Audiobooks 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 Hawkins’ best-selling novel The Girl on the Train will cost you a whopping $24 on iTunes. For reference, the ebook equivalent is $10. Even literary classics like The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, and The Hobbit can be rather expensive when not on sale. Luckily, the internet has opened the door to a veritable trove 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 to get audiobooks for free; you can also find apps that provide the same service.
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 internet or download in 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.
LibriVox leverages the power of its volunteers to provide free recordings of public domain works. Volunteers record and submit their own readings of works, and as a result the quality varies; you won’t always hear a professional voice actor, to put it generously. Still, LibriVox’s library is vast, its selections varied. If you like the classics (and the low price of nothing), you ought to give LibriVox a try.
Lit2Go offers one of the finer looking free sources 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.
Scribl (formerly Podiobooks) showcases some of the best, off-the-beaten-path audiobooks the Internet has to offer, many of which are even recent publishings. 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 status, release date, 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 AudioBooks is pretty self explanatory. The basic site offers free recordings of Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, and the King James Bible, among others. The site itself is a bit difficult to browse, but as long as you don’t mind sticking with the most popular titles (or you 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 name might imply, though, it’s not the best site for listening to anything newer than Huckleberry Finn.