Picking one of the best audiobook services will get you near unlimited entertainment and knowledge for a small monthly fee. Most audiobook sites have thousands of books from all genres - from horror to wellness to non-fiction - all for a subscription charge that usually works out cheaper than the cost of a single book. Many also have apps, so you can listen on any of the best smartphones or tablets. That's the beauty of them - you don't have to carry a physical book around, and you can listen to novels, self-improvement books, and all kinds of other texts while you're doing a daily commute, or getting the household chores done.
Many of the best audiobook services and sites have a similar range of books, although only the big providers like Audible and Apple Books will have a large selection of the most recent releases. There are plenty of free audiobook services, but their selections are often more limited or reserved for niche genres and reading types. There are even some audio sites that will give you summarized versions of certain books, for busy people looking to increase their knowledge in short spaces of time.
Other audiobook services will also throw in extras like music, games, and a handful of bonus features, so can be useful for keeping kids entertained on long journeys, for example. Few sites allow you to keep books if your subscription lapses, so keep that in mind, but there are a number that let you download them indefinitely. And if you need them, we've got a guide to the best headphones, to help you listen to your audiobooks.
1. Audible: Best audiobook service overall
The best audiobook service for 2020
Free trial?: 30 day | Book exchange?: Yes | Podcasts?: Yes | Listen offline?: Yes
Audible, now owned by Amazon, is the best audiobook service you can get. While it is one of the more expensive sites, it offers the biggest selection of books, and includes a healthy number of new releases. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial, and you'll even get a reminder email once that trial is about to expire, so you can decide whether or not to cancel.
How does it work? You pay $14.95 per month for the service, and that gets you one free book of your choosing, plus as many podcasts and extras as you can download. You'll be given access to discounts that change every month, so you're likely to discover something you want to read. Right now, Prime Members get two free books just for signing up, which is an excellent deal if you're already paying for Prime. While most TV services just give you all their content for a flat monthly fee, most audiobook sites - like Audible - don't grant unlimited access. However, some do, so that makes Audible one of the more expensive services. Due to the choice you get, though, it's easily worth it, even if you only read a single book each month.
The app is easy to use and navigate, and the selection of books is unrivaled. While the discounts each month are often full of books you've never heard of, there are always a handful of gems and classics. There are even original books, exclusive to Audible. You can return or exchange books if you don't like them, and once you've downloaded something it is yours to keep, even if your Audible subscription expires. Overall, it's the best audiobook service out there.
- Read our Audible review
2. Audiobooks.com: A superb app, and wide choice
A superb app, and great introductory offer makes this a great pick
Free trail?: 30 days | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Yes | Listen offline?: Yes
Audiobooks.com has a very similar offering to Audible, and will satisfy most users in exactly the same way. There are over 150,000 books on this service, and you get three free books for signing up. There's a slight caveat to this offer, though, as you only get one free book from the Premium section, where all the big new releases are, and two free books from the VIP section, where the majority of the remainder of modern books are.
Much like Audible, once you've bought and downloaded books, you get to keep them even if you decide to stop subscribing. There are 8,000+ free books on there too (many of which are a little niche), for when you want to just try something new out at no cost, and there is also a massive number of podcasts too - current count is 700,000+. However, it's the app and extra features that make Audiobooks.com stand out - you'll get reminders for new episodes of your favorite podcasts, recommendations, and there's even a sleep timer for audiobooks, which means they'll automatically cut out at a certain time. Handy if you fall asleep listening to books, as many people do.
Overall, it's a great offering. If you've not bought into Amazon, which owns Audible, then this is a superb alternative. Sure, the selection isn't quite as large, but there are so many podcasts on here - for free - that you get good value regardless.
- Read our Audiobooks.com review
3. Scribd: Best unlimited service
You get an awful lot of value with Scribd, and magazines too
Free trial?: 30 days | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: No | Listen offline?: Yes
Scribd is an excellent all round subscription service, that genuinely offers unlimited reading across a range of books, audiobooks, magazines, and papers. For a $8.99 monthly fee you have access to a good - but not market-leading - number of audiobooks, and you can consume as many as you like, at your own pace. The downside, however, is that you don't get to keep them once your Scribd subscription expires, so you're really only renting all the content on the site.
The app is easy to use too, and it's available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store, so should cover all the smartphones and tablets in your home. There is a 30 day trial, which gives you access to everything in the library, and you'll get a warning email the first time you're due to be charged the monthly fee. What's more, you can even buy giftcards for Scribd, so you can give the gift of reading to someone for a special occasion, which is a nice touch.
