As the homeschooling mom of a houseful of kids with dyslexia, one thing that I cannot live without is access to lots of good quality audio books. While I could just about keep up with reading aloud to my kids when I had one child (no joke), having 6 (of my8) at home makes it truly impossible to tackle our read aloud list without the use of copious amounts of audio books.
Not only am I overwhelmingly outnumbered, I tire of hearing my own voice day after day and enjoy listening alongside my kids. Since reading aloud to my kids is one of my top goals for my homeschool this year, I’ve been researching the best sources for audio books available.
Things to Consider in Choosing an Audiobook Service
Audiobook companies should have good customer service, a well-organized web site, and a wide selection of the type of books that interest you. For me, good prices are also a must.
Some services rent audiobooks, some sell audio books and some do both. Every audiobook service should include book reviews, audio samples and a search box. There should also be a great number of books to choose from.
Ease of Use
The best audiobook websites are uncluttered, appealing and easy to navigate. They should also have a simple, straightforward membership registration process and downloading should be a reasonably easy process. This mama has no time for complicated downloads and glitchy interfaces.
Help & Support
As a technical novice, I really appreciate excellent support from an audiobook service. An FAQ section can be invaluable in answering questions without having to resort to calling or emailing a customer service rep, and a user guide and forum can help to guide you toward the books you would enjoy most.
Best Sources for Audio Books
All local libraries should have the most popular books available on CDs that can be checked out just like a library book. Our library also has PlayAway audio books in the form of little video players for the younger kids and little self-contained players for the older kids’ books. Our kids have enjoyed several series of books on the PlayAway devices.
Digital Audio Books
Over 30,000 libraries use OverDrive to make it easy to check out audiobooks and ebooks right from your smartphone or tablet. All you need is your library card, and a library in your community that supports the service. From there, just install the app on your smartphone, tablet, or desktop (Android, iOS, Windows, OS X, Nook, Chrome, Amazon devices and more are all supported.)
Features like offline listening are supported, and many books can be burned to CD or copied to portable media from your desktop so you can listen to them on the go, even if you don’t have the app on another device. When you’re all finished, your books are automatically “checked in” to the library (or removed from your collection.) You are limited to the selection of audiobooks available at your local supported library though, and the level of demand in your community for the books you want to check out. Even so, Overdrive is completely free, as long as you have a library card.
Audible has over 150,000 audiobooks available to buy and own, rent and stream, or listen to offline, anytime you want. You can try the service for free for 30 days and a free audiobook that’s yours to own, and if you like the service, stick with it for $15/mo. From there, you get a discount off of the retail price of any books you enjoy, a free book every month, and of course the luxury of listening to your books on your smartphone using Audible’s mobile apps, on your computer, or just about anywhere you go.
You don’t have to be an Audible member to buy their audiobooks though—you just get a 30% discount if you are on any purchases you make. Those books are available for you to listen to anytime, even offline, and the service integrates with your Amazon account so your progress on physical books and audiobooks are synced, and you get discounts on audiobook versions of books you own.
Audible and Amazon offer pairings of select audio books that will synch with Kindle eBooks. Read more here.
Simply Audiobooks offers three ways to get new releases, bestsellers, classics, and down-to-business titles in audiobooks, available in MP3 or M4B format.
One method is to join their Download Club, which is a subscription plan that gives you credits you can redeem for more than 9,000 audiobooks on their site. You pay a flat subscription rate and you can download most audiobooks for one credit each. A small number of titles require two credits to download.
You can also choose their Rental Program, which allows you to listen to as many audiobooks on CDs as you can each month. Add titles to your shelf, and when you finish one and return it, the next title on your shelf is shipped to you. You can choose rental plans that allow you to have from one to four books at a time for a flat monthly fee. Shipping is free both ways. Depending on how fast you go through audiobooks, you can pay a lot less per audiobook than the cost of buying it.
If you don’t want to commit to a monthly fee, you can purchase audiobooks on CD or to download instantly without signing up for the club or rental program. You can save 10% on all physical audiobooks.
The Audio Book Store
The Audio Book Store offers a large collection of audiobooks, available in downloadable, streaming, and CD formats. Their service for downloading audiobooks is provided by Audible, mentioned earlier. If you want audiobooks to be shipped to you on CD, you can choose their rental program, which is similar to the Rental Program at Simply Audiobooks.
The streaming service is a monthly plan that allows you unlimited access to the entire audiobook library and you can stream an unlimited number of audiobooks per month to your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. One advantage to the streaming service is that you can listen to your audiobooks across multiple devices. For example, you can start listening to a book on your phone, continue listening to it on your laptop, and then go back to listening to it on your phone again.
