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. Unfortunately, beaming books into your ears can be pricier than you might expect.
For instance, an audio copy of Paula Hawkin’s best-selling novel The Girl on the Train will cost you a whopping $21 on iTunes. Even literary classics such as The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, and The Hobbit can be rather expensive when not on promotion. 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. That said, here are our picks for the best websites for free audiobooks.
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 offers 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.
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.
Free Classic Audio Books, LibriVox, Loyal Books, Storynory, and Librophile
Free Classic Audio Books is pretty self explanatory. The basic site offers free recordings of Treasure Island, Emma and The King James Bible. The site itself is a bit difficult to browse, but as long as don’t mind sticking with the most popular titles or know exactly what you’re looking for, you can navigate it rather quickly. Everything available on the site is absolutely free, too, and can be downloaded as either an MP3 or M4B for listening on a variety of devices. As the apt title might imply, though, it’s not the site for listening to anything newer than Huckleberry Finn.
LibriVox asks volunteers to record different chapters or sections of books. As you might expect, this can make listening to a novel either more interesting or simply awful depending on the voice at hand. Thankfully, you can search book selections by “solo” if you prefer hearing a single voice the whole time, not to mention by author, title, genre, or even language (English, French, Balinese, Old Norse, etc.). The site claims it will accept any reader speaking in any language as long as they can be understood, but given there’s no audition process, people can pretty much submit whatever and whenever they want. The unique features opens the site up to a wealth of diverse content, but again, the narrations can be hit or miss. I guess voice actors need to start somewhere, though.
Formally known as Books Should Be Free, Loyal Books is a family-friendly website that caters to the classic literature devotee. The site offers a nice collection of public domain novels and short stories in multiple languages, available in both Mp3 and MP4 format in addition to a podcast and an RSS feed. You can also stream book chapters online and browse titles by genre, language, and popularity, or search for specific books using the integrated Google search bar at the top of the page. Plus, most books offer ratings and reviews from fellow listeners, thus giving you a slightly better idea of what to expect before you hit the play button.
There just isn’t always time for bedtime stories — no matter how amazing a parent you are. Thankfully, Storynory provides a solution for those who simply can’t find the time to read to their kids, offering a collection of original and classic fairy tales and short novels specifically tailored for children. The site currently only offers a couple hundred audiobooks to choose from, but it is steadily growing as it routinely publishes at least one new story each week. Storynory also touts some of the most exuberant narrators around, and given each story utilizes an HTML 5 player for playback purposes, you can listen to the audiobooks on nearly any smartphone, tablet, or browser available. The occasional story competitions only further encourage listening and creativity on behalf of your children.
Librophile is another free alternative for accessing classic audiobooks. The site’s minimalistic design, clean layout, and bookshelf-like appearance make it easy to navigate through the vast array of titles by popularity, release date, and genre. Want to listen to James Joyce’s Ulysses or the inspiration for the longest running musical on Broadway? Not a problem. You can stream chapters right on the site or download entire novels for offline use with more than 500 different MP3 players. You can even subscribe to the site via iTunes, or save titles for quick reference if you don’t mind forking over your Facebook credentials.
Learn Out Loud, Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast, BookRix and more
Learn Out Loud is a hybrid audiobook library of sorts. The site features an enormous collection of audiobooks — more than 30,000 and counting — but they’re not all free. However, if you click the Free Stuff tab at the top of the homepage, you can access a fairly extensive collection of free audiobooks. From there you can browse by genre, popularity, and audio format. The site also continually spotlights the free audiobook of the month in the left-hand column, while offering a noteworthy selection of foreign language courses and video documentaries.
Who doesn’t want to be soothed to sleep by the sultry sounds of a woman’s voice? Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast is a collection of famous short stories read by Miette, a mysterious woman with an enthralling way of speaking. Every once in a while a guest vocalist will read a story or two but the real draw is Miette. She will bring whole new meaning to Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily because she forces the listener to pay attention to every word in a way most narrators only dream of. Moreover, you can browse audiobooks based on their author, recording date, or comment popularity. Sadly, commentators aren’t always the nicest group of folks on the Web.
Literal Systems — formerly known as Verkaro — may not offer a huge variety of books, but it also doubles as an excellent fundraising platform designed to benefit a small community in Santa Fe. Moreover, the barebones site features a host of original stories and voicework, all of which features local talent. Each audiobook, whether you’re downloading classic novels like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter or the complete poetry works of Rudyard Kipling, is available for download as an MP3, or listenable using an embedded YouTube compilation. There isn’t much in the way of content — in fact, the site only houses 50 audiobooks or so — but the quality is top-notch and everything can be found under the Contents section located on the side menu.
If you’re tired of the classics and you’re looking for something new and different, BookRix may be able to help you out. The site serves a platform for independent writers to publish their work for free, allowing for a multitude of both written and audio content that doesn’t always fit the “classic” bill. It’s an extensive collection, too, one that features thousands upon thousands of pages worth of novels. You can filter search results based factors such as genre or popularity, or simply search for a specified writer. The active user community and comment threads are BookRix’s biggest assets, though, provide you with a method of engagement that goes beyond simple listening.
We never said you had to actually go to your public library to pick up an audiobook — heaven forbid! Most public library systems now have extensive online databases where you can stream and download audiobooks completely free with or without using your library card. Although the browsing method and audiobook availability will vary from county to county, most public libraries typically offer more recent audiobooks that have yet to enter public domain. Search your local listings or head on over to publiclibraries.com to find your county library.