Recorded Books was one of the most famous brands names in the audiobooks space, until the likes of Audible and Audiobooks.com started to ramp up their offerings. The site currently has a library of around 35,000 audiobooks, and you can read magazines via the app too - including National Geographic, The New Yorker, and other leading titles. For us, the library is relatively sparse, and both the website and app are in need of an overhaul. It's these reasons why Recorded Books no longer ranks on our list of the best audiobook services.
RB's website doesn’t live up to the company’s usually solid reputation, as it's tough to navigate and difficult to work out what the company's offering is. There are customer reviews on the site, but the site is not well-organized enough for them to look like they are important enough for you to read them. On many sites, when you put a word or title into the search engine, the engine’s findings will show up, and the customer ratings will appear right underneath the image of the book. On this site, the reviews and ratings are hidden on the audiobook’s page, as though the site does not want you to see them. Even though it’s a minor difference, it makes the site look a little less user-friendly. The app too feels clunky and out of date.
You can search for titles using the search box by keyword, title, author and even narrator. They also offer 26 different genres to browse through. The genre selections aren’t quite as specific as some of the other services we reviewed; however they do include a few unusual selections like short stories, inspirational and parenting books.
You can purchase titles directly, but they do not have a rental program, which used to be a key selling point for Recorded Books. There are currently about 35,000 titles on RB, but there are nowhere near as many popular fiction and non-fiction titles as many direct rivals. Recorded Books used to be an audiobook rental service, but now it is strictly for purchases. The audiobooks are offered at a deep discount in many cases, so if you listen to books at a pace of about one book per month, then this site’s offerings cost about as much as a rental service.
Recorded Books sometimes hires its own voice actors to narrate certain titles, which is unique among most services. However, do not get confused if you want a particular narrator, and be sure to check the narrator’s name before you commit to purchasing an audiobook. You do not have the option to listen to a sample, which makes the process of finding the right audiobook even more mystifying.
The site does offer access to magazines and journals, which is a nice touch, although other specialist newspaper and magazine readers do it far better.
We did find that the customer support was very helpful. Our emails were answered in a matter of hours. There is also a phone line for customers to call during business hours, which had did not present any problems in service or waiting time. An FAQ section is also on the site, but it is not very extensive, so you should not rely entirely on that to figure out the rules of the service.
Recorded Books just doesn’t transcend the gap from book store to Internet. We feel if they were able to create a comprehensive collection of downloadable books they could really find a new fan base, outside the library.