Looking for audio books, huh? Here are our favourite sources for free and paid audio books around the web.
Audio books can be tricky to locate; you might love the book, but hate the narration, or think you'd rather not pay triple the price just to hear the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry telling the story of a scampish young wizard.
Fear not, o sophisticated and scholarly friends. There are indeed caches where one can find vast reserves of literary aural stimulation.
Your local library
How long has it been since you've visited your local library? Well, now it's time to get on your walking shoes — stat! Some libraries have better audio book collections than others, but it's completely free (unless you accrue late fees), and there's something wonderfully relaxing about perusing those CD racks, not to mind the actual shelves. And Australian libraries have started to roll out e-lending schemes, too, so if you love your e-reader, you might even get lucky twice.
The iTunes store is a great resource for audio books — if you have an iDevice — otherwise you are restricted to listening from your computer on account of the DRM. Prices can be pretty expensive, too; it's powered largely by Audible.com (see below), the prices on which are significantly lower. However, many Audible.com titles simply aren't available to the Australian market, so if you don't mind paying a bit extra, iTunes is a decent work-around.
The other thing to take a look at is podcasts. While these tend to vary in quality, you can find people either reading stories or discussing them, which can be really interesting if you've just read a great book and want to examine it more closely. iTunes U is also a great resource for university lectures; OK, so it's not exactly an audio book, but it's a great way to grab some food for thought and do a bit of learning while you're about it.
Also check out apps; Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, sells for AU$29.99 as an audio book, but only AU$12.99 as an app.
Audible, owned by Amazon, is probably the largest source of audio books on the web. The only problem is, global publishing restrictions make a great deal of the content unavailable to Australians, which is quite frankly frustrating. You can work around this if you have a US shipping address attached to your credit card instead of an Australian one — BongoUS is one service available for this, or perhaps you have a friend over there you can hit up for a favour — which is probably more effort than some would like to go to. However, without it, visiting Audible is kind of like going to the lolly shop as a kid and taunting yourself with all the things you can't have.
The genre filter can be a bit hit and miss (An Illustrated History of Furniture in "Fairy tales"?), but the idea behind Books Should be Free is that public domain books should be, well, free. The titles are read by volunteers, so quality varies, but given how expensive audio books can get, you may find yourself not minding too much if you're after classics, and the website navigation is pretty easy to use, which is always a plus.
Like Books Should be Free, LibriVox offers free public domain audio books read by volunteers, with the books uploaded by the chapter. It's a bit less smooth to navigate, but it does have a decent selection, and, if you're unhappy with what's on offer, you can even sign up to volunteer yourself.
NewFiction is bringing back the days of the ol' wireless set. Well, kind of. It offers serialised stories in the style of the good ol'-fashioned radio plays, read by multiple actors to bring the story to life. You can subscribe for free, and get a new instalment every day of your choice of books by new up-and-coming authors. The audio file can either be listened to on your computer, or you can drop it onto your iPod or smartphone for on-the-go listenin'. NewFiction calls these iSoaps, and it's actually a pretty good name for them.
Librophile is, very basically, a portal for audio book titles from LibriVox and Audible, where you can either listen and download (for the former) and follow links to buy titles (from the latter). It's nothing you can't get anywhere else, but it compiles it all in one handy location and has a pretty decent search engine, although the browsing engine leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, it's a nicer browsing experience than LibriVox, and even has a section where you can browse free ebook titles from Project Gutenberg.
Project Gutenberg provides free public domain titles compiled and uploaded by volunteers. The Audio Books Project does the same, in two categories: read by humans, partnering with other free audio-books services such as LibriVox, Audio Books for Free and Literal Systems, and books read by computer-generated voices, generated by volunteers. Audio books are provided in a variety of file formats, including MP3, Apple iTunes, Ogg and Speex, and even offers a QR code for instant scanning into your Android device.
If you're a lover of crime, sci-fi and horror short stories, Well Told Tales is the place for you, offering bite-sized audio books via podcast for free, using professional voice actors.
If you prefer something a little more physical, The Book Depository in the UK offers audio books on CD for significantly less than you will find them in Australian stores, and it offers free shipping to boot. It boasts over half a million audio book titles in its catalogue and seems free of the messy region restrictions hampering Audible — but again, you will have to pay a little bit more for the titles. Apparently them's the breaks. But it does have a great selection of kids' books.
Looking for ebooks? Head over here for our guide on where to get them.