In the past year, over 80% of my books are consumed, at least in part, through audio format. I love audiobooks for many reasons, first and foremost as it allows me to multi-task and read while I am doing chores or engaging in other hobbies (it was houseplant tending in the summer, and now thanks to the lockdown I’ve been embroidering as I listen to audiobooks).
I also admit to being a little bit of a skim reader, and audiobook slows me down and let me savour a tale. There are also some books that are inherently better told orally, particularly ones that feature a story telling tone (like The Starless Sea, or Strange the Dreamer, or Raybearer). I know some readers feel that audiobook interferes with their interpretation of the tone of certain scenes, but for me, a good audiobook narrator amplifies those feelings and injects more life into it. Case in point, you haven’t lived until you inadvertently listen to a smut scene while out in public, something fellow romance readers can attest to.
However, audiobooks are eye-wateringly expensive when purchased on their own. As someone who goes through 8+ audiobooks a month (bless you, x2 speed), I have several apps and accounts dedicated to maximising my share of audiobooks each month. I’ll go through a few of them with you today and let you know which are my favourites.
The tl;dr version: libro.fm owns my life at the moment.
Note: My experience with these apps are limited to what an Australian resident can access.
Lets get the obvious one out of the way, for a long time (I’ve been an audible subscriber since 2015!) this was the only valid audiobook option for Aussie readers. The alternative was either borrowing the cd/tapes from your local library, or drop $50 to own the CDs yourself.
Costs: AU$16.45/month for one credit, additional books are priced $14.95 each for the Australian marketplace.
For the US Marketplace, Audible Premium Plus is US$14.95-22.95/month, which gives you 1-2 credits and unlimited access to the Audible Plus catalog for the month.
1) Excellent selection of audiobook, including some books that are restricted to Audible only (this is also a con, see my notes below).
2) Cheapest way to obtain additional audiobooks when your credits have been used up, if you’ve been a member for 3+ months, you get the option to buy a 3 credits for AU$34.95 when you are down to your last credit.
3) One additional free audiobook a month, selected by their staff – more often than not it’s one I am not interested in, but they had I’ll Be Gone in the Dark this month and the true crime enthusiast in me is very happy.
4) If you are in the US Marketplace, you also have access to their Audible Plus catalog, which has some great older titles. Currently it has the entire The Bone Witch trilogy by Rin Chupeco, Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, just to name a few.
5) I like using the Audible app, as it syncs to both my car and my tv seamlessly, and there’s a lot of variation on the speed, all the way up to 3x – trust me, you need 3x speed when you have to listen to non-fiction for work.
6) Easiest experience with returns, as I find I can return titles up to 6 months and you can do it directly on the website instead of contacting their customer service – unless you have returned a large number in a short period of time. Even then, they tend to let me return more titles if I contact them via email.
7) My primary ebook reader is a Kindle, and I like the convenience of my audiobook and ebook syncing as I switch medium.
1) Part of the Amazon family, which uses loss leaders and other predatory tactics to edge out local independent booksellers. A cursory google search will also tell you about the poor working conditions experienced by their employee. I understand it’s difficult to boycott Amazon altogether, especially in parts of the world where it remains the most accessible way to get the latest ebooks and audiobooks.
2) The Amazon exclusive titles bar audiobook access from libraries and other retailers, it especially targets popular titles e.g. many of the Leigh Bardugo and SJM titles. For more details you can read this article on libro.fm.
3) Audible titles uses DRM, which means you can only play them through audible’s official apps and cannot legally import them into other apps or audiobook players that you own. So while you have purchased the audiobook, you are tied to Amazon/audible services in order to listen to it.
1) You can sometimes buy audiobooks from Audible for less than the listed membership price if you get the Kindle edition beforehand. For many titles, you can ‘add the Audible narration’ for $2.99-3.99, sometimes it’s cheaper to buy both the ebook and audiobook for a title – especially when the Kindle edition is on sale.
2) If you don’t go through 1 audiobook a month, you can email Audible Support for a Silver membership, which charges you the membership fee on alternating month.
3) The first time you try and cancel your membership, you will be offered a significantly discounted subscription – especially if you were on a 12 month plan!
Scribd gives you access to both e-book and audiobook, but as I don’t enjoy reading on my phone, I primarily use it for audiobook access. It costs significantly less than a monthly audible subscription, and touts to give you ‘unlimited’* (a lie!) access to their vast library. It’s similar to a streaming service/Netflix for ebooks and audiobooks.
Costs: US$8.99 or AU$12.49 monthly for access to their full library, with some limitations.
1) Their catalog of audiobook is seriously impressive, and they are continually adding new titles it. Many new releases appear on the app the very day of the release. I can also access a few titles that are not ordinarily available on the Audible Australia marketplace, e.g. I got to listen to Red, White, and Royal Blue and A Mountain Sings long before it appeared in my local audiobook market.
2) More often than not, I can listen to at least 3 audiobooks before I get throttled and the access to titles become limited. While the app is not ‘unlimited’ as it claims, it’s still more cost-effective than the alternative of paying $15-16 per audiobook.
