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How to Find the Best Audiobooks?

Find the best audiobooks

The audiobook industry has been booming – in 2022 in the US alone, the industry generated $1.8B in sales, and 9% of all book sales were from audiobooks. That’s pretty amazing! It can also be rather overwhelming sifting though the mountain of options if you’re trying to find your next listen. Many people will tell you that a good narrator can really make the story come alive, but if you don’t like the narrator, it can sour your experience of the book. But preferences in voice quality and sound can be subjective, so how do you know what to pick? Here are a few tips to follow for finding the best audiobooks for you.

Read Reviews

We all love personal recommendations, so this is a great place to start. Obviously you can find customer reviews on your audiobook platform of choice, and you may find it helpful to hear what real listeners are saying. But if you, like me, get stuck not knowing who is “right” between a 1 or 5 start review, there are are also several places you can go to look at professional reviews. I often recommend AudioFile Magazine. Aside from the wealth of information on their website (and magazine if you want to subscribe to it), they have a free e-newsletter will deliver reviews and recommendations right to the convenience of your inbox. A great thing about their reviews is that they are not paid – every month, AudioFile Magazine chooses what reviews they write from the 1,000+ submissions they receive. So you’re getting a non-biased, professional write up.

Listen to a Sample

Audiobooks always include a 1-5 minute retail sample that you can listen to. The sample is chosen by the author or publisher, and most of the time, this is a selection from early on in the book, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers. Listening to even a few seconds of the sample may really help you decide if you like the narrator’s voice, style, pacing, etc., and if the recording quality is good.

It’s a good first step, but just like the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”, I would caution you not to make your whole decision based on the audio sample alone. You won’t always be able to judge the skill level of the narrator from a couple of minutes. How well do they keep you engaged in the story? How do they handle dramatic scenes? How well do they create and distinguish different characters? You may have to take a chance to find out.

Choose the Award Winners

Like other types of acting and performance, the audiobook industry has awards. If you want to guarantee you pick a book with a solid performance, you probably won’t go wrong with an award winner. AudioFile Magazine gives the monthly Earphones Awards to “truly exceptional titles that excel in narrative voice and style, characterizations, suitability to audio, and enhancement of the text”. The Audio Publishers Association awards yearly Audie awards to “recognize distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment”. You can find the Audie award winners on Audible or on AudioFile Magazine.

Follow a Narrator

If you find a narrator you really like, you might consider looking through other books that person has done to find your next pick. Audible and other platforms will let you search by narrator, and many narrators have their own websites and social media accounts where you can check out their latest projects. Increasingly after the COVID pandemic hit, more and more Hollywood celebrities have also gotten into audiobooks, so you may be able to listen to your favorite movie or TV star as well. AudioFile Magazine has featured Golden Voice Narrators, but they also have a general huge catalog of narrators for you to peruse.

Hunt for the Freebies & Discounts

There are a number of ways you can listen to audiobooks without breaking the bank:

  • Your local library – if you haven’t already checked it out, your library probably has a collection of audiobooks that you can check out and listen to. And although you may have to get in the queue for the popular ones, you can’t beat free.
  • Listen in exchange for a review – If you hunt around, you can find a number of places like the Facebook group Audiobooks for Free or the website FreeAudiobookcodes.com where you can get a free Audible download code in exchange for leaving a review. Depending on how it was published, Audible provides authors (and sometimes narrators) with a certain number of these codes to give away for promotion. If you try one of these, remember, those authors are counting on your review to help them gain exposure.
  • LibriVox houses a collection of public domain books read by volunteers. They don’t have a fancy app, but again, it’s hard to beat free.
  • Keep an eye out for discounts on your chosen audiobook platform of choice, and you’re likely to find good deals there as well!

Share the Love

When you find those audiobooks that really resonate with you, share the love! Tell your friends and family, because, as I mentioned, we all love a personal recommendation from someone we trust. And if you are at all willing, leave a rating, or better yet (way better), leave a review for others to read. It doesn’t have to be long, just be honest. Especially if the audiobook you’re listening to was independently published, the author may not have deep pockets for marketing, and those ratings and reviews can be extremely helpful.