For many book lovers, the biggest problem with their favorite hobby isn’t the money it requires. It’s the time. There are plenty of places to pick up cheap books and e-books. But finding a free moment in your busy week to sit down with a book can be a much more significant challenge.
Audiobooks solve this problem. With these recordings, you can listen to a book’s author or a professional voice actor reading a book aloud while you go about your business. They make it possible to enjoy a good book while you’re driving, doing the dishes, or even working out.
Unfortunately, audiobooks can be expensive. Sites like Audiobooks.com commonly price bestselling titles between $15 and $35. At those prices, a two-book-a-week habit could cost anywhere from $1,560 to $3,640 per year. But you can find audiobooks for much less — or even completely free — if you know where to look.
Where to Find Free Audiobooks
If you just want the occasional page-turner and don’t mind a limited selection of books (often focused on older titles), you’ll save the most money by sticking with free audiobook sites.
All these sites are both free and legal. Some feature volunteer-recorded works that are no longer under copyright, while others offer newer books freely contributed by their authors. You can download or stream from them without fear of stealing or otherwise harming hardworking authors and publishers. And there are many such sites to choose from.
When choosing a free audiobook site, make sure you have the right software to download or stream your books. Most free audiobooks available online are in MP3 format, which works with any device capable of playing digital music files. You can stream them with audiobook apps such as the Apple Books app for Apple devices and Smart AudioBook Player for Android.
If you’re looking for free audiobooks, first see if your local public library is a member of an electronic lending library, or e-library — collections of digital media provided by public libraries across the country.
If it is, you can use your library card to check out and download audiobooks and other media, such as e-books and videos, from its collection. When you check out an audiobook, you get access to it for a specific period. Once your time runs out, it goes back into the general pool.
There are several ways to find out if your local library is part of an e-library network. You can ask the librarian, consult the library’s website, or do an online search for “e-library” plus the name of your state. Or visit the OverDrive website, click on “Find a Library,” and enter your zip code. Once you find an e-library in your area, you can see what selections and formats it offers.
To listen to your borrowed books, use the Libby app from OverDrive. Libby allows you to check out both e-books and audiobooks from electronic lending libraries. OverDrive also offers an app called Sora specifically designed for use with school libraries.
Audiobook selections at e-libraries vary from one library to the next, just like their book selections. Larger library systems are most likely to have a wide range of audio options, including bestsellers. For instance, the New York Public Library’s digital collection includes over 300,000 e-books and audiobooks. But since only one user can check out a given copy of an audiobook at a time, there can be long wait times for the most popular titles.
Some e-libraries have partnerships with a service called Hoopla. It gives members access to all sorts of digital media: e-books, digital comic books, audiobooks, movies, and TV shows.
If your library works with Hoopla, you can check out any audiobook in its collection through the website or the Hoopla mobile app. It’s available for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and various streaming media players.
One of the best sources for free audiobooks is LibriVox. Its collection includes more than 10,000 audiobooks read by volunteers from all over the world. You can stream these files right in your browser window or download them to hear later. All books on the site are in the public domain, which means they mostly date from 1923 or earlier.
These public domain audiobooks span a wide range of categories. Children’s books, novels, plays, poetry, erotica, history, philosophy, science, and self-help are all available. You can find such classic works here as Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables.” There are also many foreign-language works.
You can even sign up to contribute your own audio recordings to the archive. All you need is a computer, a microphone, and some free recording software, such as Audacity. You can contribute a recording of any book that’s in the public domain. You’re not required to audition, but the site recommends you do a one-minute test recording to check your sound setup.
3. Project Gutenberg
In the 1400s, Johannes Gutenberg developed the first printing press with movable type, which brought printed books to the masses for the first time. In the same spirit, Project Gutenberg aims to make public domain texts available to all readers at no cost. The site is best known for its massive collection of e-books, but it also hosts audiobooks in more than 60 languages.
There are two types of audiobooks at Project Gutenberg. Computer-generated voices read some, but these lack expression and can be hard to understand. But the site also hosts copies of LibriVox recordings made by human volunteers. Selections include Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” and 24 volumes of L. Frank Baum’s Oz series.
