7 Free Audiobook Platforms

George Guidall has narrated more than 1,300 audiobooks. Photo courtesy of Eva Deitch for the New York Times.

I rarely listen to music in the car anymore. I’m now enamored with listening to someone narrate a story. It’s mesmerizing, like when my mom would read a book to me at bedtime when I was a child. The cadence of someone reading as I drive soothes me, lowering my blood pressure in the insane Atlanta traffic and keeping me from checking incoming texts.

Although I’m not driving as much as I did pre-COVID, I still spend a fair amount of time in my car. If I bought every book to which I’ve listened, I’d be broke. I have a monthly subscription to Amazon’s Audible, but limit myself to one book a month. And I usually select the one with a combination of the most number of pages and the highest rating. More bang for my buck, right?

I download or stream the other books for free, most of them through the two county libraries to which I hold membership cards. If free is in your budget, the following downloading and streaming platforms are for you:

Professionally narrated:

HooplaDigital and OverDrive require a library membership. You’ll need to download apps to access their free audiobooks, e-books, movies, and TV shows. HooplaDigital has more than 58,000 audiobooks. OverDrive boasts that it hosts millions of books, but doesn’t differentiate between e-books and audiobooks. The main benefit of library-based platforms is that you can download and stream new books; the downside is that they can only be borrowed for a limited time. Trust me, I’ve had more than one book slurped back into the library system, unfinished, on its due date.

DigitalBook is a web-based platform where you can find top-rated and trending audiobooks, e-books, and podcasts. It hosts more than 4,400 Young Adult titles that you can download and stream. Note that many of the audiobooks are free, but with an Audible trial. You’ll find Audible ads scattered throughout the catalog.

LearnOutLoud, a web-based learning resource, contains free audio and video, documentaries, podcasts, and audiobook downloads. It features about 3,600 audio books. While there are few fiction books, it does contain bestsellers, like The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Be sure to click “Free Stuff” in the top nav bar before you start searching by title or author.

Narrated by volunteers:

LibriVox features public domain books, which means that no intellectual property rights exist. Public domain books could have expired copyrights, author released copyrights, or were never copyrighted at all. In the U.S., a copyright term is the life of the author, plus 70 years. To access LibriVox’s content, you need to download an app. You can download audiobooks with the app, but not stream. If you’d like to volunteer to read, click the huge “Volunteer” button on the homepage.

Project Gutenberg, established in 1971, is one of the oldest digital libraries. It carries more than 60,000 public domain e-books, of which many have been made into audiobooks. An account is not required, but you do need to download an app that’s compatible with Android. At this time, a version isn’t available for iOS. Volunteers upload the books. Some are narrated professionally, while others are read by volunteers, authors, and computers.

Loyal Books also carries public domain books. Reader reviews set it apart from LibriVox and Project Gutenberg. Like Amazon, they’re on a five-star scale accompanied by one- to two-sentence evaluations. Most center on the narration, not the story content. It’s worth a click to read some of the hilarious reviews.

Heads up! If you download a book to one of your digital devices, say your cell phone, be aware that it takes up a lot of memory. My daughter recently freaked out when she hit the ceiling of her cell phone’s memory. Then, she discovered the culprit—her podcast subscriptions. Once she deleted the older podcasts and turned off the subscription button, her phone’s used memory dropped by 75%. The same works for books. After reading, delete them.

Do you like to listen to audiobooks? If so, what platform is your favorite and why?