I love a good book, but because of my schedule I rarely have the time to read. I travel quite a bit, and prefer to drive if I can get to my destination in six hours or less. This typically leaves me with plenty of time to listen to a couple of audiobooks during my travels.
CDs are one of the most common formats for audiobooks, but using CDs means I have to swap discs periodically, deal with skipping caused by scratched disks, and spend time finding the titles I’m interested in. Even the large bookstores have only a limited selection and small inventory of audiobook titles. My solution to these problems was to abandon CDs and download my audiobooks directly from Audible.com, a subsidiary of Amazon.com.
Because it’s an online store, the titles they offer are stored electronically. This means that Audible.com never runs out of stock and they can keep more obscure books on hand. Audible’s distribution model is extremely efficient and their audiobooks are more affordable than their CD counterparts. Although you can purchase their audiobooks a la carte, Audible promotes their subscription model where you pay a monthly or yearly fee to download a specific number of books each month or year. A good way to see if you like the service is to try their special three-month introductory offer that lets you download one book each month for $7.49 per month. If you like the service, the yearly plan is a good deal. For $149.50 per year you can download 12 books—not limited to one per month. In addition, Audible offers discounts to its subscribers, making a good deal even better. For example, Audible recently e-mailed me a $10 bonus credit for being a loyal subscriber. Finally, of the more than 50,000 items on Audible, over 1,000 of them are free selections.
Once purchased and synced, Audible titles appear in the iPod player’s
Audiobooks folder (left). Tap on any title to open it in the player (right).
I should point out that Apple offers audiobooks through iTunes. However, with Audible’s promotions, Audible’s pricing is more attractive. For example, I purchased Team of Rivals for one credit ($7.50 to $15) on Audible; it sells for $20 on iTunes.
How it works
Audible works with Macs or PCs because you don’t install any software on your computer. You simply browse the Audible site and add selections to your cart, just like you do when buying books from Amazon.com. If you’re not a subscriber, you pay for the audiobooks with your credit card. If you are, you can pay with available credits or a combination of credits and dollars. Audible books are then downloaded directly into your iTunes folder and can be synced the same way you sync music or videos.
Listening to audiobooks stored on my iPhone
Listening to audiobooks on my iPhone has a lot of advantages. Scratches and skips are a thing of the past, and I can listen for hours without having to fumble for a new disc. And when I answer a call, the audiobook pauses automatically and then resumes where I left off, when I end the call. I can also pause the audiobook manually when I stop to refuel my car.
Large audiobooks are sometimes split up into a couple of files for downloading purposes. While this is still more convenient than a half dozen discs, it would be nice to have a single file. Also, multiple file downloads tend to have “Part 1,” “Part 2,” etc. hidden at the end of a very long file name. Because of this, I sometimes start playing Part 2 before Part 1.
I also don’t like the way iTunes handles audiobooks. Unlike music or podcasts, iTunes doesn’t let you organize audiobooks into separate playlists—you have to download all or none of them onto your iPhone. I would like to be able to choose which books to download. For example, I might want to listen to business audiobooks on a business trip. As it is, I have to move some audiobooks from my iTunes folder (or delete them and re-download them from Audible) in order to fit my desired audiobooks on my iPhone, along with my music, videos, and applications. A nice feature that Audible doesn’t promote is that you can cancel your monthly subscription but keep your account active at no charge, so that you can re-download audiobooks you’ve already purchased.
When I’m traveling, I plug my iPhone into an FM transmitter which broadcasts the iPhone’s audio on an unused FM radio channel. That way, I can set my car stereo to the channel and listen to the audiobook over the car’s speakers. The only problem with this is that it’s sometimes hard to find an unused FM channel. In addition, an unused channel in one area may be used in another—I end up having to change FM channels periodically. My car has a Bluetooth system, so I hope that a future version of the iPhone will be able to output audio via Bluetooth. In addition, I will make sure that my next car has an audio system with an audio input jack so that I can play iPhone music and audiobooks directly through the audio system.
There are still issues to work out, but I believe that, in the same way that digital music is supplanting the CD format, digital audiobooks will replace disc-based audiobooks in the not too distant future.