Free Online Audio Books: The Essential Guide

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One of my favorite things to do is curl up with a good book. However, with a long commute and a couple of young, energetic boys (ages 2 & 3) it’s rare that I get time to kick back and read. That’s why I love audio books so much – they allow me to enjoy books while I’m on the go.

I typically listen to 3-4 audio books per month. Two of these audio books I get because I’m a member of Audible (the world’s largest provider of digital audio books). In the past I also downloaded the other 1-2 audio books from Audible, but eventually I got tired of paying extra for these and decided to see what free audio books were available online for download. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

1. Public Domain Audio Books

The first category of audio books available for free download are those in the public domain. This means that no one holds a copy right on these books and therefore anyone is free to distribute them. The following sites are the best places to download free online audio books in the public domain:

LibriVox has a huge selection of audio books available for download. According to the site, their goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books. I don’t, however, find the site particularly user-friendly which is why I like the following site.

Librophile provides a clean, simple interface for browsing audio books available from LibriVox.

Project Gutenberg has a decent selection of both human-read and computer-generated audio books (I suggest you don’t waste your time with the latter).

Learn Out Loud offers more than 2,000 free audio and video titles. In addition to audio books, Learn Out Loud has lectures, speeches, sermons and interviews available for download. The site is very user friendly, allowing you to both filter results and sort by most popular, member rating, etc.

Free Classic Audio Books offers a small selection of classic audio books.

It’s worth noting that public domain audio books are typically read by volunteers. For this reason the quality of the narration and production can vary. That’s not to say there aren’t good ones out there, rather you just need to be prepared to look a little harder.

2. Audio Books Shared Under a Creative Commons License

PodioBooks offers serialized audio books distributed via RSS, much like a podcast. There are over 300 audio books available which are spread through a wide variety of genres including chick lit, fantasy, humor, magical realism and thrillers. Unlike the above free audio book websites which offer recordings of public domain books, audio books available from Podiobooks are recently written works that the authors are freely sharing under a Creative Commons license. The audio books are typically recorded by the author so, like audio books distributed in public domain, the quality can vary.

3. Audio Books from Your Local Library

The third way to download audio books for free is via your local library. Many libraries have an agreement with either NetLibrary or OverDrive. These companies provide the infrastructure for libraries to distribute digital content (ie not just audio books, but also eBooks, music, and video). The best way to look further into this is to visit the website of your local library.  Another way is to use OverDrive’s Library Search Engine that allows you to search for a particular audio book or library. I couldn’t find an equivalent service offered by NetLibrary – their site is geared towards libraries and publishers.

The great thing about this way is that you can find the latest best sellers and the audio books are usually professionally narrated and produced. Often the audio book you want won’t be available for immediate download, but all you need to do is place a hold on the audio book and you will receive an email when it’s available. You can then download the title and listen to it on your computer, or transfer it onto a portable listening device (eg iPod). Normally you can loan the audio book for a period of 14 days. At the end of this loan period, titles will expire and be automatically ‘returned’ to the library (this means you will never accrue late fees with titles!).

If you liked this article you may also enjoy The Complete Guide to Free Audiobooks Online.