In Praise of Audible.com

When we moved to St. Louis from the D.C. Suburbs in 2002, I drove my car out on Memorial Day weekend.  I left Gaithersburg, Maryland at about 6:30am and 13 hours later pulled into my temporary apartment complex in Chesterfield, Missouri.  Along the way, I listened to an audio version of The Hobbit on about 10 CDs.  I am not kidding when I write that I started the book a mile from my house in Maryland, and the book ended as I parked in Missouri.

This was the beginning of my love of audiobooks.  There is no place better and more cost-effective to get them than Audible.com.

If You Don't Listen to Books, You Should

I have been a subscriber at Audible.com since October, 2004 and in that time have downloaded 57 books and finished most of them.  I have listened to books as short as a few hours and as long as 33 hours (a biography of Walt Disney).

Audible is fantastic in its simplicity.  Log in.  Find a book.  Purchase it.  I then download directly to iTunes and sync with my iPhone.  However, Audible syncs with over 100 different MP3 players, phones, PDAs, and even Kindles.  (Kindle compatibility is not surprising, since Amazon bought Audible back in January, 2008.)

Pricing depends on your commitment.  Using the NY Times Best Seller List as a guide, audiobooks cost around $20 both on Audible and, for comparison, in the iTunes Store.  However, Audible offers subscriptions that cut the cost to $14.95 per book (1 book monthly) to as low as $9.56 per book (24 books, bought all at once).  In truth, you buy credits, but only once (that darn Disney bio!), have I used 2 credits on one book.  The subscriptions get charged automatically to your credit card, and Audible allows some rollover of credits.  Once you buy an audiobook, it remains in your library for future downloads forever.

If you haven’t listened to an audiobook, I urge you to do so.  I listen while driving, and I listen while running.  Books have gotten so engrossing that I’ve sat in the car in our garage or the parking lot at work waiting for a chapter or the book itself to end.  I have run four marathons and listened to books throughout my training.  I remember running 15 miles one day listening to a history of the transcontinental railroad.   I have listened enough that I have favorite narrators and search for them.  (Thanks Scott Brick for some great stuff.)

I primarily listen to non-fiction books that I know I wouldn’t read otherwise.  I mean, who has the patience to read a 33-hour biography of Walt Disney or a 15-hour history of the Island of Manhattan?  Listening I can handle.

I should note that many books come in abridged formats that, by definition, shorten the length.  However, these shorter versions cost only slightly less for cash customers and cost the same “one credit” for subscribers like me.  I have listened only to one abridged book and, that was by accident.

I find fiction books are best when there are multiple readers who turn the book into a play or when the narrator does the characters’ voices well.  An example of the former is The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, in which each of four narrators is read by a different person.  An example of the latter is the audiobook One Day, for which the narrator Anna Bentinck does an incredible job with male and female accents, both sober and drunk, from across the UK.

Audiobooks are not perfect.  You can’t see maps or diagrams.  You can’t page back to remember something.  Books that are very date dependent, like The Time Traveler’s Wife, can sometimes be confusing if you aren’t listening every time a date is mentioned.  For me, however, these are minor inconveniences.

As you can tell, I am a big fan of Audible.com.  I recommend, as a start, Bentinck’s reading of One Day, Brick’s narration of The Devil in the White City, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Help, and either of two books by Michael Lewis,  The Big Short or The Blind Side.

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