Get Audiobooks for Free

Audiobooks while exercising

Via Wikipedia creative commons licence

Audio books – you either love them or think they’re a pale imitation of the real experience you get when you read a book in print.  I’m in the former camp. I don’t view them as an alternative to reading but as a valued companion.

They’ve been a godsend on many a long flight when the eyes are too tired to read and there’s nothing of interest on the in flight entertainment system. They help time go faster on the treadmill. In the days when I had to commute to work, they were a calmer way to start the day than listening to the frequent political rants on radio news programmes.  They even make ironing palatable.

The downside is that they’re expensive to buy (Margaret Attwood’s Hag Seed would set you back £18 for example). Perhaps for that reason they’re not easily available second hand. You can reduce the price by taking out a subscription with Audible but it’s not worth it if you’re only an occasional user. Thankfully, there are ways to get some audiobooks free or at very low cost.

1. Your public library

You may be fortunate to live in a country that hasn’t decimated its public library system. Most of those services in the UK let you borrow audiobooks in CD format for a nominal sum – in my area it’s £1.50 a time. Many of them now have a tie in with a service provider like  BorrowBox or OneClickDigital so you can download the audiofile free of charge to your computer, phone or MP3 player. The range of titles is reasonable if not wonderful; don’t expect to find that many ‘literary’ options but there will certainly be a good selection of classics and crime novels.

2. Librivox

Librivox, which has been running since August 2005, is a non-commercial, non-profit project. Its mission is to “make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet.”  Their collection is extensive but there are a few downsides. One is that they source most of the texts from  Project Gutenberg meaning all of them are books whose copyrights have expired. The selection is rather hit and miss as a result – plenty of Charles Dickens, Henry James and Arthur Conan Doyle but no Agatha Christie or Grahame Greene. The biggest issue I’ve encountered however is on the variable quality. While some recordings are read by actors or professionals, many are solo readings by amateurs in makeshift home studios. But since it’s all free, if the recording isn’t to your taste you haven’t wasted any money.

3. Loyal Books

Loyal Books claims that users will “always find the best collection of completely free public domain audiobooks…” on their site. This includes material in a variety of languages like German, French and Chinese. They’ve been digitised and recorded by volunteers or – in the majority of cases – by Gutenburg. In essence they are offering the same kind of texts as Librivox but say their superior search function makes the experience more user friendly.  They also offer e-texts of best sellers but I found the selection very poor.

4. Mind Webs

This is much more than an audio recording site. It started in 1996, collecting published works of all formats and making them available digitally.   This is a project on a massive scale – 4 million audio recordings (including 160,000 live concerts), 1 million images for example.  The audio recordings cover the usual suspects in the realm of the classics with plenty of options for fringe interests – anyone fancy a recording of Thucydides’ Histories? (the history of the first 20 years of the war between Athens and Sparta). They My favourite section of this site however is their Old Time Radio collection featuring, among others, Sherlock Holmes and Orson Wells.

5. Open Culture

Open Culture has sifted through the free audiobooks offered elsewhere  online, and compiled them into one list of 900 browsable titles. You’ll find they’re mostly classics of fiction, poetry and non-fiction, by authors like Geoffrey Chaucer, Mark Twain,  Jane Austen and Fyodor Dostoevsky but you’ll also come across more modern authors like Arthur C Clarke, Junot Diaz , Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury and  Maya Angelou and Charles Bukowski. As a bonus you can watch a video of  Neil Gaiman reading Coraline

6. Scribl

This site takes  a different approach to most of the other service providers. They offer newer releases rather than classics and are mainly self-published works. The cost for each download is varied since Scribl uses a crowd-pricing strategy where the price is based on each title’s download popularity within its genre.  You’ll find some texts are free, many are less than a dollar but the price of some of the highest rated books can go up to $8.   If you like to experiment with new authors, this could be a good option – catch the moment right and you’ll have a bargain.

7. Lit2go

Lit2Go is another site which takes a different path. It offers a free online collection of folk tales, stories, passages and poems in Mp3 (audiobook) format. However it is more geared to educators than general readers since many of the passages can be downloaded also as a PDF and used for supplemental reading in the classroom. Readability levels are given for the books using the Flesch-Kincaid grade levels

Audiobooks – love them or indifferent. Where do you stand?

Are you a lover of audiobooks? If so how do you source them since I might have missed some sites.