3) I like the ease of use of their app, and I find that it’s much easier to find new titles on this interface as oppose to Audible, as you can sort titles by “Most Recent” or click on a particular publisher to view all of the new releases for a particular category.
4) You have the option of reading e-books or accessing magazines from the app as well, I find this particularly helpful for non-fiction I use for work.
5) They have gotten better at indicating when the restrictions on certain books will be lifted by adding a specific date on when your account will be eligible for a title again.
1) As mentioned, while it’s cost-effective the app is not truly ‘unlimited’. I can usually listen to 2-3 audiobook titles before my options are limited for the month to older releases or books that are outside of my preferred genres. The most annoying thing is there is very little transparency to indicate exactly when this shift will occur, as the algorithm is determined on a number of factors: including popularity of the book, publisher’s contract, and your own consumption level. This generally means that you are limited to one popular bestseller/new release a month.
2) While ‘saving’ books to your lists on the app is marketed as an option to keep track of your TBR, I found that the algorithm uses this to limit books I prefer ahead of the books I generally don’t care to read. For this reason, I have avoided using this option.
3) You don’t actually own the books, as the app costs me upwards of $100 a year, not owning anything at the end of it can bug me. When audiobooks are purchased outright from Audible or Libro, I can often share my account with my partner (like I do with Netflix). I can’t share a Scribd account due to limit on the level of consumption per month.
1) Due to factors mentioned above, it’s best that you avoid listening to popular new releases on Scribd if you have the choice – as this can mean you’ll be quickly blocked to accessing further titles for the month. I find that I get the most use of my account when I listen to titles that have been backlisted for 1 year+. However, if it’s a title you really want, do not hesitate to jump on it, as I’ve noticed publishers are quick to pull titles from the service as well, particularly if they are popular.
2) Try to spread out what you listen to over the months, as how many audiobooks you can read a month is dependent on how many you read the prior month. For example, if you managed to read 4-5 titles in the previous month, it’s likely that you’ll be blocked after 1-2 titles in the subsequent month. If there are many upcoming releases you would like to listen to for a particular month, it’s best to calm your Scribd activity the month preceding those releases.
3) You can try to put your account on hold until the titles you want become accessible again.
At the end of the day, Scribd is geared more towards the casual reader than to people who want to read 5+ audiobooks per month. Even with the limitations in the app, it’s still vastly cheaper to use Scribd to supplement my library selection/Audible credits.
I only began using libro.fm around 1 month ago and have loved my experience, primarily because they support independent booksellers with their platform. I find their app and website aesthetically pleasing, and it does not hurt that they are very generous to book bloggers/booktubers/influencers – often offering us a range of complimentary recent releases, and there’s always at least 2-3 titles from Authors of Colour in the mix! Needless to say, I am in the beautiful honeymoon phase with libro.fm
Cost: US$14.99 for a monthly membership that gives you 1 credit, which is comparable to the cost of Audible. While the monthly membership is only an option for people with a US/Canada based credit card, international users can purchase a gift membership for $15 per credit.
1) You own a DRM-free audiobook after purchasing from libro.fm, meaning you can literally take your book anywhere you’d like and are not limited to their app.
2) They split the profit of their sales with a local independent bookstore of your choice, and you can choose the recipient during your sign up process.
3) I love finding new books through their Bookseller Picks page. As I can’t visit real bookstores to read those little recommendation cards I love so much anymore, this is the next best thing. The recommendations are diverse and often aligns with my reading taste, for example, The House In the Cerulean Sea and Mexican Gothic are currently being highlighted. Similarly, I love the Libro.fm Playlist function for much the same reason.
4) They have a fantastic Audiobook Listening Copy program for librarians, booksellers, book educators, and book influencers alike, if you are eligible I highly recommend that you sign up. Sometimes, I gain access to books that are not ordinarily available in Australia through this option e.g. this month I got Skyhunter by Marie Lu, which is not on the Australian audiobook marketplace.
5) Very prompt customer service, while you cannot return books through your own account, I found that they are very responsive to emails, often responding within the first few hours to any queries.
1) Predominantly US-based, including the independent booksellers you can support. Their membership bit harder to access for international users, but not impossible through the gift membership option.
2) A smaller catalog than Audible, but a cursory search show me that they have all of the titles I was after on Audible in the recent months.
1) You can gift yourself a gift membership, and use the credit to purchase books that are not generally available in your region, even if the website says there are restrictions. This is life-changing for the people stuck in the Australian marketplace, I finally got myself Mexican Gothic!! I have sight set on multiple titles like Gods of Jade and Shadow, Lobizona, and Felix Ever After. For me, this access alone the $15 per credit is worth every cent.
If I have converted you to libro.fm, please consider using my referral code to grab yourself an audiobook for free. I also get an audiobook credit when you have paid for your first membership month, so we can both live our best bookish life.
Do you read books via audiobooks? What are your favourite audiobook providers? Aside all of these I love my Libby app as well, but I’m aware that experience with libraries greatly vary base on your location so I didn’t delve into that here.