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Best audiobook services 2021

Best audiobook services 2021
(Image credit: Audible)

The best audiobook services can provide you with hours of entertainment, allowing you to download and listen to the latest literary works from your favourite authors. Whether you’re planning for a road trip or need something for your commute into work, subscribing to one of these audiobook platforms can help you fill up those hours where you need something to pass the time.

We’ve tried and tested all of the best audiobook services currently available and our ranking is below. In general, we think that most people will prefer the content and titles you find on Audible. Although the platform only gives you one free download a month (you’ll have to pay for more) we did find that the highest concentration of popular new releases is available through this company. It also has great podcasts for you to enjoy, and while you might be able to find these elsewhere, it’s convenient to have all of your audio entertainment in one place.

What about free audiobook downloads? Well, in general they don’t exist, unless the book is now in the public domain. As such, there are some services which provide recording of older books (like Little Women, for example.) We’ve mentioned a few of these services below. There are also platforms, below, which allow you to download one-off audiobooks. These are ideal for anyone who only listens to literature on rare occasions.

Working on your own creative project? Have a look at our guides to the best desktop publishing software and the best screenwriting software, which can help you shape your ideas into a finished work.  


1. Audible: Best audiobook service overall

Best audiobook services: Audible

(Image credit: Amazon)

Audible

The best audiobook service for 2021

Free trial?: 30 day | Book exchange?: Yes | Podcasts?: Yes | Listen offline?: Yes

Massive library of titles
Keep your books
Discounts for Prime members
Quite expensive

Yes, this is the most expensive service, but it’s unparalleled when it comes to its choice of titles. When we were testing out the platform, we found pretty much all of the most in-demand, new release titles were available on this website (95%) so you’re getting the top-rated stuff here. It also has an easy-to-use app, which works across Android and iOs. Throw in the fact that you can get a huge range of podcasts through this website and it clearly comes out as the winner.

It’s not cheap, at $14.95 a month, but for that price you get one free download every 30 days. There’s also usually a free trial period available, for the first month or so, and regular sales for members too. You can sometimes pick up classic titles for a couple of dollars, and Audible-exclusives are regularly advertised on the platform. 

Unlike some other audiobook services, Audible lets you keep your downloads for good - even if you cancel your subscription. As such, you can quickly build up a nice library of recordings to return to. The company also has a fairly generous returns policy, which allows you to swap your choice of audiobook, if you start listening to it and decide it’s not to your taste.


2. Audiobooks.com: A superb app, and wide choice

Best audiobook services: Audiobooks.com

(Image credit: Audiobooks.com)

Audiobooks.com

A superb app, and great introductory offer makes this a great pick

Free trail?: 30 days | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Yes | Listen offline?: Yes

Great selection of books
Loads of podcasts too
Good features, like Sleep Timer
Smaller selection than Audible
Expensive monthly fee

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.


3. Scribd: Best unlimited service

Best audiobook services: Scribd

(Image credit: Scribd)

Scribd

You get an awful lot of value with Scribd, and magazines too

Free trial?: 30 days | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: No | Listen offline?: Yes

Unlimited listening and reading
Wide range of media
Good value
Can't keep your books
Few extras

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.


4. Kobo Audiobooks: Best value subscription

Best audiobook services: Kobo Audiobooks

(Image credit: Kobo audiobooks)

Kobo Audiobooks

Kobo has a great selection of titles, and one of the cheapest subs out there

Free trial?: 30 days | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Yes | Listen offline?: Yes

Big selection of audiobooks
Great value
Generous free trial
Books not available to buy in-app
Not a great search tool

Out of all the audiobook services in 2021, Kobo has one of the cheapest subscriptions. For a $12.99 monthly subscription, readers can exchange one credit for any book in the store regardless of the listed price. There are over 100,000 audiobooks on here, and six million eBooks. It has one of the most comprehensive offerings, with podcasts, magazines, and newspapers too.

