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 E. L. James’ best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey will cost you a whopping $27 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 iPod.
This guide has been updated since it was originally published. Last updated Nov. 26, 2013. Emily Schiola contributed to this article.
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. Its 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 a Siri knockoff.
Thought Audio works sort of like a podcast, so the books only stream online. However the company is working on a “Zip Pass” that will allow for downloads. It will cost $10/year to download the books in one large file. The selection and site are pretty similar to the other places on the list but books are broken up into different links instead of one big one.
Lit2Go has 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. The bulk of the audiobooks can be downloaded as a single MP3 entity or as short, segmented passages of specific chapters. The homepage search option is also a nice touch.
Podiobooks showcases some of the best off-the-beat-path audiobooks the internet has to offer. 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. Plus, where else can you browse by “Cyberpunk” and “Urban Fantasy” categories? Probably nowhere.
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