We have talked here before about some of the ways the online world has affected books and reading.  Even if you are a stand-out devotee of good old-fashioned ‘tree books’ you probably choose and buy them online, especially if shopping outside of the UK, and enjoy reading reviews and discussions online, you might even be a member of sites such as Goodreads and connect with other book fans anywhere in the world.

But e-reading isn’t the only way digital media can bring books into your life, another quiet revolution has also taken place in the form of audiobooks.

I used to love story tapes as a child, and I can remember my Mum recording some of our favourites herself to keep us quiet on car journeys.  CDs made it easier of course, and we still have some huge stacks of disks – an unabridged Harry Potter, in the languid tones of Stephen Fry, can not only take you half way across Europe it also filled half the glove box as well, as you tried to keep them in the right order and stored correctly.


Books you can listen to – not a new idea!

They also cost a heck of a lot more – to stick with Harry Potter, the new Kindle version of the Goblet of Fire can be yours for a mere £6.99, but if you want the audio CD set it’s £43.40, reduced from a cool £62. Never mind 17 CDs, for that price I would like Mr Fry to ride shotgun for the entire car journey, peeling me grapes and checking the map for nice places for lunch… we could talk about our favourite apps when JK digresses into too much of the teenage hormone dialogue that padded out Book 4.

The other thing about hugely expensive story CDs I tended to find was an even lower cost-per-use overall, because unlike a paperback you might return to over and over, I tended to want something new each time, for me it was more like watching a movie – typically once only, rather than repeatedly.   But the big price-tag made them less likely to get casually loaned around and enjoyed by lots of different people (they also took forever to rip to iTunes too).

A very pleasant discovery of recent years therefore has been Audible, a subscription service from those ubiquitous people at Amazon.  As well as offering  a wide range of titles from an amazing range of genres for sale at prices somewhere about half way between the typical eBook vs audio CD versions, they have a monthly subscription model as well – starting from £7.99 a month, but currently offering a first 3 months for £3.99.

This is for the book per month subscription, and if you become an avid fan there are two book per month or annual subscription options available as well. There is a lot of flexibility in switching between the plans, and they even offer a no-questions-asked returns policy if you dislike a book.

So far I haven’t exercised that option, because I have been impressed with everything purchased.  The titles are all read well, some by the author, others by an appropriate actor or voiceover, and all are appropriate adapted for audiobooks – in the sense that they don’t ‘refer to diagram on page 100’, they would say ‘the diagram to accompany this can be downloaded from xxx’.

Before choosing your book you can view descriptions and reviews, and also see whether the title you want is the full unabridged original text or not.  I buy a lot of business and non-fiction titles, and often they release two Audible editions, depending on whether you want the full text – which might be 18+ hours – or you prefer a shorter summarised/abridged version.

Interestingly, often the abridged version is read by the author themselves, whereas the longer version is more likely to be voiced by a professional actor – I guess spending hours and hours in a sound booth may be unappealing to some authors, or they might just not be the best voice to listen to, or best suited to the text itself (I mean, Stephen Fry and Harry Potter – some matches were made in heaven, clearly… though the Harry Potter books are still curiously NOT available on Audible UK)

One quirk I find surprising – even though anything else would be unworkable – is the blunt nature of the subscription rate of one book = one item.  The new Jodi Picoult, read by the author, is 20 hours long and costs either £21.73 or one subscription. “101 Harry Potter Facts!”, weighing in at a full 17 minutes long and read and written by someone you have never heard of, costs £3.99… or, one subscription unit.  Well, I know what I am more likely to use my monthly sub on, and like I said I cannot imagine how else they could make it work really.  And you always have the no-strings guarantee to fall back on if you thought you had stumbled on a new JK original and feel horribly disappointed…

Occasionally though, Audible does decide that a book is simply too long for a single title and will split it – to the disappointment of subscription fans, unsurprisingly.  George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones series are all divided in this way, due to the sheer volume of content – part one of  Dances with Dragons weighs in at 24 hours on its own…

So that’s the basics of Audible, next week we will take a look at the app itself and getting started with your audiobook library, as well as other places to find audiobooks to listen to.

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, July 4th 2014

©Maya Middlemiss,  Casslar Consulting SL


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