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If you’re a traveler who loves to read, you’ll be familiar with the issue of wanting to take a dozen books on your trip, yet struggling to fit more than one in your bag.
There are many alternatives, of course, from e-readers to local bookstores. But what if you don’t own a Kindle, or the place you’re visiting doesn’t have (m)any English-language bookshops? It won’t be long before you come across Audible by Amazon.
Just before returning home on a 12-hour bus journey recently, I ran out of books. I figured this was the perfect moment to test out a free trial of Audible.
Readers are divided into two groups: those committed to the audiobook experience ever since they first heard the sweet, reassuring voice of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter, to sceptical purists who favour the physical version. I wanted to find out which group I belonged to.
How It Works
Signing up is extremely easy — in fact, if you’ve already got an Amazon account, you can do it with a couple of clicks. If not, you enter a few personal details, maybe read through the terms and conditions, and you’re ready to listen.
I made sure to read the small print before I signed up for my trial month. I also set a reminder on my calendar for a few days before the end of the month, to remind me to make a decision about whether I wanted to continue with a paid membership.
After signing up, you receive a credit for one book (two on the US store). Download the app, and trawl through the vast collection of books to find something which interests you.
You can choose from “200,000+” titles. This is a great option if you’ve been wanting to read a long, expensive book for some time. After you’ve chosen what you want to listen to, click the download button, and the book will appear on your device within a couple of minutes.
Choosing a Book
Audible starts by showing a selection of books it thinks you might like, but if none of them appeal, or you’ve got your heart set on something in particular, just search for it by name or author.
My advice is to think of a book before you sign up. I didn’t do this, so I made a snap decision, and ended up with one that only mildly interested me, rather than an old favourite or something that had been on my wishlist for a while.
Regardless, after choosing a book, you can keep it, even if you decide to cancel your membership. If you’re not happy with it, you can also return it for “any reason.”
Using the Audible App
After signing up for an Audible account, you’ll be prompted to download the app. This is an easy process, and you can peruse books from either the app or website from then on.
I enjoyed being able to carry around a portable audiobook library while travelling, as it made it easy to keep up to date with the latest authors and releases. Once you’ve chosen a book which suits you, it downloads automatically and pops up in your Audible library.
One aspect of the app I particularly liked was being able to choose my listening speed. After moving up from the normal pace of 1.0x to 1.25x, it was hard to go back down again — it didn’t affect my ability to understand or enjoy what I was listening to, and meant I could get through more “pages” in each sitting.
Being able to send a book to a friend is useful if you know other people with an account. Keep an eye out for any friends or fellow travellers with Audible, as this is a great way to line up some recommendations. If you’re both US-based, you can even redeem a recommended book for free!
To entice you into listening more, clicking on “Me” at the bottom of the app shows how many hours you’ve listened to books that month, and your “listening level” that ranges from Newbie to Master. Audible also displays badges based on how much listening you’ve been doing. I was surprised how competitive it made me!
Finally, click on the “More” option in the bottom right-hand corner of the app– the news section lists the latest deals and discounts, and is a good way of snagging cheap books when you’re nearing the end of the one you listened to. That same section also offers tutorials to help guide you through using Audible, if you’re feeling a bit lost.
What Audible Is Good For
I found my eyelids dropping within a few minutes of starting to listen to my audiobook, and drifted off to sleep shortly afterward. Whether this was due to the early-morning journey, or a poor choice of book, I’m not sure, but it was very welcome on a long bus ride.
For anyone who struggles to get to sleep, Audible provides a comforting way to snuggle up and get some shuteye. It’s particularly useful on overnight journeys, or in hostels when you’re struggling to sleep through the snoring.
Audible has good device support, with dedicated apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 10. You can use it with iTunes on Mac’s and earlier versions of Windows, and most of Amazon’s own products, including Kindles, also have Audible support built in.
The easy return policy was fantastic, and one I ultimately took advantage of it. I’d almost got to the end of my book before deciding I really couldn’t stand seven more hours of a voice that had started to grate on me.
I cut my losses, logged onto the Audible website, and returned the book. I exchanged it for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I’ll now forever have this book on my phone, ready to help me drift off to sleep whenever I’m struggling.
The help page is full of information on pretty much anything you need to know about the service, and it’s laid out very clearly.
What It’s Bad For
Although I didn’t experience it myself, there’s extensive commentary about how terrible the customer service is for Audible.
As I mentioned, the only problem I really faced was not enjoying the voice of the person who was reading the book I first chose. If I was to go through the process again, I’d spend more time listening to previews, to help me decide whether I could listen to a grating voice for 30 hours.
My Opinion of Audible
I’ve always been reluctant to buy from Amazon due to its notorious reputation, but it’s certainly worth taking advantage of the free month’s trial if you have a long journey ahead of you.
Ultimately, though, the rather-high monthly subscription cost meant I ended up canceling my trial shortly before it ran out.
I’d rather purchase a single audiobook when I want it, rather than paying a monthly subscription fee of £7.99 / $14.99, especially since the number of download credits you can roll over is limited based on which membership plan you’re on. As mentioned earlier, though, you’ll always be able to keep an audiobook after cancelation, even if it was the free one you got with your trial.
If you’re an avid reader, listening to a book rather than reading it is a very different experience. I wasn’t completely taken by the listening experience, since (for me at least) there’s something uniquely enjoyable about turning a page… but I certainly can’t complain about the fantastic eight-hour sleep I got on the bus!
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Although Audible is a popular option due to the free trial and those hundreds of thousands of titles to choose from, there are other forms of spoken entertainment that cost-conscious travellers might want to consider to help them drift off to sleep without spending a cent.
It’s also worth checking out whether your public library rents out audiobooks before you begin your travels. You may be surprised to find that many do, often alongside an e-book rental service.
Listening to audiobooks on YouTube is another good option, but you’ll need to be online, and will have to pick from whatever’s available at the time.
Images via Pixelbay, Audible