Entertainment Technology Explained

What’s the Difference Between Podcasts and Audiobooks?

Joel Lee 10-10-2016

I was recently hanging out with my friends, and we landed on the topic of podcasts and audiobooks. I stumbled upon podcasts much later than most (less than a year ago) and have since become an enthusiastic listener of all kinds. Audiobooks, though? Not so much.


What surprised me is that there are plenty of folks out there, my friends included, who still don’t know what a podcast actually is. You’ll find just as many, if not more, who have never listened to an audiobook. And among those who know the difference, some prefer one to the other — often to a zealous degree.

By the end of this article, you’ll know all there is to know about podcasts and audiobooks. You’ll know how they’re alike and how they’re different. And you may even be persuaded to give them a try if you haven’t already.

So, if you, like my friends, don’t know the difference between podcasts and audiobooks, read on…

Is There a Difference?

On the surface, not much. Both are audio files that you can either download and listen to offline or stream directly from the hosting service, though the latter option isn’t as widely supported for audiobooks. A hard-and-fast line doesn’t exist — it’s like trying to determine whether something is art or not, “you know it when you see it” (or in this case, when you hear it).

A podcast is always episodic, meaning that it’s broken into successive episodes that are released on some kind of schedule, which is typically once a day, week, or month. The content itself can be whatever you want it to be — interviews, roundtables, news, advice, etc. — and this is why podcasts are often seen as “on-demand radio shows”. Most notably, you can subscribe to podcasts and get new episodes pushed to you as they’re made available.

Image Credit: blackzheep via Shutterstock

On the other hand, an audiobook is a very specific type of content: singular recordings of pre-existing text. In other words, 99 percent of the time, an audiobook will also be available in non-audio form, and this is true whether it’s a novel, textbook, essay, etc. Audiobooks are never released in episodic chunks, meaning you can’t subscribe to an audiobook like you can with a podcast.

There is some confusing overlap though. Narrative podcasts like Serial, We’re Alive, and Limetown can all be thought of as audiobooks where each episode comprises a single chapter in the overall story. Other storytelling podcasts Compelling Storytelling: 12 Podcasts to Listen to on SoundCloud SoundCloud isn't all about the music. It also has a robust Storytelling section full of compelling podcasts. Here are 12 of the most compelling storytelling podcasts you can stream right now on SoundCloud. Read More , like Snap Judgement, feature separate tales in each episode — almost like an anthology of short stories. But for the most part, the differences are easy to spot.


Perhaps the most striking difference between the two forms is pricing.

If you’re seeking entertainment on a budget, then podcasts are the way to go. Nearly every podcast out there is available free of charge, and since episodes are produced on a regular basis you’ll never run out of stuff to listen to. Of course many podcasts — especially the more popular ones — have advertisements sprinkled throughout, but that’s a small price to pay for an endless stream of valuable content.

Some producers are starting to experiment with paid subscription podcasts, but I don’t see that becoming a very popular trend. A few podcasts already do this to a limited degree, offering bonus episodes to premium listeners, but even that’s always in addition to freely available episodes, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this going forward.


On the other hand, if you want to listen to audiobooks, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. Consider The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, which is available for $7 as a mass market paperback, $9 as a Kindle download, $14 as a hardcover… and $27 as an audiobook.

Audiobooks Going Cheap

You can get audiobooks for cheaper by purchasing them alongside their Kindle counterparts (the price of The Name of the Wind‘s audiobook drops to $3 if you buy the Kindle version) or by subscribing to Audible, which costs $15 per month and lets you download and keep one title per month. Even with these discounted prices though, audiobooks may not fit your entertainment budget How to Slash Your Household Expenses in 7 Easy Steps Tired of seeing all of your income go towards bills and expenses? You aren't alone. We show you some of the best ways to slash your household expenses. Read More .

The Name of the Wind: (Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1) The Name of the Wind: (Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1) Buy Now On Amazon $25.99

Sure, there are places where you can find cheap or free audiobooks for download Audiobooks Are Expensive! 6 Ways to Listen for Free or Cheap Audiobooks can be quite expensive. Here's how to get free and cheap audiobooks you can listen to without breaking the bank. Read More (this is covered in more detail down below, under the “Availability” section), but free audiobooks tend to be old or uninteresting, at least in my experience. If you want to listen to modern bestsellers or a recently-released self-help book, you likely won’t find it for free.


I’ve found that podcasts are generally “easier” to consume than audiobooks for two main reasons.

First, the time commitment is much smaller for podcasts. This isn’t always true, but generally speaking it is due to the episodic nature of the form. Most podcasts are shorter than an hour, and many of them are even in the 15–30 minute range. It’s easy to pop one on when you’re riding the subway, jogging on the treadmill, or waiting at the dentist’s office.

The Long and Winding Audiobook

Audiobooks are much longer. The first Harry Potter is about 8 hours long, The Help takes 18 hours to listen through, a monster book like The Name of the Wind clocks in at 28 hours, and if you really want to torture yourself, try sitting through Infinite Jest‘s 56-hour length. Can you listen to these in 15-minute chunks? Sure. Will it be as satisfying? I don’t think so.


To be fair, audiobooks are great despite this because they allow you to “read” books that you never would have read before Getting Started with Audiobooks: How to Finally Finish Your "Reading List" Audiobooks are a good way to tackle your reading list, but it can be difficult to get started with them. Let's make it simple. Read More . You can listen while you cook dinner, clean the house, or take a road trip. Indeed, when you have bigger chunks of time available, audiobooks can be far more engaging than listening to 10 podcast episodes back to back.

