If you’re looking for a great way to fit more books into your life, try picking up an audiobook. You can listen to it on your commute, on vacation, or just at home while you’re doing other things. Or, better yet, sign up for a service that gives you access to a ton of books at once, which we’ll be exploring in this Hive Five roundup of amazing audiobook services—a list we created based on your nominations.
Just to remind you, here’s how that process worked. A bit ago, we asked you which audiobook services you thought were the best. While it was interesting to watch a voting battle erupt between three major services, four major candidates (and a few honorable mentions) emerged as clear candidates during the voting melee.
Grab your headphone and get ready to download a good book, because here are here are the top services you nominated more than any others. (This story originally ran in March, 2015, and was updated in June, 2018 with additional reporting by David Murphy.)
Even though people might have misgivings about Amazon, Audible’s parent company, there’s no question that this audiobook services is one of the very best around. It has plenty of titles—more than 200,000, in fact—that you can buy, rent, stream, and listen to offline using its official app for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Amazon devices (naturally).
Audible offers a free trial which gives you 30 days of membership and a free book. After that, the service costs $15/mo, but you get to keep any books you’ve bought if you ever cancel it—so you can re-listen to your favorites over and over again. Your progress through an audiobook is stored regardless of how you listen to it: on the web, on an app, in your car, or wherever. And that’s good; you don’t want a service that makes it hard to pick up where you left off.
As Lifehacker reader “booga” describes:
“It supports almost all devices, syncs automatically between Alexa and devices, and so many books. I’ve been an audiobook user since 2004 and have listened to literally hundreds of books I would never have had time to read. Prime time for Audible books: long commute; while doing house or yard work; while sewing, walking, or other solo outdoor activities; and I use it at the dentist because I’m afraid of the dentist. Occasionally I take a membership break and re-listen to older favorites, I get much from listening more than once.”
You don’t have to be an Audible member to buy their audiobooks, but if you are, you get a 30 percent discount on any purchases. Those books are available for you to listen to anytime, even offline, and the service integrates with your Amazon account, so your discount will also appear when you browse for books on Amazon.
(No, you won’t get a special bonus discount for buying the physical copy of a book and then buying the audiobook, but you can score a slight extra discount for buying the Kindle version of a book first—go figure.)
“I finish a ~10 hr audio book in about a week. The credit system used by Audible keeps the books costing me about $11 per book, which is better than I can do just about anywhere else for new books. Combine with a fairly easy to navigate site with good search options (sometimes you want a sci-fi book read by a specific narrator for instance), an abundance of reviews/feedback, and the ability to return any book you don’t like for a credit makes it well worth it for anyone who burns through audiobooks quickly.”
Over 30,000 libraries support OverDrive, a service that makes it easy to check out audiobooks and ebooks right from your smartphone or tablet. All you need is your library card and a library in your community that supports the service (odds are great you’ll find one.)
From there, just install the Overdrive or Libby apps. (Libby is better if you’re only planning to visit public libraries, whereas Overdrive is better for every other kind of library, like school libraries.) Both services are completely free, you just have to have a library card for whichever library (or libraries) you want to use. Yes, your selection may vary by library, but Overdrive’s website does a great job of showing you other locations where a book you might want to read (or listen to) can be found.
Lifehacker reader “SmokaBoll” writes:
“If you live in a major city (thus, large library system) Overdrive is the way to go. I listen to audiobooks during my commute, and free books rock! Plus, I’m a little more open to exploring new authors or giving a not so great book more time to warm up to it if I’m not paying by book.”
You can read ebooks and listen to audiobooks offline in either the Overdrive or Libby apps, and you can pick up where you left off no matter how you’re listening to your content—your position, bookmarks, and notes are all synchronized between your devices. You can’t check out an unlimited number of audiobooks at once, but it’s easy to return “books” when you’re done with them (or if you’re tired of them) to free up space for more.
