Podcasts and audiobooks are two of the most popular forms of audio entertainment. Both are readily available on your smartphone or computer, but you might not be familiar with the differences between them.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the differences between podcasts and audiobooks. We’ll look at format, pricing, availability, and how to choose between the two formats.
Podcasts vs. Audiobooks: A General Definition
First, let’s define these two mediums before moving onto detailed comparisons. At their core, podcasts and audiobooks are both digital audio files meant for listening, but that’s oversimplifying it.
A podcast is an episodic series of audio content run by one or more hosts. It can take a variety of formats, from quick news roundups to round-table discussions and much more. Typically, podcast shows release on a regular schedule and allow subscribers to get new episodes right away.
An audiobook is a professional audio recording of an existing text, usually a book. The content of audiobooks almost always exists in another non-audio format, meaning that they provide an alternate way to consume the same content. Unlike podcasts, audiobooks release as a single product and are not episodic.
There can be slight overlap with these in the form of narrative podcasts, where the host tells one story in segments or reads several short stories in an episode. However, we’ll look at other differences between podcasts and audiobooks that make the distinction clear.
Audiobook and Podcast Pricing
If you don’t want to spend money on auditory entertainment, podcasts are the way to go. Most podcasts are available at no charge, and with so many available, you’ll never run out of free content to enjoy.
Of course, podcast creators have to make money somehow, so many include sponsorship ads sprinkled here and there. These are a small price to pay for otherwise free content, plus they’re easy to skip if you don’t want to hear them.
Some podcasters also charge a fee for extra content or bonus episodes, either as a one-off or through a monthly subscription on something like Patreon.
Audiobooks are a different story in terms of cost. Recording an entire book’s worth of content is not a cheap undertaking, so publishers usually charge more for an audiobook than the Kindle edition or physical copy.
For example, take a popular title like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. At the time of writing, the prices for its various formats on Amazon were:
- Kindle: $8.99
- Hardcover: $11.99
- Paperback: $6.89
- Audiobook: $29.99
This is a drastic difference, meaning that if you listen to a lot, audiobooks can become expensive.
Saving on Audiobooks
If you’re interested in audiobooks, the chances are you’ll look at Amazon’s Audible service first (more on that later). The base Gold subscription costs $14.95/month and gives you one credit each month, which is redeemable for any audiobook on the service.
Those who listen more can look at the Platinum plan, which provides two credits per month for a price of $22.95. While Audible members also get free Audible Originals each month and a discount on audiobook credits, you should know about other ways to find audiobooks for cheap too. You can find free choices at your local library or even on Spotify.
While these likely aren’t as polished as paid audiobooks, they can hold you over until your next credit.
Podcasts vs. Audiobooks: Usability
Trying to decide between getting into podcasts and audiobooks? You might be able to make a call depending on how practical they are for your workflow.
Podcasts generally have less of a time commitment involved. While their length can vary quite a bit, many podcasts fall somewhere in the 30 to 60 minute range. This makes them easily consumable during a commute or workout session.
Audiobooks are a different story. The first Harry Potter book, which we mentioned earlier, runs to about eight hours in audiobook form. Longer works can be multiple times longer than this, requiring 20 or more hours to listen to in full.
Whether this is a pro or con depends on your listening habits. Listening to a 20-hour book in 15-minute chunks will take a long time and will likely be unsatisfying as you struggle to follow the story. Chapters make for natural stopping points, but you can’t always stop listening exactly where a new chapter begins.
However, when you have a big chunk of time, digging into an audiobook is likely more engaging than listening to a ton of podcast episodes back-to-back.
Audiobooks allow you to experience works you wouldn’t have read otherwise while you cook, drive, or perform other tasks. But podcasts are easier to sneak in when you have a few minutes without committing to a whole book.
Podcast or Audiobook? Consider Availability
In general, podcasts are easier to access than audiobooks for a few reasons.
First, many audiobooks are protected by DRM, or digital rights management. This means that you when you buy a book on Audible, you have to use the Audible app to listen to it. You can’t export the audio file and listen to it in another app of your choice.
While DRM-free audiobooks do exist, most popular retailers (which sell the books you probably want to hear) enforce some level of DRM. This isn’t a huge deal if you only buy from one retailer, but it becomes a hassle to manage DRM-protected audiobooks from multiple sources.
Audiobooks can also suffer from regional restrictions. You’re probably familiar with this if you live outside of the US, as many forms of online media for US markets are unavailable in other regions. Thus, you might not be able to access a certain book simply because the publisher doesn’t make it available in your area.
Contrast these limitations to podcasts, which have few barriers to entry. With a podcast app on your phone, computer, or even a web app, you can subscribe to and manage podcasts from multiple sources.
Most podcasts don’t suffer from any regional restrictions, either. Since a lot of shows are independently created, they want to reach the widest audience possible. The chances are that you can easily access any podcast you’re interested in, even if you have to check a few services for it.
How to Get Started With Audiobooks or Podcasts
Decided that you want to give one or both of these types of entertainment a try? It’s easy to start listening to both and decide if you like them.
For audiobooks, a great way to get started is by signing up for a free Audible trial. This lets you try the service for 30 days with one free audiobook that’s yours to keep. Have a look at our recommendations for audiobooks to grab during your free Audible trial for some ideas.
If you don’t like the Audible experience or find it too expensive, it’s easy to cancel your Audible subscription before it renews without paying anything.
To get started with podcasts, you’ll need a podcast manager and some shows to try. If you use Spotify, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s home to a ton of podcasts in addition to music. Check out the best podcasts on Spotify for a good starting point.
Don’t want to use Spotify? Have a look at our guide to getting started with podcasts for more ways to listen.
Podcasts and Audiobooks: Friends Forever
We’ve taken a dive into what makes podcasts and audiobooks different. No matter which you gravitate toward, it’s easy to see that the two are not at odds with each other.
Whether you prefer the easy-to-digest format of podcasts or the longform value of “reading” audiobooks, you can enjoy a ton of great audio content anywhere. Speaking of which, we’ve rounded up the best free audiobooks you need to hear .
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