The only real downside is the fact you can't keep books after you're finished subscribing to Scribd, and while there are loads of things to read and listen to here, you do sometimes lack extras like good literary podcasts. Overall, though, this very much feels like Netflix for books, so if you like the sound of that - and want to save a bit of money - this is a good one to sign up for.
- Read our Scribd review
4. Google Play Books: Good for Android users
Google Play Books
Well-priced audiobook sales, for Android and PC users
Free trial?: No | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Separate app | Listen offline?: Yes
Google Play Books is essentially the book store for Android users. It's a regular online shop, so doesn't require a subscription or membership - you just tap through to it from a cellphone or tablet, find the audiobook you want, and buy it. Simple.
It's actually good value compared to other audiobook retailers, like Apple Books, and you not only find decent discounts on new and popular titles but you'll also find extremely low prices on older books and classics. As with the phones and tablets themselves, Android users pay less for their audiobooks. The selection is great too - equal to that of Apple Books, but more limited than the one offered by specialists like Audible. That said, you'll likely find what you're looking for here.
Audiobooks downloaded can be played across multiple devices, and there is a family library option for many books, which means others can listen using a single purchase, providing they've been added to your Google Play family. It's worth noting that you can download Google Play on Apple products too, and we'd recommend this as many audiobooks are cheaper here than Apple Books.
5. Apple Books: Good for iPhone users
A decent download site, especially if you're in the Apple ecosystem
Free trial?: No | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Separate app | Listen offline?: Yes
Apple Books isn't a subscription service, and it functions as more of a traditional online store. However, that comes with advantages and disadvantages. There's no monthly fee, for a start, so you're not compelled to download a new book every month to justify the cost - you just pay as you go. Apple Books is also brilliant for audiobooks, as you can download the app to your Apple Watch, and listen to books while working out, or on your commute, with absolutely no fuss. If you're locked into the Apple tech ecosystem, it's a great option, especially as iCloud lets you share purchased items across all your devices. If not, things get a little less appealing.
Audiobooks on Apple Books can be quite expensive, and you're not getting a free download each month. If you get through several audiobooks per month, you'll actually be paying more to buy them individually, so that freedom to listen at your own pace comes at a cost for regular users.
There selection on Apple Books is vast, which is good, and you also get to read free previews of books if you're unsure about whether they're for you. Obviously, there aren't as many audiobooks as regular books, so the selection is more limited than in specialist providers like Audible and Audiobooks.com. There are also few freebies either, and podcasts require a separate app from the App Store. A good option for Apple users, then, but not as compelling as others.
6. Downpour: Best for casual readers / listeners
A flexible pricing model makes Downpour ideal for irregular readers
Free trial?: No | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: No | Listen offline?: Yes
If you don't feel like you'll listen to more than one audiobook per month, Downpour is a good option. For your $12.99 monthly fee you'll be awarded one credit each month, which can be used to purchase any audiobook from Downpour's store. Credits don't expire for 12 months, and simply roll over, so if you don't read / listen regularly, you can just save up credits for when you're likely to read more (vacations, long journeys, public holidays etc).
What's more, you can rent books from Downpour without buying them, so you can pay less for a book that you intend to read once, but not keep forever. Handy. This exists outside the monthly credit system, so you're not forced to use your precious credits on rentals.
The downsides to Downpour are that the selection isn't as extensive as the likes of Audible and Audiobooks.com, and you don't get a lot of extras. There's no free trial, here, although you do get assigned a free book when you first sign-up. Books on site can be bought with money, on a pay-as-you-go basis, but they're pretty expensive. Overall, it's a decent service, but probably won't satisfy anyone who reads audiobooks more regularly.
- Read our Downpour review
7. Librivox: Totally free, but limited to classics
A free download service, but very limited selection
Free trial?: Totally free | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: No | Listen offline?: Yes
While not a traditional audiobook service, LibriVox is well worth checking out. Essentially, it's a repository for public domain audio books, which means everything on the site is completely free. Here you'll find a lot of classic and older books that are available to download and listen to for zero dollars, and with no ads or any other monetization. You don't even need a membership or subscription.
There are loads of classic books on there - we found novels from the likes of Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll, and Rudyard Kipling - and plenty of lesser known history books and biographical accounts. The site doesn't make it easy to browse, so you need to go with a clear idea of what you want, or to be prepared for a bit of digging.
Most are available as mp3 files, and occupy about 250MB of space, so you'll fit plenty on your phone or tablet. Once you've downloaded the book, it's yours to keep, and you should be able to play it in whatever app you use for music playback. If you're looking to listen to a classic, we recommend checking LibreVox first before downloading it elsewhere, as you'll pay nothing and may get a damn good read from it.
