It’s all about the format

You know why to listen, how to listen, and have a good idea of the types of audiobooks there are out there, but do you have a preference for how you get your audiobooks? Do you download them, transfer from your computer onto a portable player, or are you a traditional audiobook-on-cd listener? We’ll give you a little walk through some of the different formats — there is something for everyone.

Traditional Audiobook (Kelly):

I’m a huge fan of these. They come fully set to pop into your car’s CD player and play. You don’t need to do anything, but you do need to be aware these bad boys can get long (and if you’re purchasing them, expensive). The Help, for example, ran 15 discs long. If you’re anything like me, I pull out ALL of the discs of a book at once and put them in the change tray in my car — 15 of those bad boys sometimes leads to the CDs falling off and under the seat in the car.

On the plus side, they require little to no work to begin listening. On the downside, they aren’t super versatile. You need a CD player of some sort to use them, unless you want to copy them onto your computer’s hard drive and then save them in your music player of choice.

MP3 Audiobook (Kimberly):

I’m going to be honest and say that I’ve never actually listened to one of these before, but they’ve got a lot going for them.  I was lucky enough to receive a free (signed) copy of Rick Riordan’s newest book, The Red Pyramid, at BEA on mp3 CD.  The print book is over 500 pages and the audio runs over fourteen and a half hours, but the entire book fits on ONE mp3 CD. 

Obviously, the compact size is a huge pro.  There’s no need to swap out discs while driving (yikes!) and they take up much less space on the shelf.  On the other hand, not all CD players are compatible with the format.  Most CD players being manufactured today can play mp3 discs just fine, but both my car CD player (from 2004) and my boom box (from the Jurassic Age) – the two players I use most often – won’t play them.  If I want to listen to an mp3 CD, I’ve got to use my computer, which is a pain.

In my experience, this lack of compatibility problem applies to most public library users today.  My library is not yet purchasing mp3 CDs, but I have a feeling that’s the way the technology is heading (along with downloadables, as described below).  Will we see the traditional CD going the way of the cassette tape soon?

Downloadable Audiobook (Kelly):

Many libraries offer a way for users to download audiobooks directly from their database to your home computer (and now, sometimes right onto your portable device). Though I haven’t tried this out yet, it’s on my list of things to achieve in the next few weeks. . . fitting with the goal of using audiobooks on my ipod for working out.

There are a few vendors for downloadable books, but the two biggest include NetLibrary and Overdrive. Both have their pluses and minuses, so you have to figure out the quirks of your library’s system for yourself (or ask the librarian, of course). Don’t think you have access to downloadable audio? Think again. Janssen has pointed out that there is a wonderful way to find out if your library has access to Overdrive via this link.

Another downloadable option is LibriVox. I’ve never used it, but I know people who do. It’s run on a volunteer basis, where readers choose to help record all of the books in the public domain. In other words, if you’re looking to listen to a classic, try them out. And, if you’re so inspired, try your hand at recording a title, too.

Playaway (Kimberly):

The Playaway is such a good idea – an audiobook player that comes pre-loaded with the audiobook.  No need to convert any files or go to the trouble of loading the files onto the device.  No need to even HAVE a device. 

It seems like Playaways are best for people who want a portable audiobook but may not be able to afford their own mp3 player or just don’t feel technologically savvy enough to download or transfer files to one.  I’ve read anecdotal evidence that public libraries in poorer communities see more use of the Playaway, but I don’t have any numbers to back that up.  There are some definite downsides – they can be pricey, require the user to supply their own batteries and headphones, and lack the flexibility of a normal audio player which can hold more than one book at a time.

Which format do you prefer?

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  1. says

    Hi Kelly and Kimberly … I, too, am a fan of CDs — which I now mostly copy (legally? personal use?) laboriously onto my computer (which means I need another audiobook in the ears for this time-consuming task!) and then upload to my no-name mp3 player. If the library discs are all in good shape, I'm now cued up for listening.

    I've done a few downloads from my library's Overdrive (thanks to a techie friend who solved the issue of the curiously-named Console, which is the software that has to reside on your computer in order to store your downloadables for your check-out period — are you confused yet?). I've got two complaints about downloadables: Sound quality is often tinny and each "disc" of the audiobook comes as a single track. Woe betide you if you lose your place!

    Ladies … I've not be celebrating Audiobook week very much, but I do appreciate all the great info you've provided here lately!

    Lee (Reading with My Ears) Catalano
    Portland, Oregon.

  2. says

    Lee, the point about losing your place is great. I think one of the two major providers (either Overdrive or NetLibrary) has changed or is working to change this so the tracks aren't quite so long…but of course I can't remember where I read that!

  3. says

    LibriVox is a really hit and miss sort of thing. The first couple audios I got there were both by the same woman (and she did the entire book), and she was great. After that, I tried a collection of Sherlock Holmes in which each story was narrated by someone different and some of them were TERRIBLE.

  4. says

    I have done three things: purchased (or borrowed) CDs, played them in the car; Ripped CDs onto my iPod; downloaded audiobooks from iTunes/Audible. I have to say I like option C best, and option B worst. I was initially worried about option C as I thought it would be like a song, and if I stop it it he middle, it would start it over at the beginning. However, I found out I was wrong; my iPod remembers where I left off which is awesome. Also the Audible files take up SO much less space than the equal number of ripped CDs.

    The ripped CDs are horrible. Every chapter comes over as its own track (and sometimes 2-3 tracks!) of just a few minutes each, and I have to be absolutely sure the file is sorted the way that will make them come up in the correct order (sometimes they come across in the reverse order,or alphabetical which is fun.) Frequently iTunes can't identify the CDs so there are no track names at all.

    playing regular CDs in the car was fine, with the usual problems of occasionally getting a CD that skips, keeping track of them all, getting them in and out of the case/sleeve and in the right order. But my biggest complaint with this (which is a bigger problem with nonfiction I think) is that if there's nothing at the end of each disk saying, "this is the end of disk 3. Please insert disk 4.", I would often not notice I'd some to the end, and listen to 10 minutes of the 1st track again before I'd think to myself, "this sounds awfully familiar." Argh. You do that on a 10-disk book, that's 100 minutes of time you've wasted. I am extremely happy with my Audible membership.

  5. says

    Carin, I note in my reviews about the "this is the end of disc 3" thing because it irritates me as a listener when they don't do that. If I'm driving, I can't shuffle around too much; that cue, or in the cases of some books, the music to indicate the end, is SO helpful.

    I haven't done the audible/overdrive thing at all. I really should since it seems like it's easy and would give me more options for listening.

    It's interesting reading all your experiences, too. It gives more perspective on preferences (as a reader, as a reviewer, and as a librarian).

  6. says

    So far, I've been using ones that are loaded on CDs, and then simply copying the files over to my iPhone. The problem with this is that I'm borrowing the audiobooks from the library, so I'm theoretically "stealing" the books! I don't want to be doing that, but it seems so far to be the only feasible way for me to listen to them. I've just been making sure to delete the tracks off my computer and phone once I'm done with them.

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