Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Getting Access to Audiobooks

As well as my print reading, I nearly always have an audiobook on the go. I have a longish commute to work and sometimes it's too busy/noisy or I'm too tired to read with my eyes. Plus I walk a lot and love to listen as I exercise. I often try authors that I might not get round to reading conventionally. I often stick to audiobooks for a series if the narrator is exceptional and I am in a dilemma regarding the latest Stella Rimington, Rip Tide, which is not narrated by Maggie Mash, unlike the previous five. What to do? Try the new narrator or switch to reading the book and "hear" Maggie Mash's narration as I read?

I love audiobooks and so if you want to try them for yourselves, here's how to get one...

The cheapest way is to join your local library. I'll use my local libraries as examples - I work for Birmingham Libraries (B) but live in Worcestershire (W) so I have two cards.

Did you know that you can join any library in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for free without being a local resident? Back in 2009, the policy changed:

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) said members of the public simply need to show their existing library card or proof of address to join or use a library they are visiting.

The scheme applies to public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scotland is not part of the UK Society of Chief Librarians, although some Scottish authorities are considering joining the scheme.

According to the society, customers will be able to borrow books from any library and, in some cases, use other services such as DVD rental and online resources.

You can normally apply online for a library card (as well as at the library itself) but depending on the library service, you may have to either collect it or pop in to activate it. Birmingham posts the card to the address given by the online joiner.

Having got your library card, you then have access to the libraries audiobook collection. To hire an audiobook, there's usually a fee (90p B, £1 W). If you want a specific title, then if it's available in that library service, then there will usually be a reservation fee (free B, 60p W). If the item can't be sourced locally then you have the option of an Inter Library Loan which is £3, plus the hire charge.

As well as the physical audiobook collection, many libraries are supplying an e-audiobook option. This means you can download audiobooks for free from home. Birmingham has 700 titles available. Worcestershire doesn't offer this service yet.

However be aware that if you are not a local resident, there may be restrictions on what you can do with your card eg, this from Surrey County Council's website:
Do I have to live in Surrey to sign up for this service?
Overdrive, the US based company who supplies our eBook and eAudio service, has requested that access is limited to Surrey residents only. This decision has been made as a result of UK and US publishers concerns surrounding rights and access issues. However, there are several other UK library authorities offering eBooks access, so if you live outside Surrey we suggest you check with your local council to see if they offer this service.
If you cannot access a library, prefer a more permanent copy of the book or cannot get the books you want easily then audible.co.uk (or equivalent), is probably the next cheapest option. You buy the download, and packages start from £3.99 a month. I haven't used them myself and there may be alternative companies that I don't know about, equally good/bad.

Lastly, audiobooks can be bought from retailers such as Amazon and often these are not too expensive - comparable with a hardback price eg Camilla Lackberg's The Hidden Child is rrp £19.99. Audiobooks can also be bought direct from the providers, including AudioGo and Whole Story Audiobooks usually as a box of cds, though AudioGo offer MP3 downloads as well.

There are free audiobooks available, in my limited experience, these are usually read by non-professional narrators, of older books and the mp3 quality is not as good as it could be.

If you've not tried an audiobook before then I urge you to do so. My favourite combinations include Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May series narrated by Tim Goodman and Alexander McCall Smith's No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Adjoa Andoh.


Sarah said...

I listen to a lot of audio books. My main source is my local library and Amazon. I wasn't aware of the change of library policy but it is something worth knowing. Thanks.

Muse said...

I've used audible.co.uk for some years now as well as my library. They have a great service with many best sellers coming out quickly. Subscription are £7.99/£14.99 with £3.99 being an introductory price for a few months.

They always seem to be doing sales and offers to members as well. I love my audiobook on-th-go and do appreciate what you say about changes in narrators.

Bernadette said...

Our library's audio book selection is woeful, possibly because of the expense...I know libraries don't pay retail prices but even so audio is by far more expensive than any other format here, at least in CD. They have just started offering downloads via overdrive but the selection doesn't seem much better so I will stick to my audible US account which offers me 2 downloadable books a month at a good rate ... The only books I can get cheaper are some ebooks. I have tried most other equivalent services and they are all pooe imitations ...I'd happily switch to a non amazon ownes company but alas none hold a candle (at least so far)