4. Internet Archive
Even if your local library doesn’t belong to an e-library network, you can access a collection of nearly 21,000 free audiobooks and poetry readings through the Internet Archive. This massive collection of digital text, audio, and video files aims to make all recorded knowledge accessible to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world.
Some of the audiobooks on the site are recordings made and contributed by its users. Others are from collections of free audiobooks on sites like LibriVox and Project Gutenberg. The collection includes literary classics like Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” mysteries like Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” children’s books like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” folk tales, and plays.
One unique Internet Archive feature is Mind Webs. It’s a collection of radio dramatizations of classic science fiction stories originally aired on a Wisconsin radio station from the 1970s through the 1990s.
More than 20 years later, the creator of the series contributed his entire collection of tapes to the archive for release in digital form. The series features stories from celebrated sci-fi authors, including Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The End,” H.G. Wells’ “In the Abyss,” Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” and Ray Bradbury’s “Kaleidoscope.”
5. Free Classic Audiobooks
Another site that features public domain audiobooks is Free Classic Audiobooks. Its collection is much smaller than LibriVox’s, but it still has titles by hundreds of famous authors. The most popular downloads on the site include the King James Bible, Jane Austen’s “Emma,” and Nellie Bly’s “Ten Days in a Mad-House.” The site also hosts short stories and audio language courses.
Most selections on this site are available in both MP3 format and M4B, an audio format you can “bookmark” to keep track of your place in the story. However, the M4B files only work on Apple devices.
Although the entire site is free, you can support Free Classics Audiobooks by purchasing a collection of its recordings. You can choose a single USB stick with 200 classic audiobooks, one with 600 short stories, or a collection of seven language courses in MP3 format.
6. Loyal Books
At Loyal Books, you can access over 7,000 free e-books and audiobooks. Most audiobooks on this site are LibriVox recordings of works in the public domain, such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Little Princess.” But there are also some original works submitted by their creators, such as Eric L. Busby’s “Star Trek: Lost Frontier.”
You can stream audiobooks directly from Loyal Books or download them to your device. Audiobooks are available in various formats, including MP3, M4B, and iTunes podcasts. The site also allows you to submit reviews of an audiobook you’ve listened to and read reviews from other users.
While most free audiobook sites are for book lovers in general, Lit2Go specifically targets students. It offers stories and poems in MP3 format with extras that make them useful in a classroom setting. All the works are either in the public domain or licensed for educational use.
For each work, there’s an abstract, a citation to be used in papers, a total word count, and keywords related to the subject matter. There’s also a Flesch-Kincaid grade level, which is a rough indication of how difficult the work is to read. Each audio file comes with a PDF transcript of the text so students can read along or refer to it in the classroom.
Featured texts on Lit2Go include poems by Emily Dickinson, famous presidential addresses and messages, and a collection of books adapted as movies, such as Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence.”
You can sort through books on the site by author, title, genre, or readability. You can also browse collections of books on a particular topic, such as mathematics, the Civil War, or the concept of happiness.
Another site that gathers audio files for educational purposes is LearnOutLoud.com. This site offers audio downloads of over 3,000 texts, more than 1,500 free documentaries, and over 1,000 free online courses.
Audiobooks on this site cover a wide range of topics, including history, science, sports, business, and technology. Many of the audiobooks available are not public domain works but newer books published directly by LearnOutLoud.com. The site also offers live recordings of radio interviews by celebrated journalist Studs Terkel.
The primary purpose of Scribl is to help aspiring authors publish and distribute their books. One way for Scribl authors to promote their works is to turn them into audio recordings using either their own voice or an actor’s and distribute them through the site. Not all Scribl books are available in audio format, but all the audio recordings on the site are original new releases.
Not all audiobooks available through Scribl are free. The site uses what it calls “CrowdPricing,” meaning it bases the price of a book on how many users download it. Thus, the most popular books cost about as much to buy as you’d pay at a typical online bookstore.
But books that aren’t selling as well are much cheaper or even free. Additionally, all newly posted books are free for a brief promotional period. That means users can always find plenty of newly released audiobooks on Scribl at no cost.
