Reviewed: Audible and the Audiobook Experience

Audible review
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I have a problem. I love books. I was one of those kids who would walk to the bus stop with their nose between a paperback. I’d be on the bus reading the entire way, step off when we got to school and walk to my homeroom without ever taking my eyes off the pages. I’d finally put my book down during attendance for fear of getting reprimanded by my homeroom teacher. But as soon as that last bell rang, I’d have that book in my hands again and read all the way back.

I have a problem. And it’s not that I love books. It’s that I can’t read them fast enough.

It’s ironic enough to be biblical, tragic enough to be Greek. The boy who loved to read but was too damn slow to read it all. On top of that I’m a writer. Reading to a writer is like the sun and water to a tree. We need it to grow. I have a long list of books I want to read to better my craft. But at my pace, it would take me years to read them all. And while we’re alive, time is our most precious resource.

Audible and Audiobooks

Since purchasing my Audible subscription over a year ago, I’ve finished more books than I have in the last three years combined by reading alone. Audiobooks are a great way to consume literature in times when it’s difficult to hold a book in your hands. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a good idea to have a novel blocking my vision as I stepped on and off a bus and crossed the road, but I can think of worse situations.

I used to work a desk job, forty hours a week. I was comfortable enough with my day-to-day tasks that it didn’t occupy all of my mind’s attention, and so my thoughts would wander. I’m sure many people with desk jobs can relate. I listened to music, podcasts, and radio shows to pass the time, but after a while I found my mind wandering again. How many people have a 40+ hour playlist that they’re still excited about after a month or so? Exactly.

I turned to audiobooks. The days seemed to fly with the prose of a thrilling fiction flowing between my ears. Plus, there was a sense of achievement that came with finishing a book – in addition to the enjoyment – while simultaneously taking care of my work. Audiobooks are a good way to multitask like that. You can listen to them while working, cooking, at the gym or travelling. A friend of mine uploads an audiobook on his iPhone whenever he’s on a road trip.

Membership with Audible

Audible is great for their price, quality, customer service and user interface. My basic membership – the gold membership – cost me $7.49 for the first three months and $14.95 per month thereafter. The biggest benefit to the membership is the monthly credits.

I receive 1 credit a month and can stack up to 6 credits. A single credit allows me to purchase one audiobook. This essentially means one audiobook costs $14.95. Pretty good deal considering the average audiobook I’ve purchased costs about $25 otherwise. For non-members this price is about $10-$15 more. There are a few audiobooks which cost more than 1 credit, and some less than 1, but I haven’t come across any of these. Safe to say, these are probably larger volumes or special editions of books.

A credit a month limits my audiobook consumption, but that’s plenty enough for me. There are other membership options for multiple credits per month. Alternatively, Audible has ‘special offers’ every now and then where you can purchase multiple credits at once for a discounted price. This is Audible using in-house advertising to boost their sales, but if you feel like splurging on Audiobooks that month – maybe you’ve started a really good series, and just can’t stop – it’s a good way to save money.

Perks

Audible’s Great Listen Guarantee lets you purchase any audiobook and return it within a year if you’re not satisfied, no questions asked. This is a good way to explore new authors and genres that you might be skeptical about otherwise.

I was curious about Fifty Shades of Grey; what man wouldn’t be after hearing how the ladies were rushing to rip into its pages? So I downloaded the audiobook. I figured it was a safer alternative to taking a hardcopy on the bus or having to give awkward explanations to my friends when they saw the book on my bedside table.

I got to the second paragraph of chapter 2 before I decided to return it. No harm done and I confirmed I wasn’t missing out on anything. Good, that is.

Audible also comes with the convenience of letting you listen to your books almost anywhere. You can download the same book on multiple devices. Listen to your audiobook on your laptop at work, continue listening on your drive home through your smartphone, and doze off to it at night on your ebook reader.

I have only had to use Audible’s Customer Service twice: once when I hadn’t received my monthly credit on time, and second when I hadn’t received a credit for a book I had returned. Both times the issue was sorted within a few hours and the service was friendly and fast.

Audiobook vs book?

I was skeptical about the whole audiobook experience. I grew up with the feel of a book in my hand, lying back in bed and looking up at the words. I didn’t want to lose the sense of getting lost in a great piece of fiction for the sake of convenience and speed.

I learned my skepticism wasn’t based on anything other than the habit of doing something a certain way. I’ve heard plenty of audiobooks in the last year and a half, fiction and non-fiction, and the enjoyment factor has been just as great as with a real book, albeit a bit different.

The very least you can expect from any audiobook is crisp and clear sound quality. Some productions, depending on the type of book and publishing company, may have a little extra. For example, some fiction may have multiple narrators for different POV characters (female vs male characters). Most books are narrated by professional voice actors, which is a key piece in the audiobook experience. These are people whose career it is to sound good over the mic and who take a special pride in their work. A great voice actor can make a real difference to the experience, especially with fiction where the emotions of a narrator can really breathe life into the characters and plot.

But just because there are professionals narrating the book, that doesn’t mean you’ll like them all. I’ll admit, there has been at least one occasion where I returned an audiobook based on the narrator’s voice. The book was a modern adult fantasy with a quirky narrative. The production came off as a little tacky when the narrator voiced a villainous figure with an obnoxious British accent. It was hard to take the book seriously, good as the prose was.

Now I mentioned audiobooks being good for multitasking. Everyone I know who listens to audiobooks, including myself, is almost always doing something else while listening. And while that can be good, it also takes away a little something from the experience. Often times I find my mind drifting from the narrative during ‘less compelling’ moments. Sometimes, depending on what else I’m doing, I have to replay bits of the audio because I wasn’t focussed enough to catch the details. When reading a book, it’s usually the only thing you’re doing (unless you’re munching on some breakfast cereal). It’s easier to get enveloped in the story that way. Since I’m a writer, I also find it easier to pick up on good prose when reading it rather than listening to it.

Climax

There are other services that provide audiobooks, but Audible undoubtedly has a monopoly on the online digital audio entertainment business. They have branched out to provide podcasts, interviews, speeches and news periodicals as well. Because of this it can be hard to tell how fair their prices and services are, since there’s not much competition to compare with.

But Audible’s services and products stand up to its vast share of the market. The membership discounts on audiobooks, the high quality products, the vast selection of books and the convenience is definitely worth the $14.95 I pay a month.

So if you’re like me and love your literature, give audiobooks and Audible a try.

I’m currently listening to the 9th book in The Dresden Files, a series about a wizard detective living in modern day Chicago solving paranormal whodunit cases. The series is narrated by James Marsters (yes, Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer). James’s voice brings to life Harry Dresden’s character in a way that my imagination alone never could’ve. Nine books in, and I can’t imagine ever continuing the series with a physical book in my hand.

Have you heard any particularly good audiobooks you’d like to share? Please do so below :)

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