What Are Audiobooks?

Voice recordings of book text are available for mobile devices

Headphones wrapped around an old book
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As the name suggests, audiobooks are voice recordings of the text of a book that you listen to rather than read. Audiobooks can be exact word-for-word versions of books or abridged versions. You can listen to audiobooks on a music player, cell phone, computer, tablet, home speaker system or in cars that support streaming audio.  

In digital music stores where many audiobooks are purchased, they are usually downloaded in the same way as other digital audio files such as songs or albums.

 They can also be purchased from online bookstores or downloaded free from public domain sites. Most library systems offer audiobook downloads online.

History of Audiobooks

Even though the availability of audiobooks in a digital form is relatively new when compared to older audio technologies, the origins of audiobooks actually date back as far as the 1930s. They were often used as an educational medium and were found in schools and libraries. Before audiobooks were available digitally, talking books, as they were often referred to, were sold in physical form on analog cassette tapes and vinyl records. However, with the invention of the internet, audiobooks are now available online from many different sources.

Devices for Listening to Audiobooks

Now that audiobooks are available as digital audio files, they can be used on a wide variety of consumer electronic devices. Some examples include:

  • PMPs (portable media players)
  • Smartphones (Android and iOS)
  • Internet tablet devices such as iPads
  • Home stereo systems
  • Cars that support streaming audio from media players
  • Computers

Common Digital Audiobook Formats

When you purchase or download audiobooks from the internet, they are usually in one of the following audio formats:

  • MP3
  • WMA (Windows Media Audio)
  • AAC (Advanced Audio Coding)

You need to know which format(s) your device uses before you buy or download any audiobooks. Not every device supports the same format.

Sources of Audio Books

There are many websites and apps that provide access to audiobooks, both free and paid; here are a few.

  • Audiobooks for Apple's iPhone, iPad and Macs are available for download to its iBooks app in the Audiobook section of the iTunes Store
  • Audible.com requires a monthly subscription, but the first month is free. Use the Audible app for Android or iOS to listen on mobile devices. 
  • AllYouCanBooks.com offers unlimited access to thousands of downloadable audiobooks. This paid site offers the first month free. 
  • The Project Gutenberg website is well known for offering thousands of free books in the public domain. Not as well known is it's growing collection of human-read audio books that can be accessed over the internet.
  • Free Books & Audiobooks app for Android devices, offers more than 10,000 free audiobooks.
  • Barnes & Noble's Nook Audiobook Store website sells a large collection of audiobooks.