I’m a Big Reader. Seriously, whenEVER I find myself sitting still or waiting, I grab my book and read. Anywhere and any kind of waiting. I'm in love with paper books despite their bulky heaviness. That’s just me. So why would I care about the best audio book apps?
Because there are times when I need to lean into technology for reading, like when I’m traveling. Hey, just because I ALWAYS check my bag doesn’t mean it’s heavy. Packing a few paper books can make it heavy, though, so I use an audiobook app when I travel.
Without doing any research on the best apps for listening to audiobooks, I started out using Amazon’s Audible app.
How much is Audible?
I paid a $14.95 monthly subscription fee for a full year. But I don’t travel every month. After a year, I’d paid a whopping grand total of $179.40 for the luxury of being able to download audiobooks for the few trips I took. I think this is like the Gym Membership income model - you continue paying even though you don't go to the gym. Gym owners love it. Audible and Amazon love it!
Here's how Audible works. The monthly subscription fee gives you one credit. Each credit allows you to buy one audiobook and credits have to be used within 12-months of issuance. Audible sends an email if any of your credit(s) are expiring in the next 30 days, which makes it much easier to keep track. (I should know because I received that email - proving my point that I don't 'read' with audiobooks unless I'm traveling.)
What could be worse than spending $14.95/month and not using the credit? Having it go away forever. If not for the email warning from Audible, that would have happened to me! Yikes. But that got me wondering if there are other audio book apps like Audible? Apps that are better, or just as good? Well, it turns out there are several!
Other Audio Book Apps
I don’t know if there is one audiobook app that’s the absolute best for travel. There are some that require a monthly or annual subscription (like Audible,) some let you read completely free, and some are subscription-free but you do pay for the audiobooks.
If you like to listen to audio books even when you’re not traveling, you’ll want to compare subscription costs, audiobook costs, and availability. Why is availability a consideration? Because some audiobook apps are connected and accessed through your local library membership.
If waitlists don’t bother you, join your local library and ask about the audiobook apps they’re connected to. Here's an overview of the most used apps by library systems.
Want to find out about other amazing apps to make your travel smoother, lighter - better? Then check out this post about the best apps for planning travel , or learn about the apps that keep your travel details organized while you're on your trip here.
Library Books on Audio
If you have a library card, you might already access audio books, ebooks, movies, music, and magazines online for free. If you don’t have a library card - take a minute and go online to your county library and follow the directions to obtain a free membership.
I didn’t have one (“WHAT?!” Yep, just got mine recently.) Even though libraries in my county are not physically open due to the Pandemic - I was able to apply in two minutes for an Ereader card online. The next day I received an email with my card number and Pin.
Next, I learned about the services my library system is hooked up to for audio books apps. They’re popular and shared by most library systems, so read on and then check out your own library system!
- Hoopla is one way I can access audiobooks and ebooks from my library. This app connects me to my library’s collection for both types of “reading” books, plus a whole lot more. I can use it to watch movies, TV, and listen to music and those are all things I actually do when I travel.
- Overdrive is another source of audiobooks and ebooks from your public library. You can search for books on their site and then access them via your library. Search for your library on the Overdrive site and use your library card. Or, use the new app Overdrive now offers to make the process mobile - Libby.
- Libby By OverDrive is a mobile app for Android, iPhone, or iPad. It even gives you the option to download straight to your Kindle. I use the Kindle app on my iPad to cut down on devices but either way works great.
Use the app with your library card, and your public library, to search for book titles. Once you find books to listen to, or read, you can download them immediately or get on the waitlist. Downloaded books will disappear on their due dates so you don’t have to worry about fines.
Like a Library Virtual Assistant!
The app is free and super easy to set up. All you have to do is make sure you have enough books in your queue to last for your trip and read them before the due date. Using one of these apps is like having an extra $180 to spend during your trip compared to a subscription service like Audible!
A Quirky Audio Book App
- LibriVox is one more free option even if it’s a bit quirky. This app identifies itself as an “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.” Books in the public domain are not the hot new titles advertised everywhere. But you know what - there are some wonderful books published in the past and this is your chance to listen to one or two. (How about “A Foreign Office Romance,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?) The quirky caveat is the actual people recording the books - they’re all volunteers. It’s potluck on who you’ll be listening to but definitely an adventure. Feel like volunteering yourself? Check out the information on the website and take a look at the Forum there too.
Another Way to Access Books on Audio
Outside of the library, there’s a whole world of books to buy, of course. I’m an On-Demand kind of person - an impulse shopper at my core. Sigh. (Maybe I’ll change my ways now that I have an e-library card?) But is paying for a subscription the only other way?
Not at all, it turns out. There are apps you can use to find and access audiobooks and ebooks without a subscription called pay-as-you-go apps. Meaning you pay for the audiobook in order to read it. A great option for paper book lovers, like me, who only use audiobooks when they’re traveling.
Check out these options.
- Google Play Books is available as an app for Android or iPhones. No subscription needed to access, you just log in and search for the title you want, purchase and download to listen. You can buy ebooks and audiobooks, but you’ll need to go to the website to purchase and then access your book via the app.
