Listening is so much easier than reading, and this is why I love audiobooks. I don’t exaggerate when I say I love audiobooks — I sometimes consuming a book a week.
Podcasts were my gateway to audiobooks. From NPR’s This American Life to The New York Times’ Modern Love, I listened to the point where I knew I wanted to listen to more, but with beefier substance.
When it comes to listening to books, you have options. Here’s a look at how to listen to audiobooks for free.
Top Sites to Get Free Audiobooks
I researched and tried out a number of different apps that promise you audiobooks for free, but I also included a few that you need to pay for but offer a pretty good deal for the subscription.
1. Hoopla: You Need a Library Card
Remember your local library? Go there at once and get a library card. With your library card, you can sign up for a free app called Hoopla.
You can rent four titles a month, which expire after 21 days. Hoopla is awesome because they have many of the latest titles.
Hoopla’s interface is really simple to use, and books are downloaded directly to your device. Once the book expires, it will be automatically removed. The icon of the book will appear greyed out.
I use Hoopla on a regular basis, but noticed that sometimes the sound quality is not as clear like it is on Audible.
Sometimes it sounds slightly fuzzy; other times it sounds like someone recorded the audiobook in the bathroom. It’s not for every title, but just something I noticed.
2. Overdrive: You Need a Library Card
Where would I be without Overdrive?! I use it on a daily basis because unlike Hoopla, you can rent up to 10 titles a month!
This is another free app that was recommended to me by my local library. You also need your library membership card number to sign in.
Your local library needs to be in Overdrive’s database, but if you’re in a big city, it shouldn’t be a problem. In Oakland, CA, there are several libraries, and Overdrive had all of them listed.
If you live in a smaller town and your local library isn’t listed, ask a friend or relative in a bigger city for access to their library card. It’s free, and there are never overdue books to worry about.
Once the book is due, it simply expires from your device, like Hoopla.
Overdrive doesn’t have as big a selection of books as Hoopla does. You’ll have to get on a waiting list if you see a book you want to rent. It also shows you how many people are also on the list ahead of you.
My experience with the waiting list is hit or miss. You’re given a number and the wait time is not very clear. I’ve been on the waitlist for Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Option B” since last November.
However, when a book becomes available, you are alerted over email and can download the book. This has happened to me on a few occasions. However, I usually filter my search so that I’m shown books available books without a waiting list.
Downloading Books from Overdrive
I actually had to Google how to download a book because the app isn’t very user friendly, in my opinion.
Overdrive’s interface is confusing, and even though I wish they would make it more simple to use I really shouldn’t complain because it’s free, so I’ve learned to deal with it. It took me a while to figure out all of the steps it takes to download a title.
You first have to click on the book you want, which is then saved. Then you have to click on the title again to download it. It downloads the files for you in sections.
It’s totally normal for it to stop downloading suddenly, and you’ll have to hit “delete all files” and hit “download all files,” a few times to get the download to work properly. It’s a bit annoying, but once you’ve figured it out, it’s not too bad.
The quality of the recording is better than Hoopla.
3. Learn Out Loud
I recently learned about Learn Out Loud and although I’d never purchase any of their audiobooks (thanks to my Audible subscription), prices for newer and popular books vary. For example, I saw a few books listed for $13.99 to $19.99.
I don’t think paying this price is worth it because you can get an Audible subscription for $23 a month and get two books.
The site has an interesting mix of audio and video offerings to choose from, including famous speeches and interviews with iconic figures, such as Oprah.
You have to do a search in their “free” category and unfortunately, they group audiobooks with videos, so you’ll have to sift through both.
They don’t have a ton of titles when I searched their biography and autobiography category (anywhere from 20-250 titles), but it’s worth taking a look because it’s free.
4. Project Gutenberg: Free, Offers Mostly Classics, Clunky Website
Project Gutenberg has over 56,000 free eBooks and is another resource to find audiobooks for free. They have two ways to listen — one is through a human recording and the other is computer generated.
The files can be large, so the site recommends you to have high speed internet.
Formerly known as Podiobooks.com, this site is now called Scribl and offers audiobooks in podcast form.
For newer titles, Scribl has crowdsourcing platform where they set the price based on how fellow listeners rate the book. This means popular titles can be more expensive.
I did several searches for newer, popular books that are widely available on Audible and even on Hoopla, but they were not available on Scribl.
The search function is also a bit difficult to navigate through and as a newcomer to the site, I’m not sure how to efficiently search for a book. They break down filters for search based on “knowledge,” “story,” and also by rating.
Audiobooks are available on iTunes, Google Play and other platforms that offer podcasts.
6. Google Play
If you’re into the classics and have an Android, check out the Free Audiobooks app. They have 14,000 classic audiobooks for you to choose from.
If you have an iPhone, try the Audio Books by Audiobooks app, which has 7,000 free titles.
LibriVox has a big selection of free audiobooks (12,000) that are public domain that are read by volunteers.
Personally, I applaud the volunteer aspect of LibriVox, but I prefer books to be read by the author or a professional reader. I admit I’m picky when it comes to this.
After all, you’re stuck listening to his person’s voice for the next four to 12 hours or more, so it needs to be a voice you can tolerate!
The recordings can be listened to as podcasts when new ones are released, or you can download it directly as a ZIP file.
8. Open Culture
Open Culture gives you 900 audiobooks for free.
There’s no subscription involved. Just do a search or cruise through their selection.
9. The Alexa Hack
If you have a subscription to Amazon’s Kindle and also have an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, did you know that you can have Alexa read the books to you?
I accidentally discovered this right after I had purchased Deacon’s “You Can Retire Early” book on Amazon.
Of course, the only downside is that you can’t take it with you on your mobile device.
How to Listen to Audiobooks for Cheap
Besides these free options, there are a few ways you can listen to audiobooks for cheap.
Scribd: $8.99 a Month
Scribd is a wonderful alternative to Audible, and it’s cheaper, at $8.99 a month.
When I recently revisited the site, I noticed they launched an unlimited option with their subscription! This means you can read and listen to as much as you’d like.
There may be restrictions on some titles, but for $9 bucks a month, that’s a great deal. I almost feel like I should cancel Audible now. I used Scribd for a few months but ended up canceling because their title selection wasn’t as big as Audible.
However, Scribd offers hundreds and thousands of titles, and I appreciate the easy-to-use website when you want to search for books.
They offer a free 30-day trial, just like Audible.
Audible: $14.95 a Month
You can try Audible for free for 30 days. After that, you need to sign up, and the lowest tiered subscription is $14.95 a month.
Seriously, you can’t beat Audible’s selection. No other site comes close to it, and if they do, the price is most likely going to be the same.
Tips on Maximizing Your Listening Pleasure
After trying out all of these choices for free ways to read audiobooks, I realized for an audiobook nut like me, the best method is to use a combination of paid, plus free.
Whenever I download books from Audible, I make sure to look at the length of the book. Some books are only 4-5 hours long, but cost the same as a book that has 12-15 hours of audio.
When I purchase books from Audible, I make sure the hours are longer than 6 hours, so I’m getting my money’s worth. For the shorter audiobooks, I do a search on Hoopla or Overdrive.
Out of all the free options listed, the best ones with the biggest selections are Hoopla and Overdrive. Of course you have a limited time (21 days) to finish the book, but if you can’t get finish it, you can always rent it again.
It’s free to get a library card, so go get one and start listening!
My favorite part about listening to audiobooks is that you can listen anywhere — in the car, on the train, while you run or walk, or even clean the house.