Lifehacker reader “Matmunk” writes:
“I average about 2 books a week, every week. Some weeks it may be more. For those who say Audible averages about $12.00 a book, that means I would be spending close to $100.00/ month which would blow my budget. I don’t need to own them any more than I do the rest of the library books I borrow. I am extremely lucky that where I live I have access to three excellent library systems and between all of them I almost never run out of stuff to listen to.”
Scribd has always been a big deal when it comes to print material—a great place to view raw documents of all kinds, like court filings or research papers, as well as a ton of magazines books (so long as you don’t read too much on the service). As of late 2014, Scribd also has “thousands of audiobooks” for you to peruse and stream, makes the service’s low monthly fee ($9, with an initial 30-day free trial) even more of a bargain. You can explore so much!
Scribd’s apps for iOS, Android, and Amazon devices make it easy to find, stream, and download audiobooks for offline listening. I especially enjoy the sleep timer Scribd stuffs into its apps, which automatically turns off your audiobook after a set time (so you don’t stay up past your bedtime reading, er, listening to all the things).
Lifehacker reader “KatieDubbs” writes:
“I love Scribd. Tons of really good audiobooks available (no long waits like with Overdrive). You don’t have to buy individual books or deal with Audible’s credits hassle either. Scribd is super easy to use. Lots of new releases. Cheap, too. It’s about the same price I pay for Netflix, but it helps make me smarter!”
Although some readers commented that Scribd’s audiobook offerings aren’t as comprehensive as Audible’s, you get a wider selection of services for your lower monthly fee—ideal for those who also like reading their favorite monthly magazines after listening to a book or two on their commutes.
We’ve previously written about Hoopla, so you should be pretty familiar with the service by now. If not, here’s a quick explanation: Much like OverDrive, Hoopla allows you to check out various types of media from different libraries you belong to, and the content list includes audiobooks, ebooks, and music, as well as TV shows and movies. You authenticate your library membership by providing the number on the back of your card (digital or physical), which gives you access to your library’s digital offerings.
You can view your content on Hoopla’s website or via its app for iOS, Android, and Amazon devices. Like Overdrive, you get a certain amount of content you’re allowed to check out at once, depending on the category, but it’s easy to check content back in once you’re done listening to it (or once your “borrowing” period expires, just like a real library!)
Hoopla is completely free, which is a great selling point, and its online reader for ebooks has all the settings you probably care about: font sizes, background colors, text margins and line height, et cetera. Its available content is limited to what your library offers, which will give you all the incentive to hop in the car and make a membership run to a few of your local libraries the next time you have a free weekend.
Lifehacker reader “Jester6642,” praising both Hoopla and Overdrive in the same comment, writes:
“Selection isn’t 100%, and varies between libraries and apps. So no promises, but they should always be the first place to start searching. If you find something you like, great. Check it out, download it and you’re good to go. If not, then start going through the paid options. But searching and discovery isn’t a chore on any of them, so 30 seconds worth of searching should give you a definitive answer.”
There weren’t many other services that received a votes beyond these top four. However, one reader did mention Soundcloud and Bandcamp, of all places, as potential sources for compelling audio narratives. To quote “IJ Wilson,” a Lifehacker commenter:
“Although these are primarily platforms for music, there are still audio books, audio stories, and audio drama, being uploaded by creators and production houses. Both platforms allow you to listen to some of them for free, particularly soundcloud — however, Bandcamp you can also purchase standalone digital downloads. (I have to also disclose that I am a creator of audio stories and radio documentaries, and these are my preferred platforms for sharing work).”
One Lifehacker commenter also mentioned Spotify as a decent service for audiobooks. We suspect you’ll care more about its musical offerings than anything else but, while you’re rocking out, download a title or two to balance out all that noise. As Lifehacker reader “KuP” noted:
“I already have spotify, so why pay more? I know that its not the best audio books collection ever, but its enough for my usual ‘work-home-way’.”
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send me an email!