Some audiobooks are available as full-length downloads, while others are broken into chunks for streaming. Additionally, every audiobook on the site comes with a free copy of the text in PDF form.
Scribl makes it easy to search for books that interest you. You can sort books by publication date, author, or title. You can also filter the options by book length, language, genre, rating elements (such as violence or sexual content), target age group, setting, and demographic attributes of the main character (like age, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation).
Streaming site Spotify is best known as a place to find free music online. But if you browse the books genre within the Spotify app, you can find numerous spoken-word recordings. The collection includes classics like Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” Charles’ Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” and the autobiographical “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”
Spotify also offers playlists of selections from different types of audiobooks, such as bestsellers, children’s books, or erotica. Some playlists cover stories by specific authors, such as H.P. Lovecraft or J.K. Rowling. You can listen to any of these playlists for free with some interruptions for ads or pay $10 per month for a Spotify Premium account to listen ad-free.
Many free audiobook sites include some works for children, but Storynory caters exclusively to kids. Selections on the site include fairy tales, classic works, mythology, poetry, and original stories. In the educational section, you can find retellings of culturally important tales, like Bible stories and histories from Herodotus as well as stories that enhance kids’ vocabularies.
You can stream audio files directly on the Storynory site or download them in MP3 format. Each one has accompanying text on the website so kids can read along. There’s a brief introduction for each story summarizing the content and sometimes warning about elements that might be scary for the youngest children.
What Storynory does for kids, Sync does for teens. Sponsored by AudioFile magazine and powered by Sora, this free summer audiobook program provides audio recordings to complement teenagers’ summer reading.
Each year, from late April until late July or early August, the site gives away two free, thematically linked audiobooks each week. The first two selections for summer 2021 are “Come on In,” a collection of 15 stories about immigration and finding a home, and “Illegal” by Francisco X. Stork.
To participate in Sync, sign up for an account on the website. When the free audiobooks become available, you’ll receive a notification by text or email. New titles appear every Thursday at 12am Eastern and remain available on the site for one week only. However, once you’ve downloaded a given title into the app, it’s yours to keep.
13. Open Culture
There’s a smaller selection, about 1,000 titles, of free audiobooks at Open Culture. This site doesn’t host audiobooks itself, but it provides links to free audio files available on other sites, including Apple Podcasts, LibriVox, the Internet Archive, university servers, magazine websites, and YouTube.
Although everything on Open Culture is available elsewhere on the Internet, the site makes these recordings much easier to find. It has put together a list of top-notch audiobooks and arranged them into three broad categories: fiction and literature, poetry, and nonfiction.
Each list sorts works alphabetically by author name. All you have to do is scroll down to locate works by notable authors like Maya Angelou, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, Neil Gaiman, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf.
Where to Find Cheap Audiobooks
Although free audiobook sites offer a lot of choices, they don’t have everything. In particular, if what you really want to hear is a recent top-selling audiobook read by a noted actor, there’s very little chance you can find it for free.
But you can do the next best thing: find it for cheap. You can gain access to a wide array of audiobooks, including new bestsellers, through a subscription service for a low, flat monthly fee. You can also find cheap audiobooks at online stores that offer steep discounts.
When you’re choosing a cheap audiobook provider, be mindful of the software requirements.
Not all audiobook files work with all audio players. For instance, audiobook files with the extensions .aa and .aax work only with Audible’s book-reading software. Fortunately, most audiobook services offer free software to listen to your recordings.
The best-known source of audiobooks is Audible, a subsidiary of Amazon. Its collection includes thousands of titles, many of them read by famous actors like Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich.
However, Audible doesn’t just distribute audiobooks. It also produces them. Audible Originals are exclusive audio titles produced in the Audible studios. These selections span a wide variety of genres, including literature, theater, comedy, and journalism.
For $7.95 per month, you gain unlimited access to Audible’s entire collection. You can stream audiobooks, Originals, and podcasts from the free Audible app, which works with iOS, Android, Sonos, Kindle, and Alexa-enabled devices. You can also save titles to your library for offline listening.