If you’re not a fan, is this because you’ve tried them and didn’t enjoy the experience or believe there’s only one way to appreciate a book, and that’s to read it?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on April 4, 2017, in Audiobooks, Bookends and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Thanks for all these resources.
    I have used Librivox in the past. I was fortunate to find some awesome narrators there, even though you do have to fish. I remember listening to Lilith by MacDonald through them, and it was fantastic!
    Now, I exclusively use my public library. They have tons of audiobooks for free – physical, and digital, with actually 3 databases to choose from, OverDrive, OneClickDigital, and Hoopla. I often use Hoopla now, as there’s usually no wait, and they offer several versions for the same title, so I can choose the narrator I prefer (essential! in my experience, the narrator can make or break the book). I’m fortunate to live in the US, with amazing resources offered for free from public libraries.
    Audible would be way too expensive for me. I use their site to check samples withe different narrators (no need of login).
    I didn’t know LoyalBooks, but apparently lots of their books are actually LibrivoxBooks

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  2. I’ll have to come back here when I’ll give audiobooks another try. I’ve only really tried once but I was too restless to listen. When I started doing other things I found myself missing some of the story.. eventually I didn’t go back to listing to the rest of the story. I see myself giving it another try though, but not just right now.

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    • You do need to be in the right frame of mind or doing the right kind of activity. Repetitive actions like gardening or cleaning for example are good – but I wouldnt ever try listening while I was doing grocery shopping.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. buriedinprint

    For about three years I had a subscription to Audible (similar to what Dawn describes but more books) and I have quite a nice little library now which I haven’t listened my way through yet. It was the subscription which reduced the cost/per, to more of a standard cost like a book, otherwise I wouldn’t have been keen.

    Because my first exposure to audio-books was in the ’90s, when they had basically no production dollars for them (such a niche market at the time, because we weren’t all walking around with potential audiobook-playing devices in our pockets), I thought they would be terrible. But they’re not at all the same! However, after Audible was purchased by Amazon, I cancelled my subscription, so when I’ve listened through all of these, I’ll have to find another way. I’ve dabbled in OverDrive and OneClick, as others have mentioned and they seem to work quite well too!

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  4. I agree entirely about ‘the right kind of audio book’. Complex plots that require revisiting something that happened in an earlier chapter don’t work for me, and nor do books with complex structures that are a challenge to read even on the printed page.
    I generally only listen to them on the road, but lately while I’ve been having trouble with my eyes, I’ve listened to a few at bedtime.
    My main source is the library. The price has come down a lot recently and I have bought a few that I really love so that I can listen to them again and again (e.g. Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls read by Campbell Scott), but I can always find something new at my library because there are six branches throughout my municipality and they rotate their stock. The plus side to using a library is that it helps the economics of publishing audio books. People who are print-handicapped have no choice other than audio books, so it’s good to keep audio books profitable, and if you borrow from a library, the publisher, author, and narrator all get paid for the purchase. In Australia they also get paid through the PLR (public lending right) where publisher, author, and narrator all get payment for books borrowed from libraries, offsetting the fact that a book borrowed is a book not purchased.
    I have never bothered with Audible: they nagged me with adverts until I finally replied asking about Australian authors and authors of literary fiction rather than commercial fiction, and I never heard from them again!

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    • Good points about the economic benefit to authors as well as meeting the needs of people with visual impairment. Bet the person at Audible who got confronted with your challenge wished they had never asked!

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  5. I’ve learned to enjoy audiobooks over the past year. I gave up on an Audible subscription, because it’s too expensive in my opinion, especially since my library offers access to both 3M and Hoopla, which are just like Overdrive or OneClickDigital. I can find enough audiobooks there to give me a good selection, and if I find that a particular book doesn’t work for me, either because of the narrator or the subject, then I can simply return the file without feeling bad about having wasted my money.

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  6. I love audiobooks and am always on the hunt for free ones. Have you heard of http://www.audiobooksync.com? It’s a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+.

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  7. I’m not a fan but the failing is mine as I find my mind wanders when I’m listening so I easily loose the thread of the story. The only way it works for me is of it’s a book I’ve read or something lighter and funnier than I may choose to read.

