Easy Listening: Audiobook Accessibility for the Budget-Conscious

Borrowing free audiobooks from your library can help keep your budget in tact.

Strapped for cash? Libraries nationwide have got your back.

Audiobooks can be a fantastic tool for literacy accessibility and inclusivity in today’s busy world, where many people often work multiple jobs to support themselves and their families. Many of us have precious little time to crack the spine on the latest thriller or hefty fantasy/sci-fi tome. But how does one begin listening on a budget?

In a post-pandemic world with US inflation up 3.5 percent from this time a year ago, many people are finding it hard to cover their bills for basic necessities. Add the additional pressure of the recent phenomenon of “guilt tipping,” and many find it impossible to put aside extra money for audiobook subscription services that can cost as much as $23.00 a month after the initial introductory offer has passed, depending on the plan.

Enter libraries for the budget-conscious listener. There are many ways to start listening for free, whether or not you have access to a smartphone. Sunny Carito, a library technician for Prince William Public Libraries in Virginia and a librarian for fourteen years, says there are a couple of different options to check out e-audiobooks, with free apps such as Libby and Hoopla being overwhelmingly popular due to their ease of use and accessibility on many tablets as well as smartphones. 

“They all automatically return after their checkout periods end, so no late fees!” shares Carito. “Many apps let you choose to stream or download books to suit your internet connectivity and device storage needs.”


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So, how do libraries acquire e-audiobooks and e-books in the first place? Carito explains that Libby is the app developed by OverDrive, which is a vendor that sells these products specifically to libraries who then purchase the items on the app “the same way they purchase the physical books on the shelves — a specific number of copies that can only be used one at a time.”

When deciding between the two apps, Carito has found that Libby is more likely to have the latest bestsellers available; however, an eager listener may be placed on a hold list depending on the demand and the individual library’s inventory.

“Hoopla’s collection is always available; each library system has a per-calendar-month checkout limit for their customers, and your library pays per item you check out,” says Carito. “The best way to find out what e-audio possibilities your library offers is to go to your local library’s website and look for information on e-books or their digital library. From there, you can download the apps, make and link accounts, and be listening in minutes.”


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Carito mentions a less popular option available on loan in many libraries nationwide is Playaway, a self-contained electronic device with an audiobook preloaded that can be worn doing outdoor physical activities such as jogging or gardening.

For instance, the Alexandria Library in Virginia offers Playaway Bookpacks that include the audio as well as the paper copy of a given title. This is a great screen-free literacy alternative, particularly for children who are not yet old enough to have smartphones, which many experts recommend waiting to introduce until middle school at the earliest.

Yours truly can still remember loading up six CDs at a time for a road trip in my fancy Honda Accord disc changer out of my latest audiobook binder back in the early 2000s. Although CD players are being phased out of regular use by car manufacturers, most libraries nationwide will continue to collect physical audio over the next two years, with only 4 to 5 percent eliminating physical audio purchases as of August 2023, according to Audiobooks and Public Libraries: 2023 Audiobook Survey Report.


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The report also states that the convenience of digital currently out-circulates physical audio for both adults and children; however, physical audiobooks still prove popular with children and young adults. In adult audiobooks, physical versus digital circulation stacked up with 29 percent physical and 71 percent digital, with children’s and young adult audiobooks at 38 percent physical and 62 percent digital.

Another alternative method for acquiring free audiobooks if you have a knack for writing and critical listening — become a reviewer! AudioFile Magazine, the premier publication in the audiobook industry, is always looking for new reviewers to join their team, and title assignment downloads are provided free of charge via Hightail or through the magazine’s Audible account. Each review is signed upon publication, and you even get a free subscription to the print copy of the magazine. All inquiries should be directed to magazine editor Robin Whitten at [email protected].

Don’t let your bank account get you down — look up your local library’s collection and get listening today!





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