Second, podcasts are easier to obtain and manage. You can find dozens of podcast apps for mobile devices The 8 Best Podcast Apps for Android Looking for the best podcast app for Android? We have you covered with apps that help you download, discover, listen, and more. Read More , a handful of desktop podcast managers, as well as a few good ones on the web like ShortOrange. My personal favorite is Podcast Addict, which is available on Android.

The beauty of podcasts is that one single app can pull in and manage episodes from multiple sources. For example, podcasts can be found through iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, but they all use the same subscription method (RSS). These means you don’t need to juggle a bunch of different apps to listen to different podcasts.


Protected by DRM

Unfortunately audiobooks are usually protected by DRM What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It's So Evil? [MakeUseOf Explains] Digital Rights Management is the latest evolution of copy protection. It’s the biggest cause of user frustration today, but is it justified? Is DRM a necessary evil in this digital age, or is the model... Read More , which means certain apps may not be able to play certain audiobooks. So if you only have DRM-free audiobooks, then you only need one of these audiobook players 3 Simple Ways to Listen to DRM-Free Audiobooks on Android Want to listen to audiobooks without the restrictions of DRM? We sure have a treat for you. Read More . Similarly if you buy all of your audiobooks from a single retailer, you’ll be fine just using their app. But buying DRM-protected audiobooks from multiple retailers can become a headache to manage.

This, combined with the pricing trends mentioned before, explains why podcasts are more popular and more frequently consumed than audiobooks. According to Edison Research, we saw 46 million podcast listeners per month versus 55 million audiobook listeners per year in 2015. Both industries are growing, but podcast listenership is growing faster.

Audiobook vs. Podcast Availability

At the end of the day podcasts are simply more accessible than audiobooks, especially if you live outside of the U.S.

Audiobooks, like most forms of purchased digital media, can be regionally restricted. This is nothing new — it happens with online music streaming Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music: Which Is Best? Here's our comparison of music streaming services Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music on price, quality, and catalog. Read More , with YouTube videos How to Easily Bypass YouTube's Regional Filter Want to get around YouTube region locks? Here are your options for unblocking YouTube videos unavailable in your region. Read More , with Netflix catalog selections Everyone Else Is Cutting the Cord, So Why Aren't You? I cut the cord back in 2013 and more and more people are following suit, completely ditching their cable service. But not everyone is cutting the cord, and we decided to find out why... Read More , with eBook downloads The Secret Of Using A Kindle Fire Outside North America There are restrictions to using a Kindle Fire in territories in which it isn’t currently available. However Amazon would be shooting themselves in the foot if they prevented its use – after all, it is... Read More , and more — but it’s still as frustrating as ever. We can thank publishers for this stupid norm.

Thankfully most podcasts don’t have to deal with any of that because overarching publishers are much rarer in the podcast realm. In fact, most shows are independently created, and since creators want to maximize their audience sizes, podcast downloads are often made available across the globe.


That being said, I do think good audiobooks are easier to find. According to Apple, iTunes kept track of over 250,000 unique podcasts in 2013. Compare that to Audible’s library of 180,000 audiobook titles in 2016. There’s less crap to wade through, and audiobook genres are also more clear-cut than podcast genres, which helps when you’re trying to find something new to listen to.

Here are our favorite places to find podcasts:

And here are our favorite places to find audiobooks:

What Are Your Favorite Podcasts and Audiobooks?

Despite the differences mentioned above, the truth is that podcasts and audiobooks are NOT at odds with one another. You don’t have to pick one or the other — you can freely enjoy both! Then again, if you do prefer one over the other, you shouldn’t feel as if you have to like both. If audiobooks aren’t your cup of tea, that’s OK.

I’m partial to podcasts, so here are a few we recommend you check out. There are podcasts for saving money 10 Podcasts That'll Help You Save Money & Get Out of Debt There are a lot of money-related podcasts out there, but these 10 are the best for helping you get out of debt and master your money. Read More , podcasts for learning about tech 7 Great Podcasts That Delve Into Tech, Gadgets, and Hardware Podcasts are one of the best ways to expand your knowledge while being entertained, and these tech-related podcasts will surely turn you into a tech expert in no time. Read More , podcasts for book lovers Listen Up, Book Lovers: 10 of the Best Podcasts for Bibliophiles If you're always on the lookout for great book recommendations, these podcasts will keep your “to read” list full, and offer some insightful commentary into the lives of authors everywhere. Read More , and podcasts for men 25 of the Best Podcasts for Men Here are 25 of the best podcasts primarily aimed at men. That's not to say no one else can listen to these podcasts, they're just of particular interest to the male of the species. Read More . You may even want to see our list of best podcasts in 2015 The 20 Best Podcasts of 2015: As Recommended by MakeUseOf Have you ever wondered what your favorite MakeUseOf authors listen to when they want to learn something new, hear a good story, or simply be entertained? This article means you need wonder no more. Read More .

So tell us: do you prefer podcasts, audiobooks, or both? We want to hear about the podcasts and/or audiobooks that you enjoy listening to. So please tell us about them in the comments below!

Explore more about: Audiobooks, Podcasts.

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  1. Beth Worthy
    August 10, 2018 at 4:38 am

    Great post! Well, this mere confusion always prevails among common people. This differentiation may help people in opting between them.

  2. Kathy
    October 10, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    I am able to download audiobooks through Overdrive from my libraries. They are free and I can get get recent releases. I do listen to some podcasts, but find that I prefer the books.