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    • My mind wanders with certain kinds of books I find – the ones that are too reflective. So although I dont necessarily want them to be ‘action’ or adventure stories I do need them to have some events as it were. Girl on the Train was a good choice

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  8. Hi — I am a fan of audiobooks and listen to one per week, usually when walking my dog. I get them free from the library here in Canada — digitally from a system called Overdrive, which is just an app on my iphone. It seems to work well. No payments! I agree audiobooks can be quite expensive, I gave up on all that and just use the library now.

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  9. Great post. Personally I use Librivox alot, especially when I am reading a classic and I would like to listen to it as well while doing chores. The only part I hate – finding a good narration. Some recordings do not appeal to me. And sometimes I don’t get any that appeal to me. I guess that is the plus side if you opt for a paid option

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  10. Great post! I never knew there were so many places to get free audiobooks. I’ve been addicted since the first time I listened to one and wish I’d discovered them sooner.

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  11. Great post, Karen! Thanks for these links, I’ll check many of them.

    Oh I love audiobooks, and actually I’m always listening to an audiobook while walking and doing the housework – I don’t dare to do it if I’m not to listen something I enjoy, to compensate the hard task 😉

    Besides, audiobooks in English have helped me to improve my listening and speaking skills in this language (since I’m Spanish). I started with books I have already read in my language, to make sure I’ll know what’s going on in the story in case I don’t understand everything, and then I began to switch to new-to-me non-fiction books, because they are written in a coloquial language. Now I’ve finally begun to listen to fiction books and I’m proud to say that I understand almos entirely the literary language 🙂

    Anyway, for the new users of audiobooks I recommend taking it easy at first – it’s difficult to focus on the audio at the beginning, and one must definitely listening while doing an “automatic” task that doesn’t involve “thinking”, because it’s impossible to listen and think of another thing at the same time. For example, an audiobook is great when you walk to the grocery shop, but you can’t listen to it while you are actually buying groceries.

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    • I’m tremendously impressed by the methodical way you went about this Isi – and of course by your evident success in gaining the language skill. Your advice is a good point – for me the book has to be engaging but it can’t be too rivetting that I forget I am driving since that would be dangerous

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  12. A very timely post, thank you! I do listen to audiobooks (interchange them with podcasts) and up until now I’ve used my local library. Unfortunately, I’ve almost exhausted what’s on offer at my library (that interests me – I certainly haven’t listened to their whole collection!), so need some new sources.

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  13. Hi – this is a great topic for me to give an opinion . I am a big fan of Audiables with Whyspersync technology. I have to tell you this is going to sound strange to you because I do consider myself a complete bibliophile! I love the smell of a book. I love to look at the covers of books. Books are as unique as the writers that write them and I buy them and shelve them and I will read them over again and again. I have done this since I was a child . I have gifted books straight from my collection to very special people . I then, will replace them. One of my favorite books, in recent years was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold . I lost about four of those befour , I gave up . I still have not replaced that and her first memoir Zippy.
    So, now you know I love the physical book and why — there is nothing like the feeling of reading the words and imagining the story by yourself in your own world with no other influence the first time . A rule for me is first read the book before the movie if at all possible . I usually make it . I like to create my own films in my head . Now that being said , a couple of years ago I made a career change . It was necessary for a very dear personal reason.

    I stopped teaching English Literature and Creative Writing to become a freelance writer/ book reviewer, music reviewer, art reviewer, etc… just a promoter and reviewer that brings anything and anyone that brings light into the world to illuminate dark spaces anywhere. Light is beauty and knowledge and I am now just spreading knowledge in a different way . Knowledge is Power !

    I write my reviews on my blog , Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and articles anywhere I can . So I have found my reading speed and my eyes do not often work well together . This is where the magnificent Audibles with Whyspersync technology comes in for me . It is wonderful . First , I have Amazon Prime because it is a wonderful bargain on any purchases not just books. Through this , I also get Kindle unlimited through an app for my IpadPro 2 . It is well worth the free books too . Finally , I get a membership with Audiables/ Whyspersync which is about $149 a year with 12 free points and 3 new points each month . That definitely pays for new books with grade readers reading books to you while you follow along if you wish . I usually stop when I hear a quote I want to highlight and do that . I also will stop and look up unfamiliar words or foreign language terms. Wikipedia is there to check on a question and you can google a question while you are reading too. There is even a place to press and a notes pad will come up and you can write notes . All of this helps me to write the best reviews I can possibly right for my authors. Oh! The places you will go ! The voices are Irish , English , Russian dialects , etc… also they do voices for female characters and males and for different people in the book. You have an audio performance of your own . Which is sort of cheating but when you sometimes need to read 4-5 books a week it helps . But sometimes it is just enjoyable . I love the accents !

