So many books, so little time. Thank goodness for audiobooks and the talented voice actors who read to us while we’re driving or exercising or otherwise engaged. You can find tens of thousands of books in audio format, many of them for low or no cost if you know where to look. Here are five sources for free and cheap audiobooks.
Your go-to source for free reading material likely offers a healthy selection of books on CD as well. Because audiobooks are popular with commuters, they tend to circulate heavily. If the title you want isn’t on the shelves, there’s a decent chance you’ll find it in the catalog and can put it on hold.
While libraries still stock CDs, and sometimes audio cassettes, many are moving toward a digital content model that allows you to download audio books to your iPod or other listening device. Just like physical books, digital titles circulate for a limited time period. Simply download them from home using your library account number, and the files will revert back to the library’s digital shelf on their due date. Along with digital content, libraries offer users assistance in the form of online tutorials, free how-to workshops and one-on-one staff support.
Don’t overlook college and university libraries as possible audiobook sources. The collections at many campus libraries are available to community users through free or fee-based memberships.
Speaking of libraries, many raise funds through annual or seasonal used book sales. These sales generally include a number of audiobooks priced at $1 or $2 apiece. As digital content becomes more prevalent, watch for libraries to transfer more audiobooks from their shelves to the book sale tables. In addition to annual sales, many libraries have permanent used book shelves where you can purchase materials any time of year.
LOTC tip: Whether you borrow or purchase them, heavy circulation takes a toll on audiobooks. Scratched or dirty CDs may skip or stop playing altogether. GE offers an easy-to-use compact disc cleaning system, available online or in stores for less than $10. If cleaning doesn’t do the trick, be sure to report CD damage to a library staff member so the disc can be repaired or removed from circulation.
Open Culture and Books Should Be Free are two sites that provide links to hundreds of free audiobooks. Most of these are classic titles in the public domain (i.e., not privately copyrighted). While many of the links take you directly to a downloadable file, others connect you to a service like Audible.com (described below), where you’ll need to register to receive the free audiobook.
Learn Out Loud, a vendor of audio and video learning materials, sponsors a Free Audiobook of the Month Club featuring professionally narrated classic audiobooks. The monthly title is excerpted for podcast and downloadable in unabridged form. In addition, Learn Out Loud offers a directory of 5,000 free audio and video resources and a Free Resource of the Day alert to email subscribers.
As you browse free audio content online, you’re sure to come across LibriVox. LibriVox is a collection of 5,000-plus free audiobooks recorded by volunteer narrators. In addition to downloading audiobooks, you can record and upload files for others to enjoy. LibriVox seeks to make all public domain titles available as free audiobooks. While the project is a remarkable achievement in free information exchange, be aware that narrator style and recording quality varies widely. Some users consider this part of LibriVox’s appeal.
Audible.com, an Amazon company, offers plans starting at $14.95 a month for a single monthly book. The books are yours to keep and can be returned or traded if you’re not pleased with your selection. What you might not know is that if you join Audible from the Amazon website, you can receive two free audiobooks with no obligation to buy more. Here’s how it works: Find a title on Amazon available as an Audible audiobook. Click on the “Start your free trial” link and complete your registration. Download your free book and select a free bonus title. Both books are yours to keep. Your plan will renew automatically for $14.95 at the end of 30 days, so be sure to cancel before then if you don’t want to keep your subscription.
Audiobooks.com, another subscription service, offers unlimited audiobooks for $29.95 a month. Rather than downloading books to keep, you listen in streaming audio. Audiobooks features a free seven-day trial during which you can listen to anything from the catalog. Keep the link on-hand for your next road trip. Again, be sure to cancel before the deadline if you don’t want to pay for a subscription.
Craigslist and Freecycle
Residents of your geographic area want to give you their audiobooks free or cheap. Look for them on Craiglist or Freecycle. Don’t forget to check Craigslist’s garage sale listings for audiobooks, or consider posting your own audiobooks to swap with another listener.
- Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life written and narrated by Steve Martin
- Death of a Gossip and other Hamish Macbeth books written by M.C. Beaton, narrated by Davina Porter or Graeme Malcolm
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft written and narrated by Stephen King
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, narrated by Alfred Molina
- True Grit by Charles Portis, narrated by Donna Tartt