05 February 2010

Audible Alternatives?

I am very tempted to cough up some dough and sign up with Audible.com. The thing that holds me back is I feel that it seems wasteful to spend money on something that will not be enjoyed over and over. There are songs that I listened to over and over yet not get tired, but movies and books are only used once. At least with movies they sometimes get loaned to friends. With digital audiobooks, I may have to loan the player as well, or burn the book onto CD and convert the CD back to MP3 format... too much work and the reading experience won't be the same.

There are some Audible alternatives out there. Note that I include a question mark in the title of this blog post. I admit that the experience of using these "alternatives" is certainly not exactly the same as using a paid service like Audible. You get to have someone read to you, alright, but the process of getting the content to your device, plus other steps, won't be the same.

For me, the most obvious alternative is the public library. One great thing about living and working in New York City is convenient access to its public libraries. I live near a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) and work near one in the New York Public Library (NYPL) system. Both library systems offer at least audiobooks as sets of CDs. I think the BPL even offers audiocassettes audiobooks. My audiobook experience did start out with the Queens Public Library, with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Without Remorse by Tom Clancy, and some others. Yes, many times I fell asleep while listening to the audiotapes and had to painfully rewind the tapes back to some recognizable place, but I did finish a few books, for free.

If dealing with physical media like audiotapes and CDs is too cumbersome for you, the library systems can also let you borrow digital content. It seems only public domain materials can be used readily on both Macs and PeeCees. More current materials requires installing additional software like OverDrive. Last time I gave OverDrive a try, it was with using movies from the NYPL. I had to use Windoze emulator to be able to use the material on my Mac. There was much troubles, not worth the hassle. OverDrive does have Mac software now. I'll give it another chance and see how convenient it is.

Perhaps getting a library card is too much of a hassle to you. Or you don't live or work near a public library. If you don't mind being limited to classic books only, LibriVox.org is the place for you. LV's books are already in the public domain, i.e. their copyrights have expired. LV makes use of volunteers to do the reading in order to be able to provide the service free of charge. You don't have to register with LV in order to get audiobooks from them. Unlike Audible, where the books are broken down into one or two big files, LV's offerings come in many small chapters. You can listen to them right in the web browser, although for me I prefer to open them in iTunes for later syncing to the iPod. I do have to make sure the files are marked as audiobooks and that playback positions are remembered. It takes a little, just a very small little, extra work when dealing with LV. I already downloaded Chapters 1 through 5 of Book 1 of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Should you like LV's service so much and want to volunteer then you would need to open a free account with them.

Lastly, I cannot help but think back to the time a long time ago when I accidentally came across a reading of the book Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam on the radio. I think it was some time after 1985, when I started college, because I do remember that I listened to the reading in the afternoon on a weekday. During high school I wouldn't be home at that time of the day during that time of the week. I managed to remember the station and listened to it a few times but now of course I have no other recollection of the station. My guess is that it was some NPR station, maybe even WNYC. I wonder if the program is still around. Anyone with more info please post a comment.

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