I know a great many people who swear by audiobooks. And as you’re reading this article you’re probably one of them.
Audiobooks are particularly beloved by elderly people, visually impaired people, and those who face a long commute to and from work. If you are stuck in your car or on a bus, an audiobook can be the difference between sanity and boredom. If you are also someone with a hectic lifestyle, listening to audiobooks on the go will help you to clear some of your book pile.
Let MakeUseOf be your guide to free audiobooks. We are excluding Audible, which is only free for the first 30 days. And “free” in this case means legally free. So we won’t be pointing you towards any illegal downloads of the latest horror epic from Stephen King. Sorry.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…
We start with a project I am proud to be personally involved with. Librivox is made up of an army of volunteers who read and record books which have passed into the public domain (the audio Project Gutenberg).
The site is divided into “Read” and “Listen”. Obviously you will want “Listen” (unless you would also like to volunteer, in which case feel free to click “Read” too). You can use the search box at the top of the page to find something specific by author or title. When you find something you want, simply click the green “Download” button.
Some books are read all the way through by one person, but the much longer books are broken up and chapters assigned to different volunteers. So, don’t be taken aback by the sudden change in voices, accents, and genders. One minute you’ll have a deep, Orson Welles-type voice reading Chapter One, then you’ll get a soft, high-pitched voice reading Chapter Two.
Next up is Loyal Books (formerly known as “Books Should Be Free”). There is actually a small paid section on this site but most of the content of the site is free. Literature, such as Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe, and John Buchan’s The 39 Steps, is the main staple.
The free books are read by Librivox volunteers, but these are much easier to navigate on this site, as everything is categorized. Feel like a laugh? Browse the “Comedy” section. Feel like a dose of Shakespeare? Then mosey along to the “Literature” section. Other ways to download include the iTunes podcast link, the direct RSS feed, and an embedded media player on the page to stream the chapters online.
In my opinion, Open Culture has set the gold standard for compiling huge resources like these. Dan Colman, the owner of Open Culture, has spent a significant amount of time putting together this enormous list of 700 audiobooks (with the list being updated all the time).
Alphabetized and split up into sources such as iTunes, Audible, direct MP3 files, Zip files, streaming, and YouTube, this is a fantastic selection of books by some famous – and some not-so-famous – authors. It even has Neil Gaiman reading his free material. Bookmark this page and refer to it often. Unfortunately there’s no RSS feed to be updated of new additions to the page, which is a shame.
One of my fondest memories of being a young boy is curling up in bed and being read a bedtime story by my late grandfather. There’s something special about drifting off to sleep to the sound of a book being read to you. Unless they are reading Stephen King’s The Shining, in which case you are going to have some really interesting nightmares. Sleep well.
Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast is, as the name suggests, stories for bedtime. However, the stories are for adults, not children (in one podcast, she starts off with a joke that ends in a curse word). They are read by Miette, a lovely sounding lady, and each episode can be streamed from the site, or downloaded as an MP3 file.
According to Miette’s iTunes page, she has 100 stories available to listen to, with the last one being posted last year. However, she has promised on her site that the next story will be coming soon. It will take you some time to get through the first 100 anyway.
Back in the early 20th century, before television and the Internet existed, radio was the main form of entertainment. And radio stations back then provided a lot of dramas, where actors stood in front of microphones with scripts in their hand and sound effects in the background. Basically it was television without the pictures, and it meant imagination was an absolute must.
CBS and CBC produced one called The Mercury Theatre on the Air, partly founded by none other than Orson Welles. The broadcast quickly became infamous with Welles’ fake alien invasion broadcast War of the Worlds (which was so genuine, that many Americans really thought they were being invaded by little green men, and panicked appropriately).
But the Mercury Theatre also did a great many other broadcasts, and this site gives you a big listing of all the books they covered. Books such as Treasure Island, A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Around the World in 80 Days.
As they’re from the 1930s, don’t expect the sound quality to be fantastic. It would be a long time before Dolby Surround Sound was invented.
ThoughtAudio has a nice selection of books not really seen on the other sites on this list. Plus they don’t cull their downloads from Librivox like some other sites do – instead producing the audiobooks themselves. They also produce a very nice “transcript” of the book being read, so you can follow along.
Books can be downloaded as MP3s, or you can stream them from the site. ThoughtAudio is U.S.-based, so the books are narrated by Michael Scott, a guy with a big American accent. This will endear him to U.S. listeners, but non-U.S. listeners may be put off a little.
We recommend The Prussian Officer, Siddhartha, Kubla Khan, The Prince, and Don Quixote.
The poor old public library has taken quite a beating since the arrival of digital (and illegal) downloads. So in order to survive, libraries have had to adapt with the times. This has, like it or not, meant they have embraced digital downloads.
However, not all libraries have received the memo yet, so how do you know which local libraries are offering digital book downloads? OverDrive aims to solve this problem. Simply enter a Zip code or name of your town/city to see where the nearest digital download library is. You can then immediately download your desired books online (assuming you have your library card ready).
This is not confined to the U.S. It also shows results for the UK, although results start to get sparser the further into Europe you explore.
The Internet Archive has been around since 1996 (so, coming up for its 20th anniversary). Its aim is to catalog and archive as much of the Internet as possible, so that when sites disappear, the Internet Archive will have a copy for posterity. You can see these sites using the famous Wayback Machine.
The audiobooks on offer are also Librivox files, but again they are much better organized here. The breakdown in categories is so minute that you can easily find what you are looking for. Other filters also make it very easy to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Lit2Go is a beautifully illustrated site with audiobooks read by the site’s own narrators. Each story chapter has its own direct MP3 file, streaming audio player, and PDF file. The page also gives you some further details about the book such as the publication year, the number of words, and the “Flesch–Kincaid Level“.
This is basically an indication of how difficult the story is to understand (the “readability” level). The higher the number, the more difficult it is. You can filter search results on the site by the FK Level. The site’s audiobooks can also be found on iTunes University, if your child/students are being taught on an iOS device.
We end with a resouce which is 100 percent for kids. You can get classic literature on StoryNory, but there are also easier stories for kids such as fairy tales, myths, poems, educational stories, and also stories written by StoryNory itself. I’m personally a huge fan of Astropup.
For all stories, you can download the direct MP3 file, use the embedded streaming player, or be fed new stories via RSS feed or iTunes.
Where Do You Get Your Audiobooks From?
Long commutes and child-dominated afternoons don’t have to be unproductive. While you are going about your daily activities, you can have an audiobook playing in the background. Or if your visually impaired elderly relatives are bored, an audiobook can provide a pleasant pick-me-up.
Where do you download your (legal) audiobooks from? Please let us know in the comments below. We have listed our pick of the online resources available, but feel free to list your own in order to help your fellow readers.