How to Get Free Audiobooks
I’m not sure what flipped the switch, but years ago I became an information junkie. I use what would otherwise be wasted time, to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, on whatever subject interests me at that moment.
I read somewhere (or made it up) that if you read three good books or more on any subject, that will move you to the top 2% of the world on knowledge of that subject. That may seem implausible, but think about it. You’ve probably seen various late night shows do man on the street segments, where they, say, hold up a picture of George Washington and only about one in five people can identify who it is, but they ALL can name each of the Kardashians.
People really don’t know great detail about anything beyond their immediate interests. Pick a narrow subject like the Battle of Gettysburg. Read and absorb three really good books on that subject. Now go back to picturing those people on the street. Do you now know more than them about the Battle of Gettysburg? Okay, that may not be a fair test, but the same would be true about the population in general. It would likely be the case that you would now not only know more about the Battle of Gettysburg than the general public, but you would probably beat out history teachers and professors, because while they probably have a better knowledge of the Civil War in general, it is unlikely that their schooling would have included such an intense study of that one particular battle. And remember, you are only trying to get into the top 2% of the world. I’ll bet the entire population of China knows very little about that battle.
But whether the 2% rule is true or not, from my own personal experience I can say that if I read three books on a given topic, I certainly walk away knowing about all there is to know on that topic. Now, I might not have a complete grasp of string theory after three books, but if I decide to look into the Pomodoro Technique (which I did), I’d know everything there is to know about that subject after three books.
I go through about three audiobooks in a week, and a comparable number of kindle e-books via text to speech. How do I go through so many books in a week? Audiobook player apps and Kindles offer the ability to play at two or even three times the normal speed. No, there is no chipmunk quality. The average reading speed is about 300 words per minute, and the average speaking rate is 150 words per minute. Even I can do that math; you can read about twice as fast as a narrator will speak. So when you think about it, doubling the playback speed of an audiobook should not be an issue, since it only brings it into line with the rate you would read the book yourself. But for whatever reason, it is a bit of a learned skill.
When I started cranking up the speed, I found that 1.2 times the normal speed was the most comfortable for me. But soon that started to sound slow, so I was able to bump it up to 1.5x, then 1.75x, and so on. With a narrated audiobook, I find the maximum intelligible speed to be 2.5x, not because it can’t be absorbed at a higher rate, but because the technology that permits the voice to sound normal even at a much higher speed ends up making the audio very clipped. However, when using the text-to-speech function of the Kindle, there is no such compression since the computer voice is simply reading faster. With text-to-speech, I can listed at up to 4x.
The truth is, especially when you read multiple books on the same topic, even a great book may offer only ten really good, new to you takeaways. As I’m listening to an e-book at warp speed, I can easily absorb the broad concepts, and if a really good takeaway pops up, I can slow it down and repeat, or have Siri send whatever I want to remember to Evernote.
Feeding the Habit
Audiobooks average around $15, so my 12 audiobook per month habit would cost me about $180 if I was crazy enough to pay for them, but I found a way to get most of my audiobooks for free, and hence this article. I’ll get to the free books in a moment, but let me lay some groundwork.
Audible, now owned by Amazon, is the undisputed King of audiobooks, and I like that it is all part of the Amazon ecosystem since that makes it easy to search for and buy the audiobooks I want, either on my Kindle or iPhone. Also, being the King, Audible is the go-to location for all the top authors, and includes many exclusives. If you just heard about a book, and it’s available as an audiobook, you can be confident that it will be available on Audible. Audible also offers a daily deal – an audiobook typically for $5 or less. I’ve discovered a lot of great audiobooks this way that I might not have otherwise ever been aware of.
But now for the bad news. Audible uses a credit system, with the $14.95 per month “Gold” plan earning you one credit per month. One credit buys one audiobook, regardless of price. Credits roll over from month to month, but you max out at six credits. If you don’t use your credits and pass the limit of six, then you are paying $14.95 per month for absolutely nothing.
I far prefer a service called Scribd, which is just $8.99 per month for UNLIMITED audiobooks, PLUS ebooks, magazines, documents, and sheet music! Technically, they reserve the right to throttle your consumption if you pass some undefined limit, but I’ve never hit that limit. I especially like that Scribd offers book summaries. They’re never as good as the full text of course, but often I’ll read the summary first to see if I want to commit to reading the entire book.
I subscribe to both Audible and Scribd. The combined cost of $24 per month is still a heck of a lot cheaper than the $180 I would pay without the memberships, and the two are a powerful combo. If I’m looking for a particular audiobook, I first search Scribd to avoid using one of my Audible credits, and see if there is a summary while I’m there.
Sources for FREE Audiobooks
If you come to embrace my method of staying current on the latest business methods by listening to business books in your spare time (or if you totally disregard my suggestion but want to listen to fiction), here is a fantastic way to download books and audiobooks for free.
As you can imagine, in our digital age, libraries are becoming somewhat anachronistic. To counter this, many libraries offer the ability to check out ebooks and audiobooks (and movies!) in electronic form. On top of that, some libraries don’t even require you to live in their service area in order to get a library card to access digital materials. I have cards from four different library systems. I never have to worry about overdue books, because it’s all electronic. The books “return” themselves automatically. Different libraries use different apps, so yours may well be different, but the ones I use are Hoopla, OverDrive, Cloud Library, and RBdigital.
