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Getting Started with Audiobooks



To borrow a phrase from a popular milk commercial: “Got time?”

Our incredibly fast-paced society robs us of the hours needed to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Multitasking has become the norm for corporate executives and soccer moms. We suffer from acute “busyness”—and we pay a steep price: unprecedented stress levels, sleep deprivation, bad tempers, road rage and toddler-style crankiness.

Audiobooks offer a respite from the storm:

  • Traffic congestion has tripled over the last 20 years, and more than 18 million Americans spend 90+ minutes each day traveling to work. Enjoy the latest bestseller during your commute.
  • Instead of watching that inevitably horrible movie, bring an audiobook and portable player on a plane trip.
  • Enhance your exercise routine by listening to an audiobook as you walk, jog, run or work out at the gym. The time will pass much faster!
  • Banish boredom while cooking, cleaning, gardening or walking the dog.
  • Spice up your lunch hour by listening to the latest thriller.
  • If you’re taking the kids on a road trip, bring Harry Potter along for the ride. “There’s nothing quite like an audiobook to beat the ‘Are we there yet?’ blues,” says Mary Beth Roche, president of the McLean, Virginia-based Audio Publishers Association. “Whether you choose humor, self-help, a family classic or the latest bestseller, having an audiobook along lets the vacation begin as soon as you pull out of the driveway.”

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What Is An Audiobook?

The United States Congress developed the first audiobooks in the 1930s as “talking books” for the blind. A federally funded program provided free audiobooks to adults and in 1952 expanded to include blind children.

By the 1960s, when the first music audiocassettes hit stores, book publishers began to market audiobooks to the general public. The first titles concentrated on self-help and learning a foreign language. By the early 1990s, bestsellers were being published on audiocassette.

Audiobooks are available for all ages, on virtually any topic. Popular genres include biographies and memoirs, business and how-to books, spirituality and religion, children’s literature, history, mystery and thrillers, and romance. Audiobooks require little storage space (none if you download them) and are especially appealing if you’re not, by nature, a “reader.”

While print book sales rose only 6.3% in 2003, audiobook sales outpaced them by 2:1 (13%), according to the Association of American Publishers. Today, more than 23 million American households enjoy audiobooks.

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Audiobook Options

When shopping for audiobooks, you’ll need to make a few important decisions:


Some audiobooks feature a single narrator—often the book’s author or a celebrity. If the work is fictional, a narrator may play all of the characters. Other audiobooks are like dramatic plays, featuring a cast of actors. Choose the style that best fits your temperament.

Length (Abridged vs. Unabridged)

“Abridged” audiobooks are condensed versions of an original work. The author or publisher will edit the text so the listener hears key story plots or nonfiction points. Abridged versions proceed at a quicker pace and cost less, as they are packaged with fewer cassettes or CDs.

“Unabridged” audiobooks feature the complete text, with no condensation. Because they fill a greater number of audiocassettes or CDs, they are more expensive. The benefit? You hear the entire text—literally every word, as the author wrote it.


Audiobooks are available in three basic formats:

Invented in 1963 by the Phillips Corporation in the Netherlands , audiocassettes are the “granddaddy” of the audiobook world and can be played on any standard tape player—home, portable or car. An average cassette runs 90–100 minutes. Many older titles are available only on audiocassette, so choices abound.

Click here for our recommendations for Cassette Players

Compact Discs (CDs)
It used to be difficult to find audiobooks on CD, which were first introduced by Sony and RCA as a replacement for phonograph records in 1972. Today’s publishers are releasing titles on cassette and CD simultaneously.

Digital recording technology allows for crisp sound, and CDs are more durable than cassettes. Since most U.S. cars are sold with CD players, this format has gained popularity. You may also play CD audiobooks on your computer (listen while you check your email) or on your DVD player (a nice way to unwind before bedtime). An average CD runs approximately 70 minutes. An enhanced CD may include special features, such as video extras.

Click here for our recommendations for CD Players

Downloadable audiobooks are the newest kid on the block, eliminating the need to carry audiocassettes or CDs with you. They are digital files, usually downloaded from the Internet, that can be stored on your computer or MP3 Player.

Digital audiobooks are the most versatile of the three formats, allowing you to listen on your computer, listen on the go with your MP3 Player or burn it onto a CD if you have a CD burner.

Click here for our recommendations for MP3 Players

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Ways to Buy Audiobooks

There are several top-of-the-line sources for the widest selection of audiobooks.

Monthly Subscription Clubs

A monthly audiobook subscription club can be the most cost effective way for audiobook listeners to enjoy their favorite audiobooks. With the most popular club, Audible, you can download any two audiobooks from the website’s huge online store for around $20 a month. They even offer a free audio player with a one year commitment.

Audiobook Rental Services

Audiobook rental services have really grown in popularity over the past year. There are now several options available for those looking to rent audiobooks. With most of them, there is no limit on the number of audiobooks you can rent in a given month. You can browse book selections in one sitting and make an unlimited list of favorites, which will be shipped to you in order of preference. All plans offer free shipping, and you can cancel your membership at any time. ( No refunds or credits will be given for partial months of use.)

Audiobook Stores

If you're just looking to purchase a particular audiobook, as opposed to joining a club or rental service, you'll be happy with the number of audiobook stores available. In particular, carries a huge selection of audio titles including Audiobooks on CD and Audiobooks on Cassette, with bestsellers priced 32% below retail.

Auction sites

Auction sites are a great way to get audiobooks at huge discounts (if you don't mind them being a bit used). They can also be a great resource for out-of-print and hard-to-find audiobooks.

Of course, you can't say online auction without thinking of ebay. For the bargain hunter, there’s no better source for new and used audiobooks than eBay. The premier auction site features an ever-changing assortment of audiobooks, and you can resell your titles after you’ve listened to them. Once you register, you can search by genre or title. Be sure to check sellers’ feedback before you bid on an auction to avoid problems, and keep track of when auctions close so you can place last-minute bids on sought-after titles. More Information


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The Future Sounds Bright

When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, he never imagined his latest contribution would give rise to worldwide distribution of music and spoken-word recordings on audiocassettes, compact discs and digital files.

Regardless of your preference, there are thousands of audiobooks waiting to be heard, enjoyed and shared. The next decade promises even more innovation, with exciting advances in digital sound technology and creative new releases from an ever-growing cadre of audiobook publishers.

So, stay tuned! We’ll bring you the latest developments as they happen. In the meantime, happy listening!





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