I am a big fan of audio books. I’ve always loved reading, which is how I got started working in/with libraries, but there are a lot of times in my life right now when I just can’t read… like when I am driving! Or knitting. Although I can read while knitting something really simple, if the book also does not require much concentration. (I wrote a while back about podcasts, which I tend to alternate with unabridged audio books.)
I got an iPod recently, and since I read that the video screens can scratch easily, wanted to be sure to keep it protected. I realized that some of the demonstration yarn I spun during the Kansas State Fair would be just about enough for this little project, so I grabbed some double-pointed needles, knitted a 2×2 rib tube, and sewed it shut at the bottom. I used the tail end of blue yarn to crochet a little loop, and voila! had an iPod sock! I found a wonderful button that just matches the grape Kool-Aid color. Obviously, the yarn was spun from the Kool-Aid dyed Merino top that I spun and chain-plied into a substantial little 3-ply. I feel like I have to apologize or explain… it’s lumpier than my usual handspun, because I was paying more attention to the people than the fiber most of the time.
Anyhow, having the iPod meant that I had a few new things to learn about audio files. I try really hard not to get on my soap box about proprietary file types and software, because I don’t want to put anyone off exploring this great option!
So where do you find audio books? My favorite place is the OverDrive site in my state. As I’ve said before, “free” is well within my price range! OverDrive is a company that contracts with various libraries (city, regional, or state) which then create collections that registered borrowers can check out for free! Each contracting library decides on its own policies, but basically, you check out titles for a certain loan period, download the files to your computer, and can then listen to them on the computer, transfer to an mp3 player, or in some cases, burn to CDs. Go to this OverDrive search page, click on your country’s name under the “Search Libraries” heading, and see if there is a participating library in your area. Then contact them to find out how to get signed up.
Other places to download free audio books are LibriVox and the Gutenberg Project. These sites specialize in public domain titles, so you won’t find the latest best-sellers here, but you will find some great classics. The Gutenberg Project lists titles in an amazing array of languanges, including Maori and Sanskrit, to name just a couple!
You can, of course, purchase your audio books. I finally decided to go for a minimal subscription with Audible.com. There are many others out there, but I only have experience with Audible.
Will all of these audio books play on my device? Ah, there’s the rub! Maybe, but maybe not. You know about the Windows/Apple war? If you have a Mac, you can’t run a lot of Windows applications, etc., etc. That conflict over market share rears its ugly head here, too. Apple’s iPods currently dominate the mp3 player market. But iPods don’t play Windows Media Audio files (.wma file extension). There are plenty of other mp3 players that will play .wma files, but they may or may not play nicely with proprietary software.
Here’s where I am really tempted to climb up on that soapbox, but let me just say that my suggestion is to look for audio books that are compatible with your device, and forget about the rest. Or, if you haven’t bought an mp3 player yet, do a little homework and find out what you really want to listen to, what your audio source will be, and let that be part of your decision-making process.
Any of these portable devices will play mp3 files. That’s the major ‘generic’ audio file type. There are a bunch of file types out there; I was annoyed to find that Audible uses a different one (.aa extension, presumably Audible Audio). OverDrive was, until recently, offering only .wma files, so iPod users were out of luck. But they have started carrying some mp3 files now, and I look for the list of titles to grow very quickly.
Be prepared to download and install free software to manage your new audio files. The vendor website will tell you if you need to install any software, and should have instructions. I currently use OverDrive Media Console, Audible Manager, and iTunes. See? I told you it was annoying. However, I am willing to put up with a bit of annoyance to listen to hours of lovely books!
Your new software should direct you through downloading audio files and transferring them to your device. A word to the wise: if you are paying for a subscription service or purchasing individual titles, try to find out for sure beforehand if your mp3 player is compatible with their files and software!
Ripping and burning… Of course, if you already have music or audio books on CD, you can rip them from CD and transfer them to your mp3 player. Some audio books, like selected titles from OverDrive, can be burned to CD so you can listen any time in your car. The software you downloaded to manage your audio files OR the software you got with your mp3 player or your computer should be able to do the trick.
Speaking of CDs, there’s yet another file type wrinkle. *sigh* Audio books on CD now come in mp3 versions. The standard for CDs has long been .cda (compact disc audio??), which is what your CD players know and play. New mp3 CDs don’t work in any but the newest CD players that are made to handle them. The advantage is that they have a much higher compression rate, so the same audio book would fit on fewer mp3 CDs than standard CDs. Of course, your computer knows how to play them, even if your CD player doesn’t!
Who knows what the future will bring? My take on this whole thing is that we’d better plan on flexibility. Changes in technology and format are coming faster all the time, and there’s no end in sight.
Oh, yeah, one more piece of advice. If you have some especially precious audio files (or any other kind of files, for that matter) be aware that as time goes by, you may need to convert those to newer file types and/or formats before it’s too late! Those 8-track tapes my husband still has in the closet aren’t doing him a bit of good.