Hints on Finding Inexpensive Audiobooks

We really look forward to road trips for the opportunity they give us to listen to audiobooks. On our most recent trip, we visited the ocean floor and the outer reaches of the solar system, courtesy of  The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor and  The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System. In the second segment of a two-part series, Michele Braun shares resources to help you beat the high cost of audiobooks--and some book recommendations--while highlighting the organizations bringing terrific literature to life.


Part 2: Beyond the Local Library

I love book sales, which offer a rich, if haphazard, source for finding recorded books.  Many local libraries, communities, and non-profit organizations host book sales to raise money.  The purchase prices are low and the proceeds support good causes.  Our finds include a pristine Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (17 CDs) for $15, versus the $59 list price, and Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart for $3 (for which a download is also available through OverDrive).  Sometimes these book sales include contributions from public and school libraries as well as from the general community.  Similarly, recorded books can sometimes be found at yard sales and flea markets, so always look.

My sister’s apartment complex maintains a “take-it-or-leave-it” table in a second floor alcove.  Every month or so, a resident donates all untaken items to a local charity shop.  Clothing, books, and kitchenware are the most common donations.  On the Take-it bookshelf, my sister found two audio editions from Diane Duane’s “Young Wizard” series (A Wizard Abroad and High Wizardry), which sent us to the public library for a recording of the first book (So You Want to be a Wizard) and introduced us to a prolific author of youth and teen science fiction and fantasy. 

The Paperbackswap.com online book-swap service also handles audio books, paying and charging two “swap credits” per recording.  Merchandise is seemingly endless and ever changing.  My primary problem with this site is that we never want to give up (swap) a much loved book, whether hardcopy or audio!

LibriVox provides free recordings of books in the public domain.  Audio files are read by volunteers, so quality varies but, again, it offers older gems that might not be found in a public library that had to prune its collection to accommodate new books.  Its seven versions of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice are sure to provide at least one narrator to everyone’s liking. LibriVox's site offers multiple options for downloading audiobooks for listening on the go. Or, you can listen to the audiobooks LibriVox volunteers have posted to YouTube, like the one below.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Total running time: 10:23:00. Read by Karen Savage. A Librivox recording. All Librivox recordings are in the public domain. For more information or to volunteer visit librivox.org.

Not free, but arguably a good value because of the impressive depth of its catalog, Audible.com has been around for a number of years.  The recordings are professional and excellent quality (although that still does not guarantee that you’ll agree with the reader’s interpretation).  Now owned by Amazon.com, Audible offers a free trial book of your choice, and the longer subscriptions (pre-paid year) provide more flexibility than the month-to-month option.  We maintain a subscription in order to obtain audio books we simply cannot find elsewhere, especially new fiction and nonfiction publications.

Several excellent sources of audio recordings restrict their customers, but if you qualify it would be a shame not to take advantage of them.  The Library of Congress maintains a National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.  Note that learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, qualify individuals for services.  The catalog of recordings, including books, magazines, music, and foreign language publications is extensive, including books for kids, teens, and adults.  Qualifying users can sign up to have librarians select and forward books, or they can select their own books.  Because of copyright restrictions, NLS recordings require special players, which are provided free for members.  Registration is via state-affiliated libraries, for which NLS provides contact information.  In New York, the New York State Talking Book and Braille Library in Albany provides this service.  Although chronically underfunded, the librarians have always been very helpful when reached by phone.

Through a national network of cooperating libraries, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped administers a free library program of braille and audio materials circulated to eligible borrowers in the United States by postage-free mail. Some U.S. citizens living abroad are also eligible to receive materials.

Through a national network of cooperating libraries, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped administers a free library program of braille and audio materials circulated to eligible borrowers in the United States by postage-free mail. Some U.S. citizens living abroad are also eligible to receive materials.

When my family member, who is dyslexic, first registered for this service, recordings were provided on tape cassettes.  These later moved to electronic cassettes, and now she downloads most recordings via the Braille and Audio Download (BARD) Internet link.  BARD provided recorded editions of John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey stories not readily available elsewhere but essential for family road trips.  

Registration with NLS or a local/state affiliate, opens up a number of other sources for recordings, again for users with learning and other print disabilities.  These include Learning Ally and the Jewish Braille Institute.  Bookshare provides recordings of textbooks as well as other printed materials.  While Bookshare assesses a membership fee for non-students, the service is free for students with learning disabilities.  I imagine that other denominations and special-interest groups also provide audio recordings, I just happen to know about these.  

Finally, if all else fails, you might be able to buy a set of CDs on line or in a bookstore, although in-store stocks tend to be pretty limited.  If you decide to buy, try used book sites first (I found a brand new “used” set of Tolkien’s Silmarillion on tape), as well as Barnes & Noble and Amazon, both of which carry used and new recorded merchandise.



Michele says, “At bedtime, my mother would read to us. I favored Beatrix Potter and Madeline, while my brother requested the nonfiction Microbe Hunters. Summers during junior and senior high school, my mother would insist that I not spend my ‘down time’ sprawled on the couch; I should go outside.  So I’d take my book to the lounge chair out back, but never stop reading. Since my daughter was born, I’ve read thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of pages to her, rediscovering old favorites and exploring new stories and worlds together.”

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