It’s clear that the app, which is only available on Apple or Android, has been designed with keen readers in mind. Its extensive features are geared for the ultimate listening experience, with handy sleep timers, personal reading statistics, and highlighting tools. You can read offline from anywhere in the world and, like Audible, once you’ve brought and downloaded books, they’re yours for life. 

With such a large offering at one the most affordable prices, its only downside is that you can’t listen from your desktop or laptop, and, strangely enough, audiobooks must be purchased on the web before they can be accessed in the app. Overall, Kobo offers all the joys of walking into a city’s biggest bookstore, but online, and at a relatively affordable price. 


5. Google Play Books: Good for Android users

Best audiobook services: Google Play Books

(Image credit: Google)

Google Play Books

Well-priced audiobook sales, for Android and PC users

Free trial?: No | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Separate app | Listen offline?: Yes

Great selection of books
Low prices to buy
Listen to previews
No subscription model

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.


6. Apple Books: Good for iPhone users

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Books

A decent download site, especially if you're in the Apple ecosystem

Free trial?: No | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Separate app | Listen offline?: Yes

Good selection of books
No subscription fees
Read previews before you buy
Expensive
Not a dedicated audiobook app

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.


7. Downpour: Best for casual readers / listeners

Best audiobook services: Downpour

(Image credit: Downpour)

Downpour

A flexible pricing model makes Downpour ideal for irregular readers

Free trial?: No | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: No | Listen offline?: Yes

You can rent books
Cheaper monthly fee
Credits don't expire for 12 months
Smaller selection than some
No free sign-up offers

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.


8. Librivox: Totally free, but limited to classics

Best audiobook services: LibriVox

(Image credit: LibriVox)

LibriVox

A free download service, but very limited selection

Free trial?: Totally free | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: No | Listen offline?: Yes

Totally free
Some classics available
Very limited selection
No dedicated app

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.


9. Blinkist: Ideal for busy learners

Best audiobook services: Blinkist

(Image credit: Blinkist)

Blinkist

Shortens books, and puts them into audio format, for quick listening

Free trial?: 7 days | Book exchange?: No | Podcasts?: Yes | Listen offline?: Yes

Perfect for professionals
Loads of self-improvement texts
Easy to use
Not for casual listening
Few extras

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.


Audiobook subscriptions versus one-off purchases 

Most audiobook services are subscription-based, meaning you pay a monthly fee and then you get to access the platform’s library. Some audiobook websites, like Audible, give you access to one free book a month and you have to pay for any additional recordings you want to listen to. Subscribing to Sribd will give you unlimited access to its library - but you can’t download any content, and it has a much smaller offering. Finally, you also get services like Google Audiobooks, which allow you to make a one-off purchase without subscribing to anything. This latter type means you can essentially treat it like your own property. The drawback with subscription services is that often the sites are only renting you the product, rather than allowing you to download and keep it (although this isn’t the case with Audible.) 

Best audiobook services: Where to find free audiobooks 

New releases won’t be on any free platforms, but you can listen to classic books like Little Women and Moby Dick via sites like the Gutenberg Project. This website collates and digitizes classic texts that are no longer under certain copyright restrictions and so fall into the public domain. With regards to audiobooks, some of them have been recorded by kind and patient individuals, while others on the site have been generated via computers. The recording quality might not be as high as that found on paid-for platforms, but they’re usually fairly clear and can be downloaded as M4B or MP3 files. As outlined above, LibriVox is another service which operates on a similar basis. 

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.

Apps also offer features that allow you to bookmark your progress on audiobooks, to listen at different speeds, and to set sleep timers to allow you to fall asleep while listening to your latest story. Wearing a pair of the best headphones, which block out noise, while falling asleep to an audiobook can help those who struggle to sleep during the night. 

Andy Hartup

Andy is Editor-in-Chief of Top Ten Reviews. With over 18 years experience in both online and print journalism, Andy has worked for a host of world-leading tech and gaming brands, including PC Gamer and GamesRadar. He specializes in photography, technology and smart home, and has provided expert comment for sites like The Guardian. In his spare time Andy is an amateur photographer, and teaches at the National Film and TV School in the UK.