Here’s an example of an audiobook on Google Play Store and the cost is $14.95. Depending on how quickly you read and how long you’ll be traveling, you may want to buy 2 or 3 titles. Looks like that might get expensive.
Titles seem to range from $14.95 upwards to $25.99 for newer release books. There are definitely older titles available there which cost less, though. And one more cool tip about the Google Play Store - you can also rent movies and download to watch on the go!
- Nook Audiobooks is an app available for Android and iPhone/Apple devices. This is the Barnes & Noble ebook/audiobook app and there is no subscription fee. But like Google Play, you buy the audiobook before downloading to read. Prices for bestsellers and new releases look like they run from $18 and up. For Android users, you can buy audiobooks directly from the app but iOS users need to log into the NookAudiobook.com site to purchase before downloading on the app to listen.
- Chirp is another free app (Android and iOS devices) that doesn’t offer a subscription service - a ‘pay-as-you-go’ that looks easy and affordable. In fact - I smell a deal! You can access bestsellers on this app and website, but you can also hop on their limited-time deals. When I checked out the deals, there were several newish books at the $1.99 and less price point! There’s even a way to sort books by different deal prices like $6.99 or less, $4.99 or less, etc. The way my brain works - I’m already planning ahead to buy a new release on Google Play Audiobooks, or NookAudiobooks, and then grab two or three bargains on Chirp!
Audiobook Alternatives to Audible
Back to the paid subscription audiobook app model in search of affordable alternatives to Audible. Surprisingly, I did find options and options make me feel like I’m in charge of my own destiny.
Feast your eyes on these options:
- Scribd is an app (Android and iOS) and a website where you can access audiobooks, along with ebooks, magazines, and articles. At only $9.99/month, it’s a bargain compared to Audible, and the book list is extensive, including new releases. It’s an even bigger bargain when you realize that a $9.99 subscription entitles you to listen to as many audiobooks as you want each month.
Are there restrictions on that? I haven’t personally tried Scribd but I read this on the Premier membership disclosure page here:
How many books can I read each month?
As many as you can! We strive to provide the most comprehensive catalog to all of our members. We can’t guarantee the immediate availability of any specific title, but our members can always read an unlimited number of books and audiobooks each month. Occasionally, some titles in our library may be temporarily unavailable to you depending on your recent reading activity.
Still seems like a great deal and I’ve had nothing but positive personal recommendations for this app. I’m going to try it out and if you have personal experience please comment below or email me and let me know what you think! (email@example.com)
- Downpour is a paid subscription app that’s a lot like Audible but for $12.99/month. You get one credit per month and you buy the audiobooks in exchange for a credit. But Downpour has one cool feature - you can rent books. And it costs much less while not taking up digital space.
The reality is you are bound by most app agreements to not share the audiobooks you buy. Plus, if you’re like me - it’s Uber rare that I ever reread a book. Except for Atlas Shrugged every five years, but that’s a different story (book reader pun and dangerously close to a Dad joke.) Rentals are for 30 days, generally, although for longer books (like Atlas Shrugged) they automatically give you a 60-day rental.
Downpour works on Android or iOS devices and if you go the rental route, it looks like you can access those without a subscription. Rentals have to be done on the desktop site and then you will be able to access the audiobook from the app on your mobile device.
- Audiobooks.com is priced at $14.95/month but the difference between this app and Audible is the monthly subscription will let you access two books. One book will be from the Premium Titles section (new releases) and the other from the VIP section.
What kind of books are in the VIP section? It’s a curated selection of books that is updated on the first of every month. You will also have access to podcasts (their website states over 1.2million podcasts) and the ability to trade your monthly credit for 30 days of unlimited reading via one of their book clubs.
All in all - if you’re an adventurous reader - this might be a good option to try.
- Serial Box is something completely different. It’s not a place to buy audiobooks - but it is a place to get hooked on Sci-fi and Fantasy stories that are released, episodically, every week. Or - you have the option of buying the whole “season” and binging reading a la Netflix.
I saw titles for $9.99/season and I saw titles for $1.99/season. If you’re a true Sci-fi or Fantasy fan and also open to exploring new writers, this is a very cool way to entertain yourself on a long, long road trip (or, one day, on a long international flight.)
Check out this post about the travel hack for your iPhone! This tip might take a lot of travel anxiety out of the trip!
Not Interested in Audible Alternatives?
If deep down in your heart of hearts Audible is your favorite, you can still save some money. Choose the annual fee option and get all 12 credits at once. The plan gives you the first year for $119.50 which is equal to about $9.96/month. After the first year the annual fee increases to $149.50 which is $12.46/month.
Had I chosen the annual subscription plan, I would have saved $59.90 in the first year and another $29.90 in the second year. A $90 savings over two years compared to paying $14.95/month! And yes - you can buy 24 credits at once (for an annual payment of $229.50.)
Reading keeps me entertained when I’m in transit on a trip, which includes airport lounges, plane rides, and train rides. I can even read in the car! But my go-to is listening to an audiobook. My next challenge is to find and read some great travel books. Or maybe just books about far off places. Have any good suggestions?