The Great Courses
The Great Courses has found the top 100 teaching professors in the country from Ivy League universities, Stanford, Georgetown, and other leading colleges and universities, and worked with them to create over 390 great courses you can purchase in video format on DVD or audio format on CD, download video or audio, or stream to your computer or mobile device.
Learning Ally is a nonprofit organization aimed at helping dyslexic students with reading, reading comprehension and other challenging areas of learning. This site offers the world’s largest library of audio textbooks. In addition, it offers resources for both educators and parents, including webinars and several personal support tools and services for those involved with the dyslexic community.
Learning Ally Audio is a subscription-based program for kids with visual impairments or dyslexia, and users must qualify before subscribing. Learning Ally provides access to more than 75,000 audio books for $119 per year. Members must assign books to user accounts using a Web browser before downloading them to the app. Text and background colors can be adjusted by preference, rate of reading can be altered, and highlighted text can be set to match a rate that best fits a kid’s reading ability.
Learning Ally Audio promotes good reading fluency by highlighting passages of text and providing a human or computer-synthesized read-aloud. The audio pauses at appropriate phrases, identifies dialogue, and emphasizes bold or italicized words.
Get a Recommendation for Learning Ally:
Contact All About Learning Press for a recommendation for Learning Ally.
From All About Learning:
We would love to recommend your child for Learning Ally, on the condition that we can verify your child is dyslexic. To find out whether or not your child is eligible for this service, please fill out the “Symptoms of Dyslexia Screening Checklist”. This form can be filled out on your computer by simply clicking the boxes that apply.
Return the checklist to us:
• Email the PDF to email@example.com, or
• Fax the checklist to us at 877-774-8006
Please include your child’s name, your name, email address, and phone number. As soon as we receive the completed checklist, we will determine if your child qualifies and submit the “Proof of Disability” form to Learning Ally on your child’s behalf.
Downpour is an audiobook store and subscription service with a rapidly expanding catalog both for sale and to rent. You have the option to download your audiobooks as mp3s, or as chaptered .m4b files, and you can listen to them on any device where you have the Downpour app installed (Android, iOS, and Windows Phone are supported, as well as tablets like the Nook and Kindle) or you have web access to the site. Your place is automatically saved and synced across devices, and you can download, replay, or listen to your audiobooks as much as you like.
When your rental period is up, you won’t be able to access the books from your library anymore, but any purchases you make are yours forever. The service works like a bookstore, and you can buy books directly to own forever, or you can subscribe for $13/mo and accumulate credits to get free audiobooks, again to own and keep forever.
If you choose to rent, you can pay a lower price and listen to the book you’ve rented, and if you’re not finished, you can even extend your rental for a few days (for a fee, of course.) Downpour’s biggest benefit is how affordable their books are.
Librivox is a service full of completely free, public domain audiobooks, read by volunteers from around the globe. You won’t find fancy new New York Times’ bestsellers on the list, but if you’re into classic literature or just great stories in general, you can’t go wrong. The books are well produced, most are free (and you can search both free and paid books if you like), and if you want to give back, you can volunteer to read a book yourself and contribute to the project.
Loyal Books (used to be ‘Books Should Be Free’) provides audiobooks from the public domain available for free that you can listen to on your iPhone, Android, Kindle, or MP3 player. It’s similar to LibriVox and uses LibriVox and Gutenberg.org as sources for the free audiobooks. However, Loyal Books provides an easier way to browse through audiobooks, which are divided into many different genres for your browsing enjoyment.
Librophile offers thousands of free and pay audiobooks and free eBooks. You can subscribe to each free audiobook in iTunes as episodes or download the whole audiobook directly. There are also links allowing you to directly access the eBook versions of the audiobooks on the Project Gutenberg website. The free audiobooks are mostly obtained from the public domain from LibriVox and the pay audiobooks through the Audible affiliate program. Children’s audiobooks are mostly sourced from Storynory (also see later in this article for more information). Free eBooks are available in multiple formats.
Audio Books Project by Project Gutenberg
The Audio Books Project by Project Gutenberg offers audiobooks created from the classic literature eBooks on their site. They have human-read audiobooks read by volunteers (through sites such as AudioBooksForFree.com and LibriVox), as well as computer-generated audiobooks.
Storynory is a website that offers children’s stories drawn from unusual stories from around the world and from fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson. They also offer original stories. Each audiobook comes with the full text of the book in English which can be translated into other languages. A new audio story is published every week.