD by post, such as 7 complete audio language courses in mp3 for  $9.95  or 200 Classic Audio Books on one DVD for  $9.95 – these are shipped from the US for around $15, but with exchange rates as they currently are still represent amazing value compared to buying the titles separately (I am not sure about the Spanish in the language bundle though, would bet it’s Latin American rather than Spanish-Spanish)

Project Gutenberg offers over 45,000 titles, but most originated as eBooks. Its audiobooks project – in collaboration with LibriVox and AudioBooksForFree – catalogues its offerings by whether they are an original human recording or a computer generated one, which is very important: you do not want to find yourself listening to classic literature, or business news, read by a cross between Stephen Hawking and Siri, this really doesn’t work. And does highlight the value of good narration by a trained and selected actor/voice artist, and helps you to understand why audiobooks are so much more expensive even than their physical counterparts.

Project Gutenberg is keen to point out that their ‘free’ materials are only guaranteed to be wholly free of copyright within the US only, putting the onus on users from elsewhere to establish any limitations on their own use.  They do not sell any books, but are supported by a charitable foundation which has been archiving literature for 30 years, you can also donate directly from anywhere via Paypal.

So if you want audiobooks to enjoy whilst exercising, sitting on the beach, taking a journey or doing housework, there are lots of alternatives to choose from.  Remember to consider not just cost but also quality, author involvement and support, formats and apps available, and the actor/reader you will spend time with for many hours, so that you can enjoy your favourite audiobooks just the way you want to.

What’s your favourite? Tell me via or @casslar

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, July 18th 2014

©Maya Middlemiss,  Casslar Consulting SL

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