Library & Store
Ease of Use
Help & Support
Best Audiobook Services
Finding the Best Audio Book Service
After 50 hours of research and testing, I found that getting a good deal on an audio book service membership depends on the books you like and how many you listen to every month. I signed up for subscriptions at 10 different services, read reviews and blogs, and shopped the sites to help you pick the best one for you, and I believe Amazon’s Audible is the best choice for the average listener.
This service has almost twice as many books as its next-closest competitor and is your best option if you want the newest content and widest selection. But if you burn through more than one audio book a month, Audible can start to get expensive.
If one book a month isn’t enough to satisfy you, you might try Playster, which lets you to listen to an unlimited number of audio books for only $14.95 a month, though you borrow them rather than own them. If you’re only an occasional listener, consider using one of the sites without a monthly membership fee like Barnes & Noble’s audio book site, Nook Audiobooks.
I also looked at some of the best free online audio book services like Overdrive, Hoopla and LibriVox. If you’re not worried about the quality of the audio recording and are fine waiting to listen to a book you’re interested in, these alternatives can save you a bundle.
I downloaded all the available audio book apps onto my LG G5 Android phone, played around with their features and collected data about their memberships. I also went through each service’s cancellation process to make sure there were no surprises. During testing, I added over 20 books to my library, many of which are free in the public domain. I also purchased and returned books to evaluate each site’s customer service offerings.
Library & Store
I conducted interviews and surveys and learned that most people consider the size of a service’s store or library to be the most important factor in their decision to sign up for a membership, even ahead of price. It’s not worth paying any amount of money if the site doesn’t carry books you are actually interested in reading.
To get a sense of the difference between a library of 50,000 audio books and one of 180,000 titles, I compiled a list of the best books of 2016. This list is based on information from the Man Booker Prize nomination list, New York Times Bestseller list, Goodreads’ “Most popularly read books of 2016” list and others. After searching for every one of the books on each site and averaging the numbers, I found that, in general, the number of available books directly corresponds with the number of popular titles a site carries.
I also tested the quality of the audio books I downloaded. There are dozens of sites on the internet that offer free audio books, but there’s very little quality control and many of the files are self-published or poorly recorded. In my evaluation process, I looked for memberships that offer cheap and easy access to well-produced recordings of popular books.
The most popular audio book format is a digital download – you purchase your book and an audio file is delivered to your account, which you can then download on your device. I also looked at several sites that shipped CDs to their members, but it’s easier to carry the books you’re listening to on your smartphone than it is to lug around a set of CDs. Also, the best audio books sites let you browse for new titles directly on your phone so you never have to wait to start the next story.
I evaluated the most basic plan each site offers and compared their prices. Finding the best audio book subscription service is a balancing act; you want access to a large library with well-produced audio books at the cheapest price, and each service I tested takes a slightly different approach to make this possible.
Some audio book sites, like Amazon’s Audible, use a credit system – you exchange your one credit each month for an audio book. Unlike Audible, some services even let you buy additional credits for the same price as the first. Other memberships simply give you access to deep discounts on books. There are also services that let you listen to more than one audio book a month for a flat fee, such as Playster. The best system for you depends a lot on how many audio books you listen to a month, and since I go through a lot of them, I found the last option to be the best.
Another thing to consider is whether you get to keep the books you download, even if you decide to cancel your membership. While some of our top choices give you access to many books per month, you can’t keep them, and it’s nice to add books to your personal library to share and listen to again.
You can try out some of the services before you commit to becoming a member. This can help you pinpoint your listening habits while enjoying quite a few free audio books. You also want to make sure that whatever platform you choose is compatible with your computer, smartphone or tablet’s operating system.
Ease of Use
As I tested audio book services, I looked for those with apps that meet most listening needs. The majority of the apps I reviewed have variable playback speed, so you can adjust the narration to your desired pace. They also have sleep timers, which automatically shut off the book after a set amount of time. This is particularly helpful if you like listening to audio books as you fall asleep.
Getting around in an audio book is easy. Most books players let you drag the slider anywhere within a track. You can also usually navigate to the beginnings of the chapters, and quite a few have a default jump feature, which lets you skip backward or forward in a story at a set interval, usually about 30 seconds. Apps that let you customize the jump length are more user-friendly. All of these tools are essential and make a huge difference in an app’s usability.
It’s nice to stream books directly to your phone because you don’t have to download them and take up valuable memory space on your device. When this option is available, most people prefer connecting to Wi-Fi to avoid expensive overages on their data plans. The best sites offer both download and streaming options.
Some of the sites let you listen directly on your computer, which is nice if you’re trying to save the battery on your device. These services also make it easy to sync up your accounts so you can use different platforms to listen to content without having to search for your spot in your audio book when you switch devices.
All the sites have a product page for each of the books in their store or library. This page has details about the book, including information about the author, narrator and audio length. The most helpful sites also offer recommendations on these pages for other books you may be interested in to save you time as you browse for something new to listen to.
Help & Support
I learned a few things to watch out for when purchasing audio books: You need to make sure you select the version of the book you want, pay attention to the narrator, and double check whether an audio book is abridged or unabridged. You also want to look at the length of the book. Occasionally, I found high-priced books that were only 20 to 30 minutes long, instead of the average length of around eight hours.
In case you accidentally add the wrong book to your library, I tested how easy it is to return your purchase. I also looked at each site’s customer service offerings and found that the best ones have multiple ways to contact representatives, such as by email, phone and live chat, and had quick response times on their messaging systems.
Free Audio Books Buying Guide:
Month-to-month subscription services have flexible apps and a wide selection of high-quality material, but there are also a lot of free options for downloading audio books. Among those are a few downloadable services that offer well-produced audio books from large public services like your local library.
Overdrive & Hoopla
Overdrive and Hoopla both work like digital extensions of your local library. You can download eBooks and audio books directly to your portable devices after you download the app and connect to your library, though you need a library card to use these services.
As you decide if a free audio book service is a better option for you than a membership to Audible or another paid site, you should think about how much owning and keeping the audio book files matters to you. With Overdrive and Hoopla, the digital files are on loan from the library, and you eventually have to return them so someone else can check them out – if you like to re-listen to your favorites, you may want to invest in a paid subscription.
You might assume libraries can lend out as many digital copies of books as they would like, but this isn’t the case. Because of the distribution rights of publishers, libraries have a finite number digital audio book files they can lend to their users at any one time. This is one of the other downsides of using a free library service – if one of the titles you want to listen to is currently being used by another patron, you end up on the waiting list.
There’s really no reason not to download one of these programs and link it with your local library account to supplement any paid subscription service you use.
You can also get free audio books from LibriVox, a service that offers recordings of books in the public domain. This means it only offers books published before 1932 – some of the most popular downloads on the site are Jane Austen’s novels and “Moby Dick.”
LibriVox has a free audio book app you can use from your phone, and you can also stream books directly from its site. As I researched subscriptions, I discovered that many of the free audio books paid services include in their memberships are LibraVox recordings.
The downside to this service is that it may take you some time to find a quality recording. Because LibriVox uses volunteers, narrators can change from chapter to chapter, and there isn’t a universal quality standard required for recording.
Because the recordings aren’t always professionally produced, it can occasionally be hard to understand the narration, but it’s a global effort and sometimes injects new life into older texts. For example, I’ve heard good things about Mill Nicholson’s recordings of some of Charles Dickens’s greatest works that are free for download on the site.