What Are Audio Books?

If it sometimes feels like there’s always a book you’ve been meaning to read, but you never have the time, then you’re not alone. Whether it’s the new Stephen King novel, the next chapter of the Twilight Saga, or a classic like War and Peace, everyone has a list of books they want to read. However, between work, family, and friends, the list probably never seems to get any shorter. If this sounds like you, you might want to think about audio books.

So, what are audio books? Audio books (sometimes also written as “audiobooks”) are recordings of books read aloud, and they are available in a variety of formats. Traditionally, audio books came on eight or nine cassette tapes, but today they are available on CDs or even as mp3s. Since you can download them from online sites, it is easier than ever to get into an audio book.

They are mobile enough to work into a busy schedule, and because they’re hands free, you can listen in the car on the way to work, while exercising, or even while doing chores around the house. Also, they frequently feature vocal performances by iconic actors or by the book’s own author, lending an extra dimension of experience to the text.

  • Want to get started listening to audio books? Here’s what you need to know.
  • Where can you find audio books?
  • How much do they cost?
  • Are there unabridged titles?
  • There are a wide variety of book types and genres available

Where Can I Find Audio Books?

Audio books are common these days. Most major bookstore chains, such as Borders or Barnes & Noble, will have an in-store audio books section. Most local libraries have popular titles available to check out, but there are also mail order clubs and other online sources that make it easy to get started.

Audible.com, for example, offers a plan giving you one credit per month that you can use for any audio book in their store. You download the title to your computer and can either burn it to a CD or send it to your mp3 player for easy listening. After using your monthly credit, you can buy additional titles at the retail price.

For those more interested in renting rather than buying, audiobooks.com offers a monthly all-you-can-rent plan similar to the popular movie rental site Netflix. You can have two, three, or four books out at a time, so you’re not limited to a single title per month. They also offer options for purchasing new and used audio books, or digital downloads.

There are even sites that offer free audio books of material from the public domain, but their selection tends to be limited and the sound quality tends be less reliable than it is on commercial sites. Still, it is an easy way to get an idea of what audio books are like.

What Can I Expect to Pay for Audio Books?


Prices for audio books can vary quite a bit. Most new releases and popular titles will be priced competitively with their printed editions. You can expect that most titles will be somewhere between fifteen and twenty-five dollars, though some may be thirty dollars or more. Others, especially works in the public domain tend to be cheaper. You can usually find such titles for five to ten dollars.

Sites like Audible.com offer a monthly membership instead, where for about fifteen dollars a month you can pick from almost any one of their titles. Certain titles, such as new releases or New York Times Bestsellers will cost more than one credit, but you can get most for just one.

Rental clubs typically charge anywhere from thirty to sixty dollars a month, depending on how many books you want to have out at one time, but if you are the kind of person who will get through six or eight titles a month these clubs can save you serious money.

You can even find some audio books for free online. This is
especially true for certain childrens audiobooks.

Are All Audio Books Abridged?

No. There is a wide variety of unabridged audio books available today. Most new release titles are presented unabridged, as are many classics. Abridged audio books edit certain parts of the texts to shorten the overall length of the presentation. An abridged version might be only five hours long, while an unabridged version of the same text might run for nine hours.

It is usually easy to tell which books are abridged and which are not, but if you are interested in getting the complete text, you want to be careful. Abridged versions are generally cheaper than unabridged versions, and are usually marked, however subtly, as “abridged” somewhere on their covers.

The difference between abridged version and unabridged versions is that, in the abridged text, editors have trimmed nonessential story elements. This means that someone has removed secondary characters and sub-plots as well as descriptive passages and background material in order to shorten the narration time.

Abridged texts certainly are not what the book’s author originally intended them to be. However, it’s rare that the main plot points are removed, and should you want to get through more books in a shorter time, you may want to consider abridged audio books.

What Kind of Audio Books Can I Expect to Find?

All kinds. The market for audio books is vast, and there is something for everyone. You can find science fiction, romance, new releases, books for children, mysteries, biographies, Christian spirituality books, non-fiction, classics, and almost anything else you can think of.

What you will not typically find are reference works, or technical writings and textbooks. These types of book do not read well, and are not intended for mass-market production. There are, however, some texts of this kind available as a service to the blind, but they are not the kind of audio books you would expect to have access to as a club member, and will typically not feature the type of vocal performances you’ll find in other genres.

Aside from these specialty titles, though, the world of literature is available on audio books, and it can be quite impressive. Listening to Alan Rickman or reading the works of Thomas Hardy, or Shakespearian actor Derek Jacobi reciting Virgil’s Aeneid can add an extra dimension of performance to the experience, so audio books are not simply books for those who don’t like to read.

If you are someone who doesn’t enjoy the physical act of reading, or if you enjoy it, but simply don’t have the time, audio books can give you the opportunity to experience all of the books you want without ever having to turn a page.