Audiobooks can bring together the best of both worlds: The joys of a good story and the convenience of easy listening. They also often serve as a great way to pass time whether you’re cooking up your favorite dish or out for a long drive. While audiobooks may lack the feel and sweet smell of a traditional book, a well done voiceover can do more than make up for the loss of aesthetics. It can be an engaging ride that is both worthwhile and convenient on-the-go. But alas, audiobooks don’t always come cheap.
For instance, an audio copy of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel Gone Girl will cost you a whopping $26 on iTunes. Even literary classics such as The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, and The Hobbit can be rather expensive when not on promotion. And let’s not get started on new releases.
Luckily, the Internet has a opened the door to a virtual library of audiobooks if you don’t mind forgoing top-notch narrations and sticking mainly with the classics. Here are our picks for the best websites for free audiobooks — whether you want to listen on the Web or on your phone.
Open Culture, Project Gutenberg, Thought Audio, Lit2Go, and Podiobooks
Open Culture is one of the better gateway websites for educational and cultural media. The site compiles content from around the Web and has an admirable collection of audiobooks — primarily classics — that you can stream over the Web or download on a variety of audio formats for later consumption. The audiobooks are organized by genre (fiction and literature, nonfiction and poetry) and alphabetically listed by the author’s last name.
Project Gutenberg houses one of the largest and oldest collections of audiobooks on the Web. The site’s audiobooks project — a collaboration with fellow pioneers LibriVox and AudioBooksForFree — breaks down its extensive collection of books by human and computer-generated narration. From there you can browse books lists by author’s last name, title, and language. However, we suggest avoiding computer-generated narrations if possible. No one should have to listen to Jack London’s Call of the Wild read by an incompetent Siri knockoff.
Thought Audio works sort of like a podcast or Spotify in that the books only stream online. However, the company is working on a “Zip Pass” that will essentially allow you to listen to offline downloads for $10 a year. The site’s selection and navigation are pretty similar to the other places on the list, offering everything from Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis to the works of Jules Verne and Charles Dickens, all of which are accessible through three separate pages or via the site’s routine newsletter. There’s no intuitive search function though, and each audiobook is broken up into multiple segments opposed to a single audio file for easy consumption and streaming. Just try not to get caught up with the oh-so-riveting statement at the top of the page.
Lit2Go offers one of the finer looking free websites for audiobooks. The throwback site, run by Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse, contains a comprehensive collection of downloadable short stories and poems that you can browse by author, title, genre, collection, and even reading level (grades K through 12). The bulk of the audiobooks can be downloaded as a single MP3 or as short, segmented passages of specific chapters. The homepage search option is also a nice touch, as is the black-and-white artwork that accompanies each title and book collection. Our personal favorites? We’re going to have to go with Proto-feminist Literature or Autumn in Verse — after all, nothing does inspire classic poetry quite like the turning of the seasons.
Podiobooks showcases some of the best, off-the-beaten-path audiobooks the Internet has to offer, many of which are even modern. The site distributes serialized audiobooks via RSS; just click on any of the audiobook links to begin streaming or downloading the narration. Although the collection is rather limited, you can browse the book selection by contributing author, genre, award-winning collections, new releases, and title. The site also allows you to donate to your favorite author directly if you feel so inclined, whether his or her book falls under the “Hard-Boiled” or “Urban Fantasy” selection.