In just the few years I have been using these services, they have improved immensely. The apps were kludgy and difficult to navigate, but now they are on par with Audible (even better in some regards). More importantly, the available content has improved greatly. If you tried any of these services earlier and were put off by what was available, try them again. Being a source of downloadable materials may be the last gasp for libraries, so they are devoting far more energy to offering current works.
Just download these apps to your smart phone, and then check to see if they offer your local library as an option, or call your library to ask what they use. And if your library isn’t listed, expand your geography a little. In my case, the two cities where I live and work have their own library systems, as does the county. Adjoining Los Angeles County will issue a card to anyone with a California address. The next time I was in Los Angeles for a court appearance, I swung by the library and picked up a card (unfortunately you can’t get your library card on-line). Each card allows me to check out up to eight books in a month. Even I can’t get through 32 audiobooks in a month, but the point is that I have multiple sources from which to search for the books I want.
Honorable Mention to Chirp
I wanted to also give an honorable mention to a new service called Chirp.
Chirp is a free app that offers a small selection (about 150 on the day I checked) of greatly discounted audiobooks. You can find audiobooks for just 99 cents, up to about $5.99. The list appears to be curated, in the sense that it is a very good selection of books and not just whatever discounted book Chirp could find to offer.
As examples, on the day I checked, Audible was charging $13.99 for An End to Upside Down Thinking by Mark Gober, and $14.69 for A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer, which were both available for just $3.99 on Chirp.
Sign up for Chirp at chirpbooks.com, and download the app for your phone. The app is basic, but very intuitive and functional. Indeed, it is one of my favorite audiobook apps specifically because it is so straightforward.
Magazines on RBdigital
And while not directly related to the subject matter of this article, since I’m giving out honorable mentions, I’ll note that the RBdigital app offers outstanding access to magazines. I have at various times paid $10 per month for magazine apps like Texture, Readr, and Apple News plus, but now I have free access to all the magazines I read via RBdigital.
Ebooks from Kindle Unlimited
This article would not be complete without a discussion of Kindle Unlimited. While not audiobooks in the strict sense (although a large library of audiobooks is available), I view them in the same way since Kindles allow the vast majority of ebooks to be read via text-to-speech.
(Previously, if a book was available as an audiobook, the author would typically instruct Amazon to disable the text-to-speech function for that particular title, based on the assumption it would cannibalize sales of the audiobook. I don’t see that near as often anymore.)
Like other unlimited book plans, Kindle Unlimited allows you to download an unlimited number of e-books (up to ten at a time) for just $9.99 per month. The current catalog includes over one million titles, and thousands of audiobooks. In that way it is similar to Scribd, but the difference is the access you gain to the KDP Library.
Authors who publish through Amazon have the option of joining a program called KDP Select. It’s a marketing system that allows the authors to market their books in certain ways and earn higher commissions. It also offers the books worldwide. It’s a great program. The price an author pays for being in KDP Select is that he or she must agree to sell exclusively through Amazon for no less than 90 days.
When Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited, without so much as asking “pretty please may I?”, it made the entire library of KDP Select books available to anyone subscribing to Kindle Unlimited (although authors were then permitted to opt out if they wanted to do so). That offers a HUGE repository of nonfiction books that you can draw upon to gain expertise on just about any imaginable subject. (Of course, fiction is available as well.)
When I decided to start a podcast, I had little idea where to begin. So, I went to the Amazon store and found multiple Kindle Unlimited ebooks on the topic. These are the sort of books that would never be made into audiobooks, and if published by a traditional publisher would offer information that is at least six months old. That can be a lifetime with technical subjects. I like that I can filter by publication date, to make sure I am receiving the most current information.
The System Summarized
So there is my total system. To feed my information addiction, I spend about $34 per month subscribing to Audible, Scribd, and Kindle Unlimited, supplemented by all the free library services. If I had to limit myself to just two of the paid subscriptions, I’d drop Audible, but I wouldn’t be happy about it.
I did a search for some nonfiction audiobooks I chose at random, to test their availability from the various sources. As you’ll, in this simple test Audible was the only service that offered all three titles in audiobook format. Here are the results:
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck (Updated addition released on February 19, 2019)
- Available for $19.60 (or one credit) on Audible, and for free on Scribd. It was also available from my local library on Overdrive, but not on Hoopla, Rbdigital, or Cloud Library.
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins (Released December 4, 2018)
- Available for $17.47 (or one credit) on Audible. Available as an ebook on Scribd and Hoopla, but not on the other free library apps.
The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM) by Hal Elrod (Released December 30, 2012)
- Available for $7.49 (or one credit) on Audible, and available as an ebook on Kindle Unlimited (with text-to-speech available). Summaries available on Scribd and Hoopla.
The End of Alzheimer’s by Dale E. Bredesen, M.D. (Released August 22, 2017)
- Available for $19.60 (or one credit) on Audible, and for free on Scribd. Not available on the free library apps.