8. Blinkist: Ideal for busy learners
Shortens books, and puts them into audio format, for quick listening
Free trial?: 7 days | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Yes | Listen offline?: Yes
Blinkist is a non-traditional audiobook service, but a good one nonetheless. This one is all about learning, and doing so in the quickest and most efficient way possible. All the categories here are about self-development and learning - so career and success, parenting, economics etc - and there is a fantastic range of audiobooks from leading authors in each of the fields.
What makes Blinkist different is that the books are condensed to give you the essence and big ideas contained within each one. So, most work out around 20 minutes long, with the key information smartly packed into each download. You're given unlimited reading too, and Blinkist can be listened to offline, if you're commuting or flying. It's very much designed for professionals looking to expand their knowledge during their limited free time.
You can upgrade to the full book, if you find a topic particularly interesting and want to know more, and there are also additional commentaries and podcasts included with your subscription. It's a nice suite of content, if self-improvement is what you're seeking.
9. Simply Audiobooks: Only rents physical CDs
The only service dedicated to renting physical audiobook CDs
Free trial?: 15 days | Book exchange?: Rental, so yes | Podcasts?: No | Listen offline?: Yes
Sometimes you don't want to download audiobooks on your fancy new tablet. Sometimes you're in no hurry to listen to the newest books, and would rather just have people choose titles for you. Welcome to Simply Audiobooks, the site that only offers physical CD rentals. While it may seem odd that we'd recommend a service that only offers physical media (and one with a website so basic and old fashioned we sometimes wake up in the night covered in sweat just thinking about it) there's definitely something to be said for serving demand.
For $19.98 per month you can rent as many audiobooks as you like, one at a time. Simply posts the book to you, includes free packaging and postage to mail it back, and never charges late fees. You select your preferred list from a selection of about 50,000 audiobooks, and they just post out whichever is currently in stock. Pay a little more per month and you can have up to three CDs at a time. Really.
Customer service is first-class and there is a good selection of books here. Very old fashioned next to the likes of Audible, but there's definitely a market for physical discs.
- Read our Simply Audiobooks review
What to consider with audiobook services
The main thing to consider when you're choosing an audiobook service is exactly what you want to get out of it, and how often you're going to use it. Audiobooks are a great way of experiencing literature on your own terms - you just have to sit there and listen. Or you can go for a walk and absorb some of the classics. However, it does take time to get through a whole book, so you need to consider exactly how much use you will get out of a service on a monthly basis.
We recommend signing up for something like Audible for a free trial, and just seeing how you use it. You may find you want more than one book per month, and that probably means you should be using a subscription service. If you struggle to listen to a single book in that free 30 days, perhaps consider a more traditional online audiobook site that lets you buy one-off books, like the book store on the Apple App Store and Google Play stores.
You should also consider what kind of books you want to read. If you need all the latest fiction, sites like Audible and Audiobooks.com are your best bet. However, if you want to catch up on classics, or maybe even get eBooks and online journals, Scribd could be a better option for you.
Does it have an app?
You will spend most of your time listening to audiobooks via an app, downloaded to your smartphone or tablet. Consider this when you're looking at various services - do they have an app, is it available for the devices you want to listen on, and does it function as it should? You don't want it to be a chore listening to these books, so the easier you can make it, the better.
All the top sites have dedicated apps. For those that don't, you'll likely be able to play audiobooks as mp3/4 files, via whatever media player your phone uses. This requires a little more work and technical know-how on your part, but it isn't too difficult. If a site doesn't have its own app, it'll likely have clear instructions on how to listen to the books it offers.
Keep track of your subscription
Most subscription-based sites operate on a 'one free book per month' basis. This sometimes means you only have a 30-day period to select and download your book, and you could easily lose track of time and not take advantage of this perk. Worse still, you could forget that you have a subscription and just keep paying for it month on month without getting any benefits.
Most audiobook services will send you a warning when their free trial is due to end, so you don't necessarily have to keep your subscription, but some do not continue to email you once you're subscribed, so you'd need to track your benefits yourself.
Keep or rent?
Be aware that while the best audiobook services generally allow you to keep books you've downloaded, and read them after you've cancelled a subscription, some will not. Scribd is great because it offers unlimited reading, while you're paying for membership, but you don't get to keep the books you read once you've finished with the service, so keep this in mind.
Some audiobooks will also be native to the platform or app you're using them in so, for example, be careful about buying a load of books on Apple Books if you are considering leaving Apple's ecosystem of products, as you may not be able to take some items with you. There is, for example, no Apple Books app for Android phones.