It's Time For Audiobooks

by Adam Z. Berenstain, SUNY Cortland

Posted in on Monday, Mar 17

There are two things most students will invariably lack throughout college: money and time. Students, just as assuredly, will be expected to buy and read an ever-increasing number of books during their stint in school. Something has to give, and as often as not completing reading assignments ends up a casualty of this cruel equation.

But all is not lost. Chances are good that some of your reading for this semester is available as an audiobook. Do you have to read passages from a great work of philosophy? Someone has probably turned it into an audiobook. Maybe that political essayist your professor is so enamored of offers his or her work as an audiobook. Sorry science majors, you’re on your own. As of this writing, Introductory Chemistry has not been recorded for anyone’s listening pleasure.

The beauty of audiobooks is, of course, that you can listen to them anywhere. If you’re a commuter, listening to your reading for tomorrow’s class on the drive from home can be a great timesaver. Once you’re on campus, throw on some headphones and keep listening as you go about your day. You’ll be prepared for the next in-class discussion without adding a minute to your workday.

So how to get your audiobooks? The iTunes Store is one place to look. iTunes offers thousands of audiobooks for sale. Just click the link in the upper left of the store’s homepage and start browsing. The selection is terrific, but you’ll notice the prices are a little, shall we say, familiar to students. iTunes audiobooks aren’t exactly cheap, usually running about $20 to $30 a pop (and as much as $50). But if you absolutely must grab an audiobook quickly, you need look no further.

What if you need several audiobooks? Your next destination should be Audible.com. Audible offers all the audiobooks iTunes does (in fact, iTunes sells audiobooks because of a partnership with Audible) and Audible’s prices are a little better. But to get the cheapest price from Audible, you have to become a member of one of their monthly plans. For $14.95 a month you get a credit good for one audiobook download each month. Pay $22.95 a month and you get two audiobooks. If you’ve never signed up with Audible before, you can try out their one-a-month plan for only $7.95. Someone, somewhere, owes you at least that much money. No matter what plan you choose, you’ll have access to lower prices for audiobooks overall. Once you’re on an Audible plan, books that once cost $25 may suddenly cost $18 or less. Plans can be canceled anytime, so you’re never locked in to endless payments. If you decide to cancel, the audiobooks you paid for remain yours and playable with no problem.

You have to authorize computers and players to play audiobooks from iTunes and Audible. The process works very much like authorization for music and videos purchased from iTunes. Both Audible and iTunes files have chapters, so you can skip back and forth through a book easily. Both audiobook formats remember where you last left off, even after you sync your iPod. Audiobooks bought from iTunes only play on iPods, but Audible supports numerous devices from several manufacturers. Click the “Device Center” link on Audible’s homepage to see if Audible’s files will play nice with your particular gizmo.

But what about the best price of all, free? Believe it or not, many sites offer complete readings of literary works in the public domain. The vast majority of books offered by sites like Freeclassicaudiobooks.com and Libravox.org wouldn’t be out of place in many English class syllabi. We’re talking Shakespeare, Poe, Hawthorne, all the usual suspects. The downloads tend to be .mp3 files that will play on just about any music player under the sun, and no fussy authorization is involved. One caveat, however, is that the technical quality of these free audiobooks can suffer compared to more expensive options. These are not professional recordings. Many of the books sound just fine, read by eager enthusiasts and recorded in environments reasonably free of ambient noise. Some files, however, feature readings that are recorded poorly or performed by people who give monotone mumblers a bad name. But hey, free is free, and you can always preview a file before you download.

Audiobooks won’t replace printed textbooks anytime soon, but they can help you today. Make some room for audiobooks on your digital music player of choice and maybe you can get your schoolwork done and have time to celebrate properly with your friends on weekends.

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