For a higher monthly fee, you can download a certain number of titles each month to keep forever in addition to streaming as many as you like. You retain access to these books even if you let your Audible subscription expire. At $14.95 per month, you get a credit for one premium selection title to keep each month. At $22.95 per month, you gain two monthly credits.
Your first 30 days on Audible are free. After that, Audible automatically bills you each month. But you can cancel your service at any time. You lose access to any credits you have left but retain access to any audiobooks you’ve already downloaded.
There are two ways to listen to audiobooks on Downpour. You can buy and download individual titles one at a time, or you can sign up for a monthly subscription.
A $12.99 monthly subscription gets you one credit per month, which is good for nearly any book on the site. Since some books are more expensive than others, it can be up to 70% cheaper than buying the audiobooks individually. You can also purchase additional credits for the same price as your monthly membership fee. Unused credits expire after one year.
Unlike Audible, Downpour doesn’t offer a free trial. You start paying for membership as soon as you sign up, and you keep paying each month automatically. But you can cancel at any time and keep the books you’ve already downloaded.
Downpour offers audiobooks on physical CDs as well as downloads in MP3 or M4B format. The Downpour app works on iOS and Android devices. You can also access Downpour from most Web browsers.
Like Downpour, Audiobooks.com is both a store and a subscription service. When you subscribe to its VIP Rewards program for $14.95 per month, you receive one monthly credit that’s good for any audiobook on the site. Additionally, you get a second monthly audiobook of your choice from a rotating selection reserved exclusively for VIP Rewards members.
Once you’ve made your monthly book selections, you can either stream them or download them onto an iOS or Android device. If you want more than two audiobooks per month, you can purchase “top-up credits” good for additional books. Alternatively, you can buy books for cash at lower prices than the site offers to nonmembers.
All your selections remain accessible as long as you maintain your membership. If you cancel, you lose access to all the books you chose from the VIP collection. But you keep any books you purchased with cash or credits.
Like Audible, Audiobooks.com offers a free 30-day trial for new members. It also has a family plan that lets your family members listen to all your audiobooks and save their own bookmarks without messing up yours. You can give them listening privileges only, the ability to use your credits to purchase books, or the ability to both buy and use credits.
To stretch your monthly credits even further, visit the deals section of the website. It offers a rotating selection of audiobooks you can get at the rate of two for one credit. Or if you prefer to buy your books a la carte, there’s an assortment of audiobooks priced at $10 or less.
The online subscription service Scribd (not to be confused with the free service Scribl) offers both audiobooks and e-books in addition to magazines, legal documents, and even sheet music. You can’t purchase books directly through Scribd, but you can read or listen to as many books as you want. The monthly fee is just $9.99 per month after a 30-day trial.
In addition to its basic membership, Scribd offers a $12.99-per-month Scribd + NYT bundle. It includes all of Scribd’s regular features plus a basic digital access subscription to The New York Times. For people who already read the Times, this costs about 25% less than subscribing to both services separately.
Chirp is a store where you can buy audiobooks at dramatically reduced prices. Unlike subscription services, it doesn’t charge a monthly fee, though you must sign up for membership to purchase books.
Chirp is best known for its limited-time deals. Authors and publishers temporarily list their books on the site at discounts of up to 95% to attract new readers. Members can sign up for personalized emails to learn about limited-time deals on books that match their interests. In addition to its special discounts, Chirp offers low everyday prices on other audiobooks.
Each book you buy on Chirp goes into your digital library on the site. You can stream them from the site, through the free iOS or Android app, or through any Alexa-enabled device. You can also download your books for future listening. Any book you buy is yours to keep permanently.
Becoming a regular audiobook listener doesn’t mean giving up on the printed word. You can continue to curl up with a good book for an hour before bed, pull up an e-book on your phone in a doctor’s waiting room, or read aloud to your kids every evening.
But by adding audiobooks to the mix, you can make more time for reading. You can tune into an audiobook whenever you’re stuck in traffic or doing mindless tasks like household chores. Time that would otherwise go to waste can suddenly become an opportunity to learn, expand your imagination, or just enjoy sinking into a good story.