    I just do not see myself every reading any other audio type book but this type . I read so many and the price is perfect . The extra features make the reading experience even more exciting . So if you cannot just enjoy a traditional read in the old fashioned way , go Audiables with Whispersync technology! You can use it on all devices . I hope I helped to add to your blog .
    Sincerely ,
    Dawn Copley

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    • Thank you Dawn for such a thoughtful response and for sharing your experience. I’ve seen the term Whispersync but never really understood what it meant. It does sound as if it has some helpful functionalities. I do find it cumbersome to have to stop a recording and rewind to a piece I want to quote so this would be a great tool. Thanks once again.

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      • Glad to help out with your information about audiobook selections. Really , as much as I read , I find the subscription service perfect for me . Hardback books are quite expensive now . $25-$37 for some books I buy new makes a audiable with whyspersync memembership well worth the cost . I bargain book hunt for hardbacks and take my older books to get signed when I get the chance to meet a favorite writer . You know as a book lover I have found all ways to reach the whims of my heart bound in paper ! I am following your blog now . I was in the middle of upgrading my blog when the Doc says I have a case of bursitis or a pinched nerve !! HA ! I am in terrible pain from my neck and shoulder down my left arm . If the inflammation does not go down it will mean a pinched nerve ! Yikes! So my blog is in limbo land . Lucky I can still read , just not type . But , I do hope to have my blog going and full of light to share soon! I will be reading and enjoying !
        Sincerely,
        Irenadawn

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        • Hope that pain goes away soon – it must be really miserable.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Oh ! Thank you and me too ! I did go to the Doctor yesterday but like everything with Healthcare now they send you from specialist to specialist. So, I am riding that slow train 🚂 to help ! Everyone keeps saying it’s my rotator cuff in my shoulder, but the pain is all the way – well just everywhere! 😂 LOL ! You don’t want to here this mess ! I really like your blog and I am going to continue reading you ! You just keep writing and everyone will jump on your wagon 🚙! You will get tons of followers and soon you will beginning a great piece of literature of your very own . I have had two good friends I have been working with ; Donna Everhart for over 2 years and she just published her first book and had the next book ready so I suggested a trilogy and she is almost through . The publisher has picked them up on contract! She is a good Southern suspense/ drama writer .
          Christopher Struck is incredibly talented . I have been editing some of his work for the past year . Some authors you need to help with special care because they have been rejected so often and they also love to read so much they can’t decide on a style . Finally , he took a real life story ad added to it and it made a lovely Great Gatsby type of tragic tale . Not for everyone but it works ! 😂 LOL!
          Well I am reading you and folwing your lead to get some grea advice!!! Keep up the great writing ! I look for books to pop up everywhere! Have a great day ! I am following you and I may learn too !HA!
          Irenadawn

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        • If its a rotator cuff injury then the first thing to do is to stop using a backpack – especially if you tend to fill it up and then carry on one shoulder.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. I do love audiobooks but don’t often get the chance to use them. Listening in the car isn’t an option as I’m usually accompanied by at least one interrupting chimp. The one time I desperately seek them out is when I’m decorating. Nothing makes the interminable hours of watching paint dry fly by like the dulcet tones of Martin Jarvis spinning yarns!

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  15. I liked the idea of them and tried them a couple of times but usually found I either gave up and turned to the book or continued through gritted teeth. I find monologues ok but it’s a bit annoying hearing dialogue done by one person and sometimes accents can be really annoying. I find my mind wanders more when listening rather than reading; reading forces me more to pay attention.

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    • Sometimes its a question of finding the right kind of book – not all novels work well in audio format. Crime fiction usually works well but more introspective works I do seem to lose attention more easily.

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  16. I’m fairly indifferent to be honest – I tend to like to read myself rather than have an indifferent presentation as they so often seem to be. Poetry is different, though – I *love* to hear poetry well read, particularly by the poet! 🙂

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    • I’ve had good and bad experiences with audio versions of poetry. There was a stunning collection of Donne poems read by Richard Burton but then a few years ago I bought a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It was so dreadful I made it only through one poem – it was read in a strong American accent by someone who had a tin ear…

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