Updated: June 14, 2015

Audio Books and Books on Tape

With our busy, automobile-based society, the publishing industry made a big leap more than a decade ago by publishing popular books and novels first on audio cassette tapes, and then on audio CDs for playback in cars, Walkmans, portable CD players, and home stereos. For those who didn't have time to just sit and read, now they could listen to their favorite books while they drove, while they laid on the beach with their headphones on, while they were jogging or exercising, whenever and wherever they wanted. Suddenly books were much easier to access and enjoy. Audio books have now moved into the digital internet age, with downloadable audio books, periodicals, and radio shows that you can download and listen to on your computer or portable audio device. Below we will check out some of the leading internet sites for downloading free audio books and purchasing audio books.

While books on tape are still available at many bookstores, CD versions are the most popular, and digital download versions are quickly catching up. The good news is that Amazon.com is one of the best and easiest places to shop for audio books. When browsing through normal book titles, be sure to look down in the little box below the price -- it says "also available in ..." and covers hardcovers, audio downloads, and audio CDs. Click the Audio CD link to buy the CD version of the book. Amazon even goes one step further and offers a special section on their website devoted to Audiobooks. You can find best books of the year, Top 10 Audiobooks from editors and customers, and of course you can simply browse by genre -- biographies, children's books, mysteries, politics, sci-fi, romance, etc. So start your audiobook shopping at Amazon - you'll be glad you did. And if you are into audiobooks, consider taking the next step and picking up a Kindle, Amazon's electronic book reader. It lets you browse, buy, and read books on this little device -- people who use them swear by them. They are so popular that Amazon has a tough time keeping them in stock, especially during the holidays.

Audible.com and downloading audio books

Audible.com is one of the leading sites for downloading audio books. This is how Audible describes themselves: "Audible is your home for premium digital audio entertainment and information. Choose from more than 26,000 best-selling digital audiobooks, radio shows, audio versions of popular magazines, daily newspapers, and original programs. Download your audio in minutes and listen anywhere you go using your Apple iPod, Pocket PC, Palm OS handheld, Creative MuVo, AudibleReady device, PC, Mac, or on burned CDs." Using Audible.com is easy - you set up an account, install their software or use iTunes 3.0 and above if you are an iPod user, browse their selection of over 25,000 downloadable audio books and books on tape, and upload them to your iPod or other MP3 player, or listen to them right from your PC or laptop. You can also play them on Palm OS handheld PDA devices. The audible file formats are optimized for speech, making for smaller file download and allowing you to bookmark and pause and resume playback, just as you would do with a real printed book. Their files are encrypted, so you cannot convert them to MP3 or share them with other users. They don't offer free audio book downloads, as legal copyrighted material requires payment to authors. All the latest titles and most popular authors are available - Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien. For example, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is available for download as an audio book for $13.70 for members, or $19.97 for non-members. The unabridged version of the Da Vinci Code runs almost 17 hours and costs a whopping $70 for non-members.

AudioBooksForFree.com allows you to download free audio books if you are willing to settle for poor sound quality and a large number of files per book. Unfortunately, they carry only older books that are no longer under copyright - if you are looking to download new books or download audio book bestsellers for free, you are out of luck. For $7 you can download Jack London's White Fang at 48Kb/sec sound quality, but you can download it for free at 8Kb/sec. They also offer their entire collection of audio books on DVD for $120.

Soundsgood.com is another popular site for downloading audio books. They have a two week trial where you can download 2 free audiobooks to try out their service and see if you like it. Their ongoing memberships are $19.95 a month for two audio book downloads. They also provide audio and CD versions of audio books for people that prefer that format - obviously, those items are mailed and not downloadable.

Audio Book Rentals

JiggerBug.com lets you rent audio books for $19.95 per month (for 1 book out at a time, $24.95 for two books out at a time), with no additional fees or late fees. These are audio book CDs that are shipped to you in the mail, much like NetFlix works for DVDs. You select the titles you want, they mail them to you, you send them back when done. They have all the latest popular titles - Memoirs of a Geisha, Christ the Lord, Teacher Man, Freakonomics. They describe themselves as: "Jiggerbug is an online audiobook rental company designed to allow active people to make the most of their time by listening to their favorite books, courses, and audio programs without the hassle of leaving their home and without the needless expense of buying them. As a Jiggerbug member you can create a wish list of audio titles that you would like to hear. We then ship you the first title on your list via first class mail. When you are done with the title, simply return it in the Jiggerbug prepaid envelope that we provide. Once we receive it we will ship your next title. It's that simple. Our members enjoy listening to their audio titles while exercising, driving, cleaning house, hiking, running marathons, dropping the kids off at school, and even rock climbing. Where do you listen?". If you listen to these books quickly enough, it might well be worth your time to crank through 4 or 5 rentals in a month for $25 instead of buying the audio books at the store for $30 each.

Free Audio Book Downloads via P2P file sharing

Some of the file sharing networks do list audio books and ebooks when you search for them, but keep in mind that downloading free audio books falls into the same category as downloading "free" MP3 music files - it is illegal in most cases and violates copyright laws. Admittedly, prices are pretty high for audio book download at legitimate sites, but hopefully prices will fall over time making illegal file sharing sites less attractive alternatives for those seeking "free" downloads.