Modern Audio Book Listening

I recommend Audible.com all the time, but I forget not everyone is a Geek like me that loves technology.  I figure I need a warning page to refer folks to if they are interested in trying Audible.com.  Most people think of CDs and cassettes when they think of audio books, and there are plenty of Amish like 20th century bookworms still needing something to hold when they purchase an audio book, but to really appreciate living in the 21st century you need to use a MP3 player, like an iPod, and get into buying invisible digital audio books.

If you are old fashion you can join Audible and burn CDs, but it takes a certain level of tech savvy to even do that, and it can be frustrating if the CD burning software doesn’t run well on your computer.  No, the real ease of use is in switching to digital files, and giving up physical media like CDs and cassettes.

Most books at Audible.com are $10-15 depending on the buying plan you sign up for, or $10-100 if you buy as you go, or get the same books from iTunes.  This can be considerable cheaper than buying 22 CD sets from your local bookstore or even Amazon.  I pay $9.56 a book because I buy 24 credits at a time that I take about a year to use.  The savings come from the publishers and sellers not having to manufacture a product to ship and warehouse.

Kids and cool oldsters who have iPods and buy digital music will have no trouble with getting audio books from Audible or iTunes.  I mention these two companies together because iTunes sells Audible.com books.  Audible.com is like a book club where you sign up for 1 or 2 books a month buying plans (or 12 or 24 packs).  You can go to iTunes and pay more and buy the same books one at a time with no commitments.

There are two skills involved with switching to digital audio books.  The first is getting a player that accepts Audible.com books, and most do, setting it up to buy and download books, and copying the books to your players.  Audible.com pretty much works with either iTunes for people with iPods, and Audible Manager or Windows Media Player 11 for all the other MP3 devices, and these include MP3 players, phones and PDAs that play MP3 songs, the Kindle and all the other odd digital devices that are Audible.com compatible.  If you wonder why the new ebook wonder, the Kindle is Audible compatible it might be because Amazon.com owns Audible.com.

The second skill, and often this is the harder one, is learning how to carry a player around and integrate listening to audio books into your everyday routines.  I’m afraid most people equate listening to audio books with playing CDs or cassettes in their cars on long trips, and that’s a great way to listen to audio books.  I carry my Zune in my shirt pocket all day long.  I’m never without it.  Having a small player like a Nano or Zune is better than having a heavier hard disk MP3 player because you want to learn to carry it everywhere.

When I see that the dishes need washing I think to myself, “Hey, it’s time to listen to my book.”  If I’m eating alone I listen to my book.  If I go for a walk or grocery shopping I listen to my book.  If you do anything physical that doesn’t involve words it’s possible to listen to audio books.  So filing bills doesn’t work, but my wife loves to cross-stitch and listen.  I can’t program computers and listen, but I can when I do software installs that involve a lot of tedious waiting.  You develop a knack for squeezing in reading.

The trick is to get past learning those new skills.  It is very futuristic to carry a 2 ounce device that can hold two dozen unabridged audio books.  Listening to audio books has transformed my reading habits too, because I’ll listen to books I’d never had the patience to read.  Who knew how much I’d love Edith Wharton’s fiction, or how intellectually stimulating it is to listen to the Bible, and I’m an atheist.  Philosophy and history books comes alive for me on audio books.  And listening to fiction with a great dramatic reader is like going from analog to high definition TV.

But, it can be a frustrating experience to get into.  Audible.com does have wonderful 1-800 support staff.  And there’s a Yahoo discussion group devoted to Audible that offers a lot of friendly help plus has great book chats.

Like I said, the easiest way to just try a digital audio listening is if you already have an iPod with iTunes set up is to just buy an audio book from the iTunes store to try out the concept.  It’s more expensive than Audible.com, but you don’t have to make a commitment.  I highly recommend that you listen to the sample audio passage before buying because some people do not take to all narrators.  And don’t give up if you have one bad experience.  Learning to listening to audio books takes practice like learning to read.

Most libraries now offer their patrons Overdrive or NetLibrary digital audio books.  This is another good way to try reading with your ears and learning to use digital media players.  This is a case where iPods aren’t the King of the Hill.  A low-cost Sandisk Sansa or Creative Labs MP3 player can be a good starting device – but check with your library first for compatibility issues.  Some digital players will work with Audible, Overdrive, NetLibrary and even music subscription services like Rhapsody and Napster.  A Zune 3.0 will work with Audible and Overdrive.

Low cost players can be had for $30 on sale, but you need to make sure it’s compatible with the audio books you want to buy or get from your library, and I highly recommend you get a player with a screen.  There are low cost players without screens, like the iPod Shuffle, and they can be used for audio books, but they can be tricky to use.  Audio books come on multiple files and if you don’t know which file is playing it can be hard to find the one you want without seeing the filename on the display.  Some of my friends have recommended the Sansa Clip as a good starter player.  Make sure it has the latest firmware because older versions had some quirks.

Just work through the techphobia and go digital.

JWH – 6/11/9

2 thoughts on “Modern Audio Book Listening

  1. This is great! Thanks Jim. I’m moving into the new tech world slowly, and I appreciate all the help. I guess I have about two dozen audio books now and about half are Heinlein’s. It’s great!

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