Calling all fans of audiobooks, National Public Radio, and the Wall Street Journal: Now you can get your fix in digital format. Audible.com lets you download more than 45,000 hours of spoken-word programs, including fiction, lectures, radio shows, and newspapers, to your PC and a variety of portable devices. The selection is outstanding, the cost is far less than that of purchasing old-fashioned books on tape, and Audible has added support for CD burning. Forget books on tape and sign up for this digital library pronto.Calling all fans of audiobooks, National Public Radio, and the Wall Street Journal: Now you can get your fix in digital format. Audible.com lets you download more than 45,000 hours of spoken-word programs, including fiction, lectures, radio shows, and newspapers, to your PC and a variety of portable devices. The selection is outstanding, the cost is far less than that of purchasing old-fashioned books on tape, and Audible recently added support for CD burning. Forget books on tape and sign up for this digital library pronto.
Low price; automatic downloads
Though you can purchase Audible.com content piecemeal--bought separately, fiction and nonfiction titles average 35 percent cheaper than their cassette-tape counterparts--the better bet is to sign up for one of two AudibleListener plans. For $14.95 per month, you can download one audio book and one subscription-based offering, such as NPR's This American Life. Pony up $19.95 per month, and the deal includes two audio books.
Except for one or two confusing features (more on that later), it's easy to browse and shop at Audible.com. Windows users must download and install AudibleManager, which shuttles downloads from the service to a PC or player, while Mac users need to be running OS X and iTunes 3.0 or greater. Next, peruse the site to add selections to your shopping cart. Once purchased, the choices show up in your permanent online library. A few clicks transfer the content to your PC, where AudibleManager intercepts it. You must manually transfer books to your player, but AudibleManager can synchronize with your online library to fetch subscription content automatically. Just plug in your media player overnight, and you can wake up to the New York Times preloaded for the ride to work.
Not every player will play
AudibleManager's clean, Windows Explorer-like interface makes for easy operation, though the download process is confusing at first. For example, you can't download your selections to all MP3 players. Audible supports about 20 portable devices, including the iPod, the Creative MuVo, and Pocket PC and PalmOne handhelds.
Yes, hallelujah! Audible.com supports CD burners, which means you can burn downloaded items using a CD burner rather than an MP3 player as the active drive, and listen to tunes in your car, over your home stereo, on your portable CD player--wherever. You can even rip MP3 files from the CDs you create. We tested a beta version of this feature, and it worked flawlessly. CDs are good for only about 74 minutes of audio, though, so you'll probably need multiple discs to contain a complete book. When you burn files to CD, the Audible software cleverly inserts section breaks every 7 minutes so that you can more easily navigate to where you left off after stopping a program. Slick.
Too many formats
Another aspect of Audible.com's service remains confusing: its five proprietary audio formats, each with a different sound quality and file size. Most Audible titles don't come in every format, and most portable players support only two or three. So depending on your device, you may be forced to listen at one of the two lowest-quality formats--which sound garbled at best, if you can play them at all. What's more, you may have to redownload selections in a different format if you want to switch from, say, an MP3 player to a CD burner.
This awkward approach notwithstanding, Audible.com scores with its terrific library of reasonably priced content and newly added support for CD listening. If you like the spoken word, you'll love this service. It's one of the Web's true gems.