Heard Any Good Books Lately?

I usually write about hardware and software for Palm computers, but this month I'm going to take a different approach to handheld computing.

There never seems to be quite enough time to do all the reading that I would like to do. In addition, driving to and from work is about an hour each way. Audio books seem like a perfect solution, right?

But I still ran into problems with that. Honda, in their infinite wisdom, will include a radio with either a tape player or a CD player - I couldn't get a device that could play both tapes and CDs when I bought my car, so I got a CD player. A high percentage of books are available on tape, but not on CD.

There's also a problem of storing the physical media. I don't want to fill shelves with boxes of CDs. Last year, I vowed not to buy any paper books for the same reason - I already have many shelves full of books. Since then, I have bought only books that are available in ebook format that I could read on my Palm.

I've found the same type of solution for audio books at Audible.com. Audible offers thousands of books and other audio programs that can be played on certain MP3 players and some PDAs (mostly Pocket PCs, but the new Palm Tungsten can also play Audible books). You can also listen to them at your PC, or burn them to CD.

Audible has two pricing plans, the Basic Listener and Premium Listener. With the Basic Listener, you pay $14.95 each month and you get one audio book and one subscription (which might be daily, weekly or monthly). With the Premium Listener, you pay $19.95 each month and get two audio books. Whichever plan you choose, you can purchase as many additional books or subscriptions as you want.

I have the Premium Listener plan, but I also buy other books each month. When the renewal date comes and I can download my two books for the month, I go over my wish list and pick the two most expensive books that I want - the first two are already covered in my $19.95 Premium Listener Plan. (Some of the books I've chosen cost $20 or $30 each.) Once I have those, I'll go over my list and see what else I want, and buy those.

Audio books are available in many categories, including:

  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Business
  • Information Age
  • Science
  • Foreign Language
  • Spirituality
  • Kids
  • Comedy
  • History
  • Mystery
  • Self Development

In addition to books, there are a lot of subscriptions available from Audible. There are daily, weekly and monthly subscriptions available. I have an Audible subscription to Scientific American. Some of the other subscriptions available are:

  • Fast Company
  • Forbes
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Science News
  • Technology Review
  • Science Friday (from NPR)
  • Harvard Management Communication Letter
  • Harvard Management Update
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • C-SPAN Booknotes

Subscriptions can be purchased by the month or by the year. They are much more economical per issue if purchased by the year.

When you purchase an audio book - or when the new issue of your subscription becomes available - it shows up in your Library. You can download it to Audible Manager on your PC at any time after that, and copy it onto your player (or onto a CD). There are different audio formats available, so you need to make sure you choose a format that is supported by your player.

When your player is connected to your PC, you can use Audible Manager to see a listing of all the audio programs on the player, and can easily delete items you're finished with.

If you don't have a player that is supported by Audible, you can get an MP3 player free by signing up (either Basic or Premium) for 12 months. The Otis MP3 player you'll receive is 3.0 x 2.2 x 0.75 inches, and about 5.6 ounces. It includes stereo earbuds and a case with a belt clip. The capacity is 64MB, and there's a slot for an MMC card which allows you to add another 64MB.

If I used a Pocket PC - and carried it around with me everywhere, as I do with my Palm - that would seem to be the ideal way to listen to Audible books. But since my Palm m515 can't play these files, I signed up for 12 months and got the free Otis MP3 player. I like it a lot - it's small, light, and easy to use in the car or when going for a walk.

Like most other services you can buy on the Internet, Audible gives you an option to receive emails with special offers. I usually turn off that option, but with Audible it's worth it to opt-in to that list. In the three months I've been a subscriber, I've received two offers that saved money for me. One was an offer to purchase any number of books at 30% off, and another was to purchase subscriptions - including back issues - at 30% off. If you're going to be listening to a lot of books and/or subscriptions anyway, this can save you a lot of money.

I don't have any complaints about the Audible service. The books can be kind of expensive, when compared to the prices of paperbacks. But with paperbacks, I have to find someplace to store them. I could store literally millions of Audible books on my PC. Plus, I can't read paperbacks while I'm driving to or from work.

If you're looking for a way to do more reading, or looking for an enjoyable way to pass the time during boring activities like driving, Audible offers a great solution for you.

Basic Listener, $14.95 per month; Premium Listener, $19.95 per month

© 2003 by Charles M. Olsen