E-readers may have revolutionised the way we read, but lately an older format has been enjoying a revival: the audiobook.
The first audiobooks came on cassette tapes – often half a dozen or more for a single book – which made them a bit cumbersome for on-the-go listening. But now, anyone can download an audiobook to their smartphone and begin listening in seconds. Thanks to both podcasts and audiobooks, the spoken word has never been more popular.
An array of audiobook apps and platforms have sprung up in recent years, helping boost the format’s sales while also tempting people in with offers of free audiobooks and other perks.
But what are the best audiobook apps? Let’s compare what some of the biggest names have to tempt keen listeners.
Android, iOS - £7.99 monthly subscription
As a company that made its fortune selling books online, it’s no surprise that Amazon has become a leading light of the audiobook world too. Audible is the most popular audiobook app – with more than 200,000 titles, it has the widest selection of all.
You don’t need a subscription to use Audible for books you already own, but members enjoy big discounts on audiobook purchases, as well as one book credit per month. You get a free book with the 30-day free trial, while for those who do a lot of listening, a £109.99 annual subscription will grant you 24 books over the course of the year.
As the most established audiobook app, it’s slick, sophisticated and packed full of handy features that make listening easy: bookmarks and chapter navigation, a rating and sharing system via Twitter and Facebook, a buttons-free mode that lets you control with swipes and gestures, and information about your listening habits.
The Whispersync for Voice feature lets you switch seamlessly between reading and listening. If you’re a Kindle user, you can also get discounts on audiobooks of ebooks you already own.
Recommended for: Just about everyone – it’s popular for a reason.
Android, iOS – Pay as you go
Google announced in January 2018 that it would start selling audiobooks through its Play store. You can play them through the Google Play Books app, or ask Google Assistant: “OK Google, read my book”, and it will continue playing the latest title you listened to. You can also navigate between chapters, set timers and ask Assistant questions about the book and its author.
Unlike Audible, there’s no subscription – it’s simply pay-as-you-go. This could work out a bit more expensive than an Audible subscription for keen listeners, but also gives users the freedom to take advantage of deals and discounts as they please without being tied in to a monthly cost.
Customers can add titles to their Family Library, which means audiobooks can be shared between family members at no extra cost, as well as syncing their books and progress across all devices. Naturally, you can also cast audio to a Chromecast device, such as the Google Home.
Recommended for: Anyone with a Home speaker, or who doesn’t want to pay monthly.
Android, iOS - £6.99 monthly subscription
Kobo launched its own Audible-like subscription service in 2017, with a slightly cheaper subscription plan. Just like Audible, your monthly fee includes one book credit per month which can be redeemed for any audiobook. You can also buy individually, and Kobo’s price match feature means you'll never pay more than you should for an audiobook again.
Kobo’s selection is smaller than Amazon’s, although it still has many thousands of titles to choose from. Members can take advantage of exclusive discounts, as well as earning Super Points for their purchases which can be redeemed for ebooks or audiobooks.
Listening to audiobooks on the Kobo app is mobile-only: there’s currently no option for desktop or e-reader users. Audiobook support is fairly light, but includes all the basic features you need: you can adjust playback speed, skip back and forward quickly by swiping, and set a sleep timer for reading in bed.
Recommended for: Anyone looking for a cheaper alternative to Audible – who doesn’t mind a smaller selection.
Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry – Free
LibriVox is an open-source project that does things differently: it offers access to a wide selection of audiobooks, absolutely free. The catch is that its library is exclusively made up of public domain texts published before 1923, and all reading is done by volunteers rather than your favourite actors and celebs.
This means you won’t find the latest Game of Thrones audiobook on there, but you might find The Canterbury Tales – and a lot more besides. There are more than 12,000 free audiobooks to choose from, mostly classic fiction and philosophical texts, with around 1,000 more being added each year.
Due to the project’s voluntary nature, the quality of the readings and recordings can vary, and aren’t always as polished as you’d get from a paid service. Similarly, while the app is simple, cleanly-designed and easy to use, it’s not quite as feature-rich as some of the competition. But if you’re a lover of the classics, there’s every reason to give LibriVox a try.
Recommended for: Literature students, fans of the classics (and free stuff).
Android, iOS - $12.99 monthly subscription
Downpour is a less well-known service, but it has a few unique features going for it. Its $12.99 (around £9.25) monthly subscription fee may be steeper than the competition and the selection more limited, but with around 80,000 titles to choose from, it still offers a wide range. As with other services, your subscription includes one monthly book credit.
Unlike Audible, though, Downpour allows you to purchase extra credits whenever you like, with no restrictions – this means most of its books cost the same as the monthly fee.
Audiobooks are usually pretty expensive outside of a subscription plan, so this could work out cheaper for people who sometimes buy a lot, and other times very little.
Downpour also allows you to rent selected titles for 30 or 60 days – ideal if you don’t plan on listening to your books more than once. The app is simple and intuitive, and alongside the standard features allows you to add bookmarks and notes.
You’re not limited to the Downpour app, though - most Downpour titles are DRM-free, so you can play them on any app and any device.
Recommended for: Both occasional or frequent audiobook listeners, people